August 3, 2016

Let’s Hope Gap’s Sexist New Ad is a Teachable Moment.

Back in high school I dreamed of one day being able to shop at Gap.

We called it The Gap, back then, and it was the height of late 80s, tasteful fashion. All the cool kids shopped there for their khakis and plaid, and I vowed that once I was grown and had a job making my own money, that’s where I’d get my clothes.

And I did. In fact, I bought a pair of shoes there that to this day remain the best shoes I’ve ever owned. I literally wore them until they fell apart. In the 90s I loved Gap because I felt like the company understood my needs as a consumer. I wanted sensible, understated clothing that was cute, appropriate for work or casual and not too expensive.

But now? Not so much.

I haven’t bought anything there in years, and I won’t anytime soon. It seems like Gap is totally clueless. Case in point—two major advertising gaffs in the past few months. An ad in April was criticized for depicting an older Caucasian girl with her arm on the head of a younger, smaller girl who was of African descent. The photo portrayed the darker skinned girl as if she were a “prop,” or an object to enhance the position of the white girl. When I saw the controversial picture, I was honestly shocked. What were they thinking, I wondered. How was it not obvious that this was wrong?

And now, I’m wondering that once more. This week, another UK Gap ad is under scrutiny, this time for sexist marketing geared toward children.

The ad shows a little boy wearing an Einstein graphic tee with the caption “The Little Scholar.” It equates his outfit combo (jeans and a tee shirt?) as “genius.” The best part is that initially they didn’t even spell Albert Einstein’s last name correctly on the top, though I hear this has since been corrected.

Below the boy, in a pink sweater and kitty ears, a little girl is described as “the Social Butterfly” and while the boy’s outfit is, apparently genius, the girl’s is “the talk of the playground.” Her purpose is just to be looked at in cute clothes while at preschool, but the boy is there to learn. His “future starts here.” (While I’m at it, boys can be social butterflies too, you know.)

Really? Did they hire the characters in Mad Men to come up with this campaign?

The boy’s back to school wardrobe is intended to make him into a genius scholar and the purpose of the girl’s is to make her popular. Lovely. This reminds me of the 1950s and 60s, when girls only went to college to get degrees in Home Economics and meet suitable husbands. Also, both kids are white and blonde, implying that the smart children are white boys and the popular ones (the word popular is just a euphemism for elite) are outgoing blonde girls.

There are a million different ways that Gap could have done better here.

How about place the children next to one another and show them together on equal ground? A group of diverse children would’ve been a big improvement, especially since this ad ran in the U.K., a very multicultural society. I would have celebrated the ad if they depicted all of the children as scholars and potential geniuses. Even better? How about a tee shirt with a smart female role model for the girls? A Marie Curie tee shirt? Grace Hopper would be super cool. I wouldn’t even care if they made the shirt pink, and if they started making female genius tee shirts for little girls, I’d be first in line to buy them all for my five-year-old daughter.

Gap needs to get with the times. We live in a world that is finally learning to celebrate diversity and equality between the sexes and between different cultures. Gap’s ad doesn’t reflect the current reality, where significantly more women (of all races) than men attend and graduate college (check out the graph in this Forbes article for proof).

My daughter starts kindergarten in a few weeks, and I definitely won’t be buying her any Gap clothes. Truth be told, I shop for her at Goodwill because I think kids need clothes they can paint, play and explore in without concern about messing them up. The last thing my little girl needs to worry about is her appearance and making an impressive fashion statement on the elementary school playground. The very idea is absurd to me, and to every other like-minded parent I know. We try hard to teach our kids that our actions toward others are what truly matters. Looks like Gap needs to learn this too.

I can’t support clueless, offensive advertising. Back in the day, Gap was known as a company that had its hand on the pulse of the modern consumer. So far this year they’ve proved that this is no longer the case. However, their mistakes could be used as a great opportunity for the clothing manufacturer to learn from their mistakes and evolve. I’m hoping this is a teachable moment.


Author: Victoria Fedden

Image: Twitter

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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