Can we stop gendering things that don’t need to be gendered, already? The biggest problem with society’s tendency to rigidly gender products and services is not only that it reinforces strict gender norms or that it assumes one’s interests and desires based on their gender, but that it ultimately perpetuates gender inequality.
While racism and sexism are two distinct monsters with their own histories and realities, society’s insistence on rampant and blatant gendering sets up a rhetoric similar to that of “separate but equal” that the black community faced (and arguably still face) during the Jim Crow era. The two things certainly cannot be equated, but when the things society presents as being “for women” are so often worse than the things society markets specifically toward men, we can conclude that a similar basic philosophy is being applied – one in which “separate” definitely means separate, but “equal” is simply a denial of reality. The white patriarchy needs to come up with some new material, because they’ve been using this old, washed-up lie of “separate but equal” for centuries and guess what? We can see through your bullshit and we’re calling you out.
A famous and somewhat comical example of this unnecessary (and frankly insulting) gendering of an otherwise neutral product can be seen in Bic pens for her, which were famously satirized by Ellen DeGeneres in 2012. While normal pens are good enough for men, women have weak delicate hands and need specialized treatment from the pen industry. Thank God Bic came through for us women by finally offering us a pen we can actually use. Now I’ll finally be able to take notes in class! Thanks, Bic!
While it’s easy to laugh at stupid marketing gimmicks like this, unfortunately, much more serious examples exist that point to a real, deep-seeded misogyny problem in our culture. On September 26, USA today released a list of celebrity superlatives, in which they list women celebrities as “best dressed” and “best bling,” while listing male celebrities as “wildest talk show host,” “best actor in an action drama,” and “most pointed political gesture.” The disparity between these titles pits women as no more than objects of mere aesthetic and men as empowered, career-minded individuals. Sure, it’s just a petty magazine article, but the fact is, stuff like this is everywhere. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in the grocery store, browse the tabloids. How many of the covers focus solely on women’s appearance rather than their achievements?
What’s more concerning is the potential impact this is having on young girls and women. Our society’s rhetoric regarding women is unequally gendered, assuming that women are shallow creatures whose value lies only in their appearance. The gendering of certain topics or issues can also be unfair to men, some of whom want to read about fashion and makeup, but because those things are marketed only towards women, feel confined to their socially-constructed gender role.
In an even more frustrating example, earlier this year, a post about a sexist Girl’s Life magazine cover went viral. When compared to Boys Life, it’s clear (in case it wasn’t already blaringly obvious) that we have a serious issue. The Girl’s Life cover was full of article titles like “Your Dream Hair,” “Fall Fashion You’ll Love,” “Wake Up Pretty,” “Quiz: Are You Ready for a BF?” and, “Confessions: My First kiss.” The Boy’s Life Magazine Cover featured “Explore Your Future,” as their main story, followed by the deck “Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef? Here’s how to be what you want to be.” Why can’t we also talk to women like they are empowered human beings aspiring to big dreams and goals? Why do we continue to limit them to petty issues like hair and nails when our society is in desperate need of more female scientists, astronauts and mathematicians?
When we force women (and men) into these outdated gender roles, we are denying half the human population their dreams and robbing the entire human population of valuable, productive members of society. We can do better. We need to do better.
Feature image: Flickr Creative Commons