Gifts for him, gifts for her: sexist Christmas gift guides 2016

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Woo! Christmas! The season of mince pies, mulled wine, and trying to avoid awkward questions from relatives who have an opinion on your love life! More than that, it is the season where many online shops decide to split all of their products into ‘men versus women’, so they can provide you with sexist Christmas gift lists – ‘The Ultimate Christmas Gifts For Her’ and ‘Top Presents For Him’ etc – as a way of grabbing search traffic and all of your sweet, sweet cash. I had a look at sexist Christmas gift lists in 2013, but it’s time for an update. Let’s see what 2016 – aka The Worst Year, has to offer.

Tesco Christmas gifts

Tesco’s Christmas page starts with a trick that many other shops are doing too:

Tesco screenshot showing gifts for her gifts for him gifts for kids

Perhaps thanks to campaigns like ‘let toys be toys‘, many brands have stopped gendering kids’ things. But with adults? Get stuffed. You’ll have pink or blue and LIKE IT.

On the up side, Tesco’s category pages are refreshingly similar: there is ‘DVD and entertainment’ for both men and women. Likewise ‘nightwear and slippers.’ The only weird discrepancy is that bathroom products are labelled ‘styling’ for women but ‘shaving and grooming’ for men. Clearly the men in Tesco’s head office have no style.

Someone’s also applied some bizarre logic to which products get listed where. See if you can spot the difference between the top 5 items in ‘DVD and entertainment’ for men:

tesco entertainment gifts for men

And for women:

Tesco entertainment gifts for women

I like to imagine the person who had to sit down and make these lists. “Phil Collins OBVIOUSLY has universal appeal,” they thought to themselves. “But healthy eating is a bit niche, isn’t it? Men don’t like healthy eating.”

Either that or they remembered Sheryl Sandberg’s poor excuse for a feminist book and thought: “Lean In MUST be a woman thing. Not sure what feminist theory has to do with a bearded chef holding a burger bun, but fuck it, it’s nearly home time.”

Sainsbury’s Christmas gifts

Let’s not spend too long here – suffice to say Sainsbury’s do many of the same things Tesco do: dividing gifts into ‘his and hers’, and suchlike. What’s more, while the ‘for him’ page shows tantalising variety (An Arsenal calendar! A Batman hip flask! A novelty bottle opener! A coffee machine!), on the ‘for her’ page, the first 6 items are all just bits of hair styling equipment. Straighteners, dryers, curlers: women clearly love warming up their hair.

top 4 'gifts for her' listed on sainsbury's website includes straighteners curlers more straighteners and a hairdryer

What’s more, they manage to fill in another square on ‘sexist product bingo’ by offering women the same bluetooth speaker they offer men, except while the men’s is grey, the women’s is coloured pink. Little known fact about women: we are incapable of distinguishing buttons on technology unless everything is pink. Ideally it would also have sparkles.

Marks and Spencer Christmas gifts

When I last compiled a sexist Christmas gifts list, Marks and Spencer was highlighted as one of the least sexist companies. Their Christmas page was split by far more useful categories like ‘gifts for food-lovers’ and ‘gifts for gardeners.’ I gave them a shiny Christmas star.

Unfortunately, they have taken that star and smashed it into tiny glittery pieces, because this year their Christmas page looks like this:

Marks and Spencer website screenshot showing christmas gifts for him, gifts for her and gifts for kids

It’s a recurring theme, and as you can see from above they’re not the only culprits. But it’s still disappointing, given that Marks and Spencer showed a couple of years ago that you don’t need to do this.

Worse, when you click through to the pages you’ll see categories like ‘boys’ toys’ for men while women get categories like ‘queen of bling.’ If you’re buying for a bloke who likes nice stuff, you’ll probably click on ‘luxe must-haves.’ For women, a similar category is labelled ‘pamper princess.’ Because classy guys need their ‘luxe’ essentials, while their female counterparts demand them, like spoiled royalty.

Boots Christmas gifts

I’ve been ITCHING to get to Boots (and not just because I need some cream for that rash). Boots have often been one of the worst offenders of sexist gifting, and I think this year’s gift guide homepage neatly encapsulates why.

Below the obvious (and apparently almost universal) labels: gifts for him/her/kids, Boots has almost done a good thing. It has tried to split gifts by type rather than gender. Well done to them for this – as I’ve said before, offering gifts by type means you can pick something based on the type of person someone actually is, rather than on a guess or a hunch founded on stereotypes that may not fit them at all.

Unfortunately, Boots still cannot resist shoehorning some gendered assumptions in…

Boots gifts by type lists 'beauty' opposite 'male grooming'

There are razors listed under ‘beauty’, as there are razors listed under ‘male grooming’, so clearly some kinds of shaving constitute necessary maintenance while others constitute beautification. WHAT COULD THE DIFFERENCE POSSIBLY BE?

What’s more, as you explore the ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’ pages, you’ll notice something of a colour scheme – one’s pink and the other overwhelmingly grey. And nowhere is it more obvious than in the subtle distinction demonstrated by their Fitbit recommendations. Two of these were found on the ‘gifts for her’ page, and one on the ‘gifts for him.’ Can you guess which?

image of blush pink fitbit size small image of Boots teal fitbit size small image of dark blue fitbit size large

They are even listing different sizes! Because men have huge thick wrists like tree trunks and we women have the delicate bones of tiny newborn fauns.

More weird choices become apparent the more you dig. While both men and women may be gifted the generic ‘Starbucks Christmas mug’, only women are offered a mug that says ‘happiness lies within.’ Men get exclusive dibs on a travel mug which tells them ‘a brew will see you through.’ Alongside the fact that trite statements shouldn’t be limited by gender, I am also concerned about the soundness of the Boot’s mug philosophy when taken as a whole. A brew is a distinctly external source of happiness, at least until it’s been drunk. So men and women are being given wildly different messages about where to turn for comfort in times of trouble.

Virgin Experience Days Christmas

OK, I’m officially bored of the high street now. Can online shops do better? Maybe if we look at less traditional presents we’ll find a less traditional mindset?

HAHAHA nope.

While they start off well, by offering options on their Christmas homepage alongside ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’, they do still offer those categories and… well, I’ll let you decide. Here are Virgin experiences’ gifts for him and her, divided by category. Check the number of experiences listed under each category.

For him:

driving (111) food + drink (98) afternoon tea (26) spa and beauty (16) adventure (37) days out and tours (149) flying (39) sports (37)

For her:

driving (6) food + drink (150) afternoon tea (74) spa and beauty (84) adventure (4) days out + tours (130) flying (7) sports (1)

Men get a choice of over ONE HUNDRED driving experiences, while we get to choose from just 6. Fair enough, one of the ones we get is DRIVING A TANK, which is pretty badass. But we miss out on muscle car driving and other fun shit because… why? Because someone at Virgin has decided that women either couldn’t or wouldn’t drive a freaking MUSTANG. Guys miss out on a hell of a lot of pampering, as spa and beauty things are mostly reserved for ladies.

And perhaps the saddest of all – the thing which symbolises so much of why gender-split gifts are bullshit – men get to have a full THIRTY-SEVEN adventures, while women can choose between four. Four adventures! Being a woman means selecting one out of four adventures, chosen by someone who’s decided you will never drive a Mustang.

Onwards…

BONUS individual product – THE MANDLE

While I’m mostly focusing on lists as a whole, I couldn’t resist giving a special shout-out to products that have been invented solely to play to ridiculous gender stereotypes. King of all these was suggested to me on Twitter, and it ticks every single sexist gift box I can think of. Behold: the mandle!

"mandle company" - candles on testosterone

  • Irritating portMANteau? Check.
  • Dark grey colouring and rugged font, to highlight that MEN are ROUGH and READY? Check.
  • Literal ‘man’ symbol just to hammer home that this is for blokes? Check.
  • Tagline ‘candles on testosterone’ to equate masculinity with testosterone levels? Check.

But even studying the total shitpile that is this company’s logo cannot quite prepare you for what you’ll see when you start browsing their awful products. They seem to have two key ideas on how to sell scented candles to men. The first involves rebranding standard scents in ways that will appeal to men. ‘Strippers’ mouth’, for instance, is a gobsmackingly awful name for a candle that basically smells like peppermint. Presumably the assumption here is that men are so devastatingly pathetic that they can only enjoy minty freshness if they can imagine it spewing forth from the mouth of someone who might at some point let them see her boobs. Their second ruse involves inventing new candles with scents that they have decided manly menly men like: Cruise Ship Deck, Gunpowder, Tailgate or (I am not making these up) Outhouse.

“Hey! What smells do men like?”

“Shit.”

“Not, like, fresh summer meadows?”

“No, they’re for women. What men enjoy is huffing deep on the scent of actual human shit.”

“OK boss.”

While the gift guides are bad, I wanted to mention Mandle because it’s rare you get to see such a perfect example of gendered bullshit causing companies to treat their customers like they don’t have two brain cells to rub together.

Christmas gifts at Firebox

Those quirky fuckers over at Firebox always seem fun, so maybe they can avoid falling into the same sexist trap as other places, and list their gifts by interest rather than gender?

Haha, sorry my bad.

Screenshot of Firebox website which shows gifts listed 'for him' and 'for her'

When you actually visit the pages, it’s clear there’s less knee-jerk stereotyping going on here than elsewhere: both men and woman, for instance, are offered the chance to purchase emoji phone chargers and this colour-changing unicorn mug. But unfortunately for blokes, these actual unicorn tears are only listed under ‘gifts for her.’ Men, instead, get offered this Brewdog beer-making kit. Women: no beer for you.

You can see they’re sort-of trying to move in the right direction: I get the feeling someone in their office stood up in a meeting and said ‘why wouldn’t men want a mug with a colour-changing unicorn?’ so whoever that was, I salute you. But they’re still making plenty of the lazy mistakes many other shops make: assuming men like beer but women like gin, or that women will reject a gift of Star Wars chopsticks yet somehow be delighted with a Star Wars crochet set.

Above all, though, I’m sad that women don’t get offered this:

hatching dinosaur candle

I would LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I would burn it while humming the Jurassic Park theme. I would film it on my phone so I could replay the moment Raptor McRaptface hatched from its tiny egg. This is not just for men! Surely if there is one thing that unites people of all genders, it is the delight in seeing a teeny baby dinosaur emerge from a waxy egg.

Gifts for him, gifts for her and Search Engine Optimisation

Whenever I talk about sexism in online marketing, I get someone cheerily explaining to me that there’s a reason people separate by gender. They want to capitalise on the search traffic you can get from individuals who type ‘gifts for her’ into Google. And its true: lots of people do this. In fact, according to Google Trends, more people seem to be doing it each year, which annoys the shit out of me. The graph below plots search interest in ‘gifts for her’ (blue) and ‘gifts for him’ (red):

Google trends graph showing increase in Christmas searches for phrases 'gifts for her' and 'gifts for him'

So shops pander to this. They want to make money. This seems like an easy way to do it.

But there are three things I’d point out here:

  1. If every single shop is doing this, then your chances of getting to the top of a Google search for ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’ is almost vanishingly small. You can certainly buy a Google ad to get your page listed (and many people do), but it’s not exactly a golden ticket: if you really want to sell lots at Christmas you have to do more than just list your pink products on one page and your blue products on another. Go to Google keyword planner, and check gift keywords in your area: ‘gardening gifts’ or ‘romantic gifts’ or ‘dinosaur gifts’ may have fewer searches, but you’ll have more chance of getting to the top. And hey – you can even sneakily include keywords like ‘gifts for her’ in blog posts explaining why you’re not doing that gendered shit any more. That’s the strategy Hot Octopuss took with their Christmas gift guides – gifts for BDSM fans, for porn lovers, for exhibitionists, and there’ll be more throughout December. I’m biased, because I wrote those and I’m pretty chuffed with them. But there are other great examples elsewhere.
  2. Given so many shops are doing ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’, you can provide genuinely useful information for gift-buyers by doing something a little bit different. Offering helpful advice on what to buy based on people’s personality type, hobbies, interests, or gifts you’ve bought them in the past.
  3. Even if you’re doing this for some Christmas SEO, because your marketing director is breathing down your neck about getting some gift-guide content up, there is nothing to say that your ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’ need to follow lazy pink and blue stereotypes. How about offering pamper days for guys too? Or including DINOSAUR EGGS in your ‘gifts for her’ material? If all your competitors are doing this lazy shit, you immediately get one up on them by expanding your offering, and giving gift-buyers some genuine inspiration.

Final point, which has less to do with SEO and more to do with general marketing: seeing as so many of these online shops have dropped gendered listings for kids’ presents, why not adults too? It’s not like gender simply appears on your eighteenth birthday, pouncing out of the shadows and bashing you over the head with a sparkly gift set and a pampering spa experience.

Shops know that gendering toys with ‘boys v girls’ is a shit idea. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to extend that to adults too.

18 Comments

  • Mrs Fever says:

    I posted a gift guide on my blog this year for the first time. It didn’t occur to me to separate things into ‘for _____’ type categories. I wish I could say that was a conscious choice, but in actuality it was more like, “I think these things are cool, so OF COURSE other people will too!”

    Except I forgot one thing. Kitty Santa Suits!

    Which are not sold. I had to buy a doggie suit for my cat, because some genius in Marketingland decided that cats have no fashion sense. Which is just WRONG. So if you don’t mind me using your comments section as a platform, I just want to say: CATS DESERVE COOL CLOTHES TOO!

    Anywhoo…

    Your book is on my list, so if there’s a way for people to buy it direct or have it autographed or whatever, please let me know and I’ll add that info to my post. :)

    • Girl on the net says:

      Haha, I don’t think I know any cats that would sit still long enough to be dressed in a santa suit =D

      And ooh yay – glad my book’s on your list! There were some signed ones at Coles but it looks like they’re out of stock – boo. I’ll check with my publisher to see if I need to do some more or seeing as you’re a fellow sex blogger, if you’re coming to Eroticon bring it along there and I’ll sign it!

  • Humbug says:

    Gifts are shit and a waste of time and money.

    If i wanted [that] id have already bought it.

    Dont buy anything.

    • Ronv says:

      How silly. What if you didn’t know that gift existed? Or simply didn’t have the money?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Do you leave comments like this on every post about Christmas gifts, or just this one? It seems like quite a difficult mission you’ve given yourself here.

  • Seb says:

    I like complaining about this as much as the next person, but are there examples of stores doing it right and not separating gifts by gender?

  • Jamie says:

    Last year my sister bought me this epic little all in one coffee grinder/filter. All you need is coffee beans and hot water. It’s a great little addition to my mountaineering and climbing. There is literally no way this product could be gendered in any way- there’s no different colours for men and women. However, this year it sits firmly in the ‘perfect gifts for women’ section of Cotswolds catalogue. So apparently, according to Cotswolds either division of labour is still a thing in the outdoors or men just don’t need decent coffee on the mountain. Very odd considering their customer base.

  • The quiet one says:

    I’m guessing the two peaks on your graph are thanksgiving and Christmas? Or easter? Gifts for guys look trickier anyway.

    The picture for this blog really made me laugh :D

    I’m a girl and I hate pink but I do love fast cars!

    • Girl on the net says:

      They’re actually Christmas and Valentine’s Day! V-Day beats even Christmas for ‘for him and her’ search volume.

      Glad you like the picture – I <3 it! Stuart is amazing =)

    • Girl on the net says:

      They’re actually Christmas and Valentine’s Day! V-Day beats even Christmas for ‘for him and her’ search volume.

      Glad you like the picture – I <3 it! Stuart is amazing =)

  • Internet Pseudonym says:

    I think the mugs in the image are fantastic and am sad that they probably aren’t for sale in Real Life.

  • Soz says:

    So I’m reading and nodding along and then… ‘holy shit I need to get a hatching dinosaur egg!!’

  • Chris says:

    Any plans for a 2017 update?

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