The future of gender: in an era of microtargeting gender will be irrelevant

Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair
Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair

When Vanity Fair featured Caitlyn Jenner on its cover, it marked an important moment in the changing way we perceive gender, especially in marketing, writes Tracey Follows.

The question of whether to call Caitlyn Jenner a "he" or "she"

The era of lads and ladettes came to an end as we entered the 20-teens, which coincided with a newfound feminism that took hold in the boardrooms and bedrooms of the UK.

Yes, we now have more female politicians in power than we ever had before.

Yes, we actively campaign for more women in technology, and to encourage more girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths. Yes, we are more aware of everyday sexism than we have been before.

However, this kind of discourse and these types of initiatives still presume two definitive types of human: men and women; as if gender is the predom­inant predictor of one’s possibilities in life.

The question of whether to call Caitlyn Jenner "he" or "she" when referring to her Olympic men’s decathlon win, as Bruce, in 1976, is confusing to many, but absolutely refreshing.

We’ve had transvestism in popular culture for a while, so much so that it now forms part of everyday life, and entertainment, quite comfortably, but transgender has been a tougher gig.

Until now. The Jenner story is a sign of a cultural shift in acceptance of, interest in, and discussion about gender.

At the same time, it is a dem­onstration of how gender can be transcended. Nowhere is this more prominent than in magazine publishing, which caters for shared interests.

A recent Protein issue reported that, with magazine production now cheaper and easier than ever, people are free to publish what is of interest to them, rather than what would seem interesting to a gender-specific group. They cite The Mushpit and TALC.

Traditional streotypes have gone out of the window

The first is a modern women’s magazine that "represents the frustration we feel about the imagery we’re presented with on a daily basis… we’re so exhausted by female nudity being channelled through a commodified male gaze", say the founders.

Where once we could sell particular types of products to particular types of people, most notably to "women" or to "men", we’ll be marketing to the individual

The second is described by its editor as an adult mag­azine designed to appeal to all who appreciate beauty, men and women alike.

In a sense, we are coming to the end of the old era of mass marketing and, somewhat nervously, embarking on a new era of ‘me marketing’.

For the past 10 years or so, we’ve seen the two worldviews endlessly conflict and compete for dominance, but, over the long term, the latter looks to be the one to win out. And in that world, it matters much less what sex you happen to be, than the individual you are.

Perhaps at some point in the near future, market researchers will stop asking us to tick one of two boxes marked "male" or "female".

It seems to me that, in time, we will inhabit a world in which identity transcends sexuality; or, at least, gender.

And where once we could sell particular types of products to particular types of people, most notably to "women" or to "men", we’ll be marketing to the individual.

We know so much more about that individual than we ever did before because people have a Facebook profile, a Twitter handle, a LinkedIn biography, an Instagram account and a host of other ways to signal our very specific needs, wants, values and preferences.

With programmatic media-buying and the creative opportunities that come with it, micro-targeting of individuals in the right place at the right time means that the detail of gender may itself become irrelevant over time.


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