By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Bic Pens for Her, men’s sunscreen from Banana Boat, “Dude Chapstick,” and Kleenex mansize tissues. What do these products have in common? They are all ridiculously gendered examples of products complied in an article about gendered marketing, from The Huffington Post’s Women’s section. It seems more and more that products precariously labeled as only suitable for one gender or another stock the shelves of our stores. What is the logic behind these absurdly gendered products, and is gendering any product equally absurd? Let’s get to the bottom of the mysterious and pervasive concept of gendered marketing, and why it is ultimately harmful to color our aisles pink and blue.
What is gendered marketing? From a business standpoint, it is easier to make a higher profit if you split your consumers into smaller demographics. So, you can sell twice as much of the same product by repackaging the design to make it seem like each group’s choices are limited. This is called market segmentation. To many companies, gender seems an easy line along which to divide people, thus we end up with gendered shampoos, soaps, razors, and other body products, but also more obviously ridiculous divisions like Legos and other toys designed for boys and girls, gendered school supplies, snacks, and even candles.
Marketing like this is a huge contributor to society’s perceptions of gender roles and stereotypes. In an episode of “The Checkout,” an Australian TV show about consumer affairs, the hosts talked about the various techniques companies use including “shape, texture, packaging, logos, verbiage, graphics, sound, and names to define the gender of a brand.” This means that consumers can recognize products for women by their light or bright colors, floral designs, cursive font, and smooth edges, while men know that they can buy products with dark colors, sharp edged designs, block print, and scientific looking graphics. Many times, products even patronize men to the point of having a label just say flat out that the shampoo is “for men.” Some companies even make a joke out of the obvious gendering of products, which is why we end up with brands like “mandles.”
We may not realize it, but these subtle design choices drastically affect how we see the roles and norms for, our genders. Just as the entertainment and beauty industries advertisements shape our definition of what beauty should be, the
very packaging and presentation of the products we buy shapes the way we define what our gender should be. Over and over again, advertising and marketing remind us that males should be strong, logical, scientific, and forceful while women should be soft, fun, playful, sensitive, and social. From the very first doll or monster truck toy we place in front of our children, we are setting the expectations of how we want them to conform, and we rarely see these categories being mixed and matched in any way. What are we teaching our kids and to ourselves about how our gender or sex affects our identity? What room does this aggressive marketing strategy leave for people who dare to define outside of this narrow gender binary?
Gendered marketing unnecessarily limits the identity options we feel we have as people, it is ultimately more expensive. Say you are a parent, and your first child is a girl. If you buy all girls’ toys, clothing, and room decorations, will you really ending up passing down those products to her newborn younger brother or will you instead go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for your son? We end up limiting our view of what girls and boys can wear, play with, and use, and therefore we end up buying more, pricier products, all just to perpetuate strict gender roles. Everyone’s costs go up in this system, but women especially pay for separation of products. Many times, women pay more per unit for the same products as men, just because of the advertising. Here’s just one example: on Walgreens’ website, you can buy a pack of three Gillette disposable razors for men for $10.99, but Gillette’s women’s razors, of the same quantity and number of blades, for $11.99. That’s an 8 percent price increase for pink packaging and the word Venus written across the top.
Some of this extreme gendering is starting to change. This past August, Target announced that they would be taking down and changing labels related to gendered toy isles. According to an article by NBC about the matter, “For apparel, the signs will stay. But in departments including Toys, Home and Entertainment, Target says suggesting products by gender is ‘unnecessary.’” The company will surely still stock the outrageously gendered products like pink, shopping-mall Lego sets for girls and camo-packaged, dinosaur, race car tracks for boys, but at least they won’t be titling their aisle with signs that say “toys for girls” and “toys for boys.” It is a step in the right direction, however small.
As more and more adults become aware of the faults and costs of restricting people to one aisle of the pharmacy, I hope that people begin to question the products they have always unthinkingly relied on. Ultimately, people are more than their gender identity, and this kind of marketing is just another way that society puts us in a box, only this time confining our expenses too. Next time you are buying shampoo or deodorant, think about turning the corner into another aisle because people won’t think you’re less of a woman if you smell like “Phoenix,” and there’s nothing wrong with men wanting razors for sensitive skin.