What do you look for when you’re choosing a product? Let’s say the product is something essential but banal, for example, a toothbrush. Do you want it to work how it’s supposed to and be comfortable to use? Obviously. Do you want it to be a color you like? Sure. Admittedly not relevant to how it works, but you do see it several times a day, after all. Do you want it to make you feel like a real man or a woman?
Probably not what most of us think of while we’re brushing our teeth every morning, but apparently, advertisers say yes. Here are some products that we don’t think anyone asked for gendered versions of, as found by people on Twitter.
Nobody is saying that selling things in a variety of designs is bad—people have different likes and dislikes and we would be bored if everything only came in brown. But is it any wonder why so many girls end up resenting pink and floral patterns when that’s the one look that advertisements and toy packaging tell them they should be choosing, while boys are encouraged to play with toys in red, green, black, and pretty much every other color?
For adults, who have had their whole lives to get to know their own preferences, it seems shallow and infantilizing. And when design comes at the expense of functionality, like pink glue or more fragile razors, it goes from uncomfortable to insulting.
Then there’s the opposite phenomenon, when marketers think things should be designated “for men” because apparently it’s not manly in the first place to use soap, eat bread, or have a cup of tea (chili in tea… I didn’t know there was something effeminate about drinking things that taste good and don’t hurt.)
To be fair, some products are gendered because of average shape and size measurements or nutritional requirements based on sex. Even in those cases, though, what do we get out of labeling them “for men” or “for women” before said sizing or nutritional benefits? That just confuses and embarrasses people whose needs fall outside of those averages, because our proportions and chemistry vary a lot even within the biological categories of male and female. Further polarizing products by putting nuts and bolts or flowers and glitter on the package adds another uncomfortable layer by conflating our personalities and likes with those physical parameters.
The American Marketing Association has observed that younger consumers are beginning to scoff at advertising that leans on gender, and recommends that brands focus on advertising “what a product is for rather than whom it is for.”
They say that brands could learn more about their consumer base’s habits and do better business by removing gendered marketing that could sway consumers away from products not traditionally associated with their gender, and embracing marketing that presents their products in a positive light for any consumer.