Why are so many birthday cards still so sexist and ageist?

Louise Bruton asks why, in the many great leaps and bounds we have taken in equality, cards - birthday cards, especially - seem to be stuck in the past.


I’ve done that terrible thing where I’ve left it until the last-minute to buy a birthday card for my dad and I’m staring at a wall of cards that just… won’t do at all. My options are: a boozy card decorated with football boots and beer cans that more or less says “GERRUP DAD, YE MAD GEEZER”, a watercolour card adorned with slippers and pipes, suggesting that dear old dad is going to die soon or I grab a card for a six-year-old and cleverly adjust the age with the leaky pen I keep in my bag.

I grab the card for a six-year-old because it has a fun looking dragon on the front and it comes with a badge and everybody loves a birthday badge, no matter what age you are. The card doesn’t suggest that my dad is a geezer and it certainly doesn’t suggest that he’s about to kick the bucket in the next couple of days and with some slight artistic flair (I got a B1 in art in the Leaving Cert, you know) that six turns into a sixty-something. It’s funny, it’s cute and it doesn’t totally reek of a last-minute card buy.

Related: Companies offer different work benefits depending on gender, new survey reveals

Advertisement

Not sexist, ageist, garish or twee

Buying the right card for the right person on a special occasion is a pain in the hoop. To find a card that’s even vaguely suitable for a birthday or a wedding or celebrating a new… pet budgie that’s not sexist, ageist, garish or twee, you almost have to put in as much effort looking for the card as you do for the present. That’s a lie. Most gifts these days are succulent plants because in this big old millennial age, house plants seem to temporarily fill whatever void it is that we’re looking to fill. Can’t afford a house? Ok, here’s a plant that you can still somehow kill even though it only needs air to survive. It’s the no-brainer gift for the burnout generation.

Anyway. In the many great leaps and bounds we take in equality, cards - birthday cards, especially - seem to be stuck in the past. Not all cards, cards' rights activists roar and well… you’re right. Last-minute cards in your standard supermarket or petrol station are stuck in the past and they’re dragging us with them.

Cards are divided clearing into categories of rough-and-tumble boy, sugar-coated princess, mum who loves one too many pinto grigios and dad who chooses golf before family

Displayed next to some sorry looking coronations that are wilting out of shame more than anything else, these cards are divided clearing into categories of rough-and-tumble boy, sugar-coated princess, mum who loves one too many pinto grigios and dad who chooses golf before family. We can be as socially and eco-aware as we like with the presents (gender neutral, non-plastic, fair trade; you name it, we’re doing it) and the wrapping paper (recyclable only, please) but the last hurdle is the card. The bloody card. If you were to narrow your gaze to the card selection of supermarkets,  you’d easily believe that all cards emit the message that boys will be boys and women only belong in the kitchen but you are wrong, on all accounts. To find the right card, you actually have to go looking for it and it’s not waiting for you in your local Circle K.

Card found in a shop near IMAGE HQ
Advertisement

How to avoid cards that pigeonhole gender

Following the great birthday card for dad debacle, I was gung ho on finding a wedding card for my best friend that wasn’t a run of the mill card covered in butterflies and confetti. I wanted something kind of funny but also something that had just a vague hint of sentiment so the newlywed couple could tell that I like them. On a mission, I went into town the day before the wedding (this is considered advance planning in my books) and bought a selection of wedding cards, knowing that this will not be the last wedding I attend in my lifetime.

If you’re really ahead of the game, you can avoid the type of cards that pigeonhole gender and events in one gross swoop and there are a number of Irish designers that create cards that do just that

Between Designist on George’s Street and Maktus in George’s Street Arcade, I picked up grand total of six cards to choose between and it took me quite some time to narrow it down to just those six. Of my haul, I had a happy looking head of lettuce screaming “Lettuce celebrate”, a cheeky looking pair of pears proclaiming  “what a pear!”, a silhouette of a caravan with the greeting “Hitched” sprawled beneath it, a clean-cut Mr and Mrs printed on a shimmering gold card, an illustration of a smiling champagne bottle popping and a rather ravishing looking otter asking “will you be my otter half?” My newlyweds got the head of lettuce. 

Related: UAE gender equality awards feature all male winners

If you’re really ahead of the game, you can avoid the type of cards that pigeonhole gender and events in one gross swoop and there are a number of Irish designers that create cards that do just that. Birthdays and weddings are events you can’t really avoid so if you’re done feeling like a dud in the petrol station, wondering if you can fashion a terribly sexist or ageist card into something salvageable with a biro, visit these designers' sites and shops instead. 

Designist

Advertisement

The Dirtbird

Jam Art Factory

Lisa McHugo

Maktus

Paperbear

Tee and Toast

The image newsletter