Subliminal Messages In The Christian Bookstore
I was in a Christian bookstore the other day that I had been in many times. But on this particular trip, I noticed something that I hadn’t discerned before… the strategic and gendered placement of the products. It struck my attention. So much so that I decided to take a few pictures.
My first observation was that the large, women’s book section was included in the same aisle as the fiction section. A quick glance at the fictional novels revealed that they were almost exclusively romances marketed to women. I also noticed that when I looked out of the aisle I was directly facing the children’s department.
Conversely, the men’s book section was not only much smaller than the women’s category, but it was flanked by the Finance/Leadership books and the the Current Issues material. Also, when a person is looking at the men’s section their back is completely turned away from and off to the side of the children’s department.
This may seem like an inconsequential observation but it held a lot of significance to me as one who avidly studies inequality and gender stereotyping in past and present culture.
The message embedded in our culture and perpetuated in many of our churches is that women are (and should be) more emotional and domesticated and therefore are more suited for home related and fictional reading material while our logical, dominate, male counterparts are more suited for topics such as finances, leadership and social issues. Women are also assumed to be more involved with or inclined towards parenting their children than men. Even the priority to read seems to be somewhat gendered as the men’s book choices and shelf space is significantly less than the women’s.
I don’t fault the bookstore entirely for this product placement. Their marketing strategist most likely encouraged the set up and it probably induces more sales. But I do think, despite the fact that studies show men and women’s brains to be essentially the same in function and diversified in interest spectrum (1), our Christian culture often presses men and women into small, inaccurate, gendered boxes. These boxes are full of assumptions that nurture and guilt us into categories that do not necessarily fit our individualized, God breathed make up.
The product placement in the Christian book store was both a manifestation of many church’s narrow definitions of men and women and a subliminal message that helms our sub-conscience into these confinements.
What about the men who are strongly sentimental, excel in the home domain, enjoy a good fictional novel or want to be a tender, nurturing force in their child’s life? What about the women who are deeply cogent, prone towards leading in home, business and world issues or are not apt towards child rearing? Why is it so hard for Christians to imagine these out-of-the-gender-box individuals as not only being real but common?
For the record, my husband crossed “The Great Divide” when he entered the women’s Bible study section, chose Pricilla Shirer’s “Armor of God” devotional, and headed to the checkout line. Not surprisingly, he has thoroughly enjoyed the study material. And, it hasn’t subtracted from his masculinity or taken any extra physical energy. It only required his actions to be intentional and deliberate.
In main stream American, Evangelical, Christian culture, if we are not intentional and deliberate about pursuing our individual giftings and interests, we will be swept into overt and covert stereotyping and will become a product of “Biblical Manhood TM" or "Biblical Womanhood TM” instead of the nuanced, individual, Jesus emulators that we were created to be.
Notes and Sources:
(1) Studies show that although there are some differences in the brain structure of men and women, brains cannot be classified into male or female categories but rather are a mosaic of “male”, “female” or “neutral” traits differing based on each individual rather than by sex or gender. Even the small group of features which tend to be more prevalent in males or females can be found in both men and women’s brains. For this reason most people contain a mixture of personality traits, attitudes, interests, and behaviors, some of which are often found in men, others that are often found in women and still others that are often found in both men and women. For a comprehensive discussion on the results of several studies on the human brain as it relates to sex see, “Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic”.