The Danger of Gendered Objects
By: Samuel Dickinson
I walked down the aisles of Kroger several weeks ago for my monthly toiletry trip. Each shelf presented a variety of options for toothpaste, shampoo, and hand soap. The scene was tranquil and rather mundane until I turned one corner in particular. What I found in that deodorant aisle both perturbed and disturbed me greatly. Each product was exceptionally gendered, with the same brand (and often the same scent) presented in both a “masculine” and a “feminine” equivalent. The bright pink coloring on the so-called “female-appropriate” products contrasted sharply with the dark colors and clean lines of their “male” counterparts. Even the prices were higher for women’s products. Such intentional differences are hidden in plain sight!
At the beginning of the semester I opted to join the Dollar Shave Club that offers quality razors at discounted rates, and I started to reflect on the act of shaving itself. The gendering of toiletries surely begins and ends with shaving utensils. Consider the common household razor. All one truly needs is a handle, preferably ergonomic, with a couple of blades attached to the end. Can a razor really be gender-specific? Ask Gillette, whose tagline emphatically refers to their products as “the best a man can get.” Would a woman be ill-advised to use these for her shaving needs? Surely a quality razor will satisfy the needs of all genders.
We are confronted by a myriad of objects that continue to preserve such gender-based distinction. Some are laughable examples of gender-driven marketing, such as the Bic For Her ink pens. Others straddle the line between business strategy and discrimination. One that might not cross your mind is the simple bicycle frame. In fact, this stands as a leading example of deliberately gendered products.
Karl von Drais invented the bicycle frame in 1817, and riders needed to swing a leg over the top beam to mount the bicycle. This practice was considered unladylike given the long skirts women wore at the time, and Denis Johnston invented a female frame two years later that was based on a “male theme” rather than having its own distinct design.
Today, diamond and step-through bicycle frames continue to be referred to as “men’s” and “women’s” respectively, despite the antiquity of the gendered reference. Both genders comfortably ride both types of bicycle, and the continued gendering of the vehicle is completely unnecessary. Why then has it persisted?
One theory is that contemporary bicycle shops and designers have managed to sustain gender classifications by varying aesthetic presentations of bicycles to men and women, using color schemes and additional features to maintain a distinction.
Gendering objects is dangerous because it affects our perception of the world. Take young children and their playthings, for example. All children initially gravitate towards toys that reflect their individual interests until they are socialized to believe one category or style of toy best suits their gender. This limitation of opportunity has continued to increase in recent years, as illustrated by a side-by-side comparison of toy catalogues from 1976 and 2013.
Results are even more substantial when it comes to adults, steeped as we are in a continuous brew of media and advertising. The persuasion that businesses use to bombard our minds allows for misguided assumptions to develop regarding each gender.
As thoughtful college students actively engaged with our society, it is easy to see how gendered objects pose a risk to our ultimate goal of gender equality. Echoing our UGA football team, the best defense is always a great offense. In this case, the best offense is awareness. The movement to challenge gendered objects is already underway with typically gendered companies like Dollar Shave Club acknowledging the silliness of stereotypically male razors; recent months have seen promotions for their Lover’s Razor that men and women are encouraged to share, seeing as it is obviously useful for both genders.
Many of our peers are so accustomed to gendered representations from the media that they fail to realize how it traps them in stagnant roles. Start the conversation.