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On gendered products

ATTENTION MEN! MANLY MANLY MEN: Would you like to buy a toothBROsh? It’s a toothbrush, but for BROs. It’s meatier and more muscular than your average toothbrush – to prove it we’ve coloured it grey and printed ‘GRRR’ on the packaging.

Ever since someone put a selection of different meats between two slices of bread and decided that the resulting ‘manwich’ was so epic it could only be tackled by a rugged lumberjack, marketers have been gendering objects.

Gendered products are odd

My pet go-to example is the ‘man-bag’. Until the late twentieth century, gentlemen who wished to transport items would make use of a product known as a ‘bag’. Alternatively, perhaps a ‘rucksack’, a ‘satchel’ or a ‘briefcase’. These were all items that could be used indiscriminately – your carrying needs had nothing to do with whether you were a ‘Mr’ or a ‘Ms’.

Enter the man-bag. The man-bag is a special manly bag full of slugs, snails, puppy-dog tails and so much testosterone it could probably arouse the late Queen Victoria. This rebranding of the humble bag, despite shifting lots of units and gracing the style pages of all the best men’s magazines, was a complete and total failure. Not for the bag-makers, you understand, but for humanity.

Because ever since the successful gendering of a particular type of bag, men I know have been subject to a bizarre and almost completely incomprehensible form of mockery. “Nice man-bag,” say twats, to advertise their belief that carrying a bag is an innately feminine thing to do, “Do you keep your man-purse in it?” they continue, to the detriment of the entire species.

Thanks, brand people. You haven’t made ‘carrying a bag’ an acceptable thing for men to do, you’ve done the opposite. In trying to encourage people to buy more of one particular style of bag, you have placed another explosive on the minefield of gender presentation.

Other gendered products

It’s not just man-bags, there are plenty of gendered products that are tailored to appeal to our average shark-wrestling, macho dude:

  • Guyliner – it’s like eyeliner, but for guys! Because guys don’t wear eyeliner! Except the ones who totally do!
  • Guybrator – because until now literally all vibrators have been designed purely for women and no dude has ever stuck one up his arse.
  • Mandals – a type of shoe, similar to the ones Jesus wore, but now worn by men! Oh, wait.

There are plenty of other examples of these things – gendered marketing has been around for years and isn’t likely to disappear any time soon. But amongst the obnoxious pink laptops aimed at women, cute squirrel-shaped vibrators and the ‘it’s not for girls’ tagline on a Yorkie bar, these portMANteau words stick out like an even sorer thumb. They’re so obvious. So bizarre. And so utterly othering.

Apart from the fact that any of the above products can be used no matter what your gender, the whole thing is deeply, deeply illogical. You’re presumably saying ‘hmm, men will be nervous about purchasing this thing that is traditionally aimed at women, so to market it we will highlight the fact that it is traditionally aimed at women.’ You’re not saying ‘dudes you know it’s totally OK to use these things as well’, you’re saying ‘dudes it’s basically odd for you to be using these things, but at least now if you do then you have the excuse that you’re being stylish.’

Do gendered objects make money?

As I’ve said before, I actually don’t give a flying fuck if this stuff works. I’d hazard a guess that certain words (guybrator, for instance) help enormously with PR when you’re trying to get a new, and seriously intriguing concept product to market. Saying ‘it’s a vibrator for guys which you wrap round your dick instead of put up your arse’ is a bit of a mouthful, whereas ‘guybrator’ trips off the tongue and makes people want to find out what it is.

But here’s the thing: there are a million and one things that we know are going to help make money. Charities could show grotesque pictures of dead people, payday loan companies could write letters from fake lawyers,  bloggers could include shameless promotional sponsor links and tell you that if you don’t click on them and buy stuff they’ll kill a basket of kittens.

We could do that, but most of us don’t (honest – no kittens will ever be harmed in the marketing of this blog) because we know that it’s wrong, and a bit uncomfortable. Those of us that do think only about the bottom line are usually called out on mistakes, as people recognise that although money is important, ethics matter too.

Most marketers probably think there’s nothing wrong with peddling a manbag, or even a toothBROsh. I’m not saying ‘guyliner’ is as bad as fake legal threats, of course – it isn’t even close – but in slapping a gender label on something otherwise universal, marketers are contributing to a world that focuses on exclusion rather than inclusion. One which stacks us all into neat piles according to the way we’re presented, and draws a circle around the things we can do, have, and be. Gendered products maintain the cycle that made gendered products necessary in the first place. In the short term you’ll shift a few more pairs of ‘mandals’ to guys who were worried that ‘sandals’ were too feminine, but in the long-term you’ve just chained yourself to notion that certain products can only appeal to half of the human race.

So in making that choice, ‘Mandals Incorporated’ has ensured that there’s a huge crowd of customers they will never be able to acquire. A pile of money that they can never take to the bank. I hope someone else does.

16 Comments

  • Richard P says:

    Should your products be gender divided?
    Well there’s one question you should ask.
    Does it interact with the genitals?
    If yes: then you may divide it by gender just don’t forget some people will get creative.
    If no: then grow the fuck up and just market it to people as a whole.

    • Girl on the net says:

      That’d work as a general rule if, for instance, trans and intersex people didn’t exist. But even if that were the case, there are certain situations in which a gendered word is unhelpful *even in situations where the product is genital focused*. For example, I’m not a fan of the word ‘guybrator’ (although I may well become a fan of the product) because it implies that until now there have been no vibrators for men. Which is odd because I know plenty of men who’ve used anal vibrators.

      It’s complicated, obviously, but I’ll be happy if companies think a bit more about whether their product is genuinely ‘exclusive’ to just one type of person.

  • D. says:

    Doesn’t man-bag specifically refer to a ‘handbag’ carried by a man? As opposed to all the other sorts of bags you mention, which are indeed gender-neutral (or at least, I thought they were).

    I ask because the eyeliner/guyliner thing sort-of makes sense to me, in that eyeliner is already a fairly gendered product, so if you want to sell it to men there’s some rationality to differentiating their version. And that’s probably easier than the ‘make it appeal to everyone’ approach, at least initially, with a product which is already heavily gendered in most peoples minds. (Not that I’ve ever worried about buying eyeliner. But I’m probably not the target market for ‘guyliner’ in that case.)

    If a ‘manbag’ is a ‘handbag’ for men, again that sort-of makes sense to me – the handbag is quite gendered in most people’s minds (whether it should be or not).

    What does completely baffle me is mandals. Sandals aren’t gendered. Are they? Did I miss a memo? I mean, they’re crap (imho, ymmv, hand), but they’re not gendered. Aren’t British men already infamous for wearing them with socks in summer? :-)

    I’m not sure where I stand on guybrators. Well, I suppose I should sit on one first… ‘don’t run before you can walk’.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hmm… Well, I’ve seen/heard manbag used for everything from a ‘handbag-style’ tote thing to a small shoulder bag to a well-designed briefcase.

      Re: the guyliner – I totally get the reasoning behind it, I just think that the hard way of marketing it is a bit more ethical and hopefully more effective in the long term. For instance, if I decide to market lipstick to men next year, it’s going to be the same battle – I’ll have to call it lipsDICK or sonething. Whereas if I’ve already chipped away at the ‘guys don’t wear makeup’ idea, and avoided ‘guyliner’ I can just sell some lipstick to dudes for less effort later down the line.

      Maybe I’m idealistic though =)

  • Vasilis says:

    Well OK, I don’t know why a guy would wear eyeliner if it’s not for a special occasion (appearing on TV or something). Manbags eeeeh, how much stuff do we carry anyway? Mobile phone, keys and wallet? We have pockets :) The vibrator thing is out of my league, can’t comment on that.

    Thing is that we grew up thinking pink’s for girls, blue’s for boys. Boys play with toy cars, girls with barbie dolls. We watch Rambo, you watch films that make you cry. God forbid it’s the other way around!

    So yeah, if there’s this “discrimination” engraved in our minds from the time we’re born, it’s easy to see why there are products marketed differently for girls and boys even if they have the same purpose.

  • JJhon says:

    The Yorkie “It’s not for girls” used to make me smile.

    Solely because the ones they made for British Army Ration packs said “Not for Civvies!”. Which is the kind of morale you need when you’re soaking wet through, cold, and contemplating opening the one bar of chocolate you can trade two meals for (or one chocolate pudding).

    • Calum says:

      My favourite ratpack find was a sharpied message on a stew, beef: “get it up em!!!!”. This was the old-style packs that were designed to be used to hit the Russians with if you ran out of things that went bang.

      Sadly it was opened by a warm and cosy cadet, but the sentiment was much appreciated.

  • IH says:

    I must admit, I’d never even heard of half these products. But I completely agree, with the exception of items aimed at one gender or the other because of *biology*, there seems little need to specify. And hopefully that kind of thing is fairly obvious.

    Presumably the aim is to make people feel it’s been made ‘just for them’. But I can report ibuprofen sold as ‘period pain killers’ works just as well on manly masculine aches and pains.

    No kittens killed for the production of this blog. But presumably there has been some teasing of pussies.

    I’ll go now.

    • Azkyroth says:

      Items are aimed at a particular SEX “because of biology,” not a “gender.” Didn’t GOTN JUST address that?

  • Azkyroth says:

    We could do that, but most of us don’t (honest – no kittens will ever be harmed in the marketing of this blog)

    Liar.

  • Argon says:

    I carry a bag. But that’s because I can put a book, a bottle of water, maps or paper, and random other crap it in, that won’t all fit in my pockets. I call it a mini-satchel, and the difference between it and a hand-bag is that a. it’s not made of leather (it’s this black plasticy stuff), and b. I only carry it sometimes. Whereas, because of the stupidity of women’s fashion, many women have to carry a handbag all the time, because they don’t have pockets.

  • TheLazyOne says:

    Since we’re on the subject, here is a relevant video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JDmb_f3E2c
    (Or if video links aren’t allowed, go to Youtube and search for gendered marketing abc1)

    I don’t really care about gendered items at all (unless clothes count as such). I use deodorants for men, but even those I get from birthdays and they otherwise do their job so I’m not complaining.

  • Emily says:

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen this, but worth it for the reviews alone… http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R1X3IFEIF94OMX/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1X3IFEIF94OMX

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