Women may be breaking down all sorts of barriers, but gender stereotypes remain pervasive — and they begin to take root in girls as early as kindergarten age. The result is what researchers have coined the “dream gap,” the divide that comes between girls and their full potential.
An eye-opening study, published in 2017 by professors at New York University, Princeton University and the University of Illinois, revealed that by the age of 6, girls become less likely to view their gender as smart and begin to lose confidence in their abilities. Harmful stereotypes, reinforced at every turn by siblings, parents, classmates, teachers and others, stifle their aspirations and shape their eventual careers.
“Young girls are continuously sent both implicit and explicit messages about how to behave ‘appropriately,’ which limits their self-expression, influences their identity development and also dictates their behavior, attitudes, interests, physical appearance, career choices and so on. And these messages can impact girls well into adulthood,” said Elizabeth Adams, a clinical psychologist specializing in child development.
Although the fashion industry has long been criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes, a growing number of women’s brands are using their powerful platforms to be voices for change. And more and more, they are bringing their empowerment messages to young girls.
An icon of female empowerment since its 1916 launch, Keds rolled out its inspiring “Ladies First” campaign in 2015, starring Taylor Swift and boldly declaring, “There’s no such thing as an average girl,” and, “There will be moving; there will be shaking.”
Over the past year, parent firm Wolverine World Wide Inc.’s Kids’ Group has been busy exploring how Keds’ pro-women platform can be translated to girls. A discussion on the topic during one of the division’s Kids’ Collaborative focus groups yielded some surprising insights.
“We asked the kids what girl power means to them. For the little ones, it’s very innocent and literal — superheroes, Wonder Woman and things like that. But for the big kids, it’s about the power of friendships and girls supporting each other,” said Bornie del Priore, president of the Kids’ Group.
Inspired by the focus group, Keds’ spring ’19 kids’ collection includes sneakers decorated with phrases such as “#BFF” and “I am the future.” In addition, the brand shot a new campaign featuring a diverse group of girls and celebrating the spirit of friendship and unity.
Chooze is another brand embracing the movement, recently debuting a collection called Supergirl that features shoes and activewear branded with empowering slogans. Founder Sharon Blumberg said she was inspired to design the pieces after seeing the 2017 “Wonder Woman” film. “I wanted to create a collection that teaches girls they can be their own superhero,” Blumberg said, noting that feminism and femininity need not be mutually exclusive. “While the collection includes phrases like ‘girl power,’ it also features fun graphics such as lipstick and jewels because being strong, smart females who can make a big impact in the world does not mean we can’t love girly things.”
Not surprisingly, athletic brands have taken up the female empowerment banner in a big way — and they are ideally positioned to make a meaningful impact. Sport has proved to be a powerful force in shattering stereotypes as female athletes defy misconceptions that they are weak or not as capable as their male counterparts.
Adidas’ multifaceted She Breaks Barriers project, launched last year, aims to inspire and enable the next generation of female athletes by providing better access to sport for women and girls, working to remove gender stereotypes and creating greater visibility for female athletes at all levels and ages. So far, initiatives have included a film, town hall meetings, a partnership with Girls on the Run, the signing of Jen Welter (the first female NFL coach) as a brand ambassador and the launch of @3StripeLive, a globally livestreamed series of girls’ grassroots sports events.
“She Breaks Barriers is crucial to helping make sure all girls gain confidence, develop leadership skills, reach their potential and be successful both on and off the field,” said Kelly Olmstead, VP of brand activation at Adidas, citing research that suggests girls are two times more likely than boys to drop out of sports.
A 2016 She Media survey found that 63% of consumers believe that brands have a responsibility to use their ads to promote positive messages to girls. Respondents said the No. 1 reason they like femvertising is because it’s important for girls to see such positive messages.
Watch Selena Gomez talk about her empowering line with Adidas:
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