Gianatasio interviewed me for the piece and I had two thoughts. First, because the ads are so tongue-in-cheek, they didn’t seem to be acknowledging and validating women’s sexual desire, so much as mocking it. ”It’s funny to us to think of women being lustful,” I told Gianatasio, “because we don’t really take women’s sexuality very seriously.” In this way, the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don’t really objectify men this way and we don’t really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be.
Second, objectifying men alongside women certainly isn’t progress. There’s the old critique that, if it is equality, it’s not the kind we want. But, more importantly, the forces behind this so-called equality have nothing to do with justice. Gianatasio generously gave me the last word:
I wouldn’t call it equality — I’d call it marketing, and maybe capitalism. Market forces under capitalism exploit whatever fertile ground is available. Justice and sexual equality aren’t driving increasing rates of male objectification — money is.
We’ve highlighted the ways in which society portrays men as people and women as women many times over. So many times, in fact, that we started a Pinterest collection. There are two scenarios in which men are the default person: (1) masculine spaces, like the workplace and politics, and (2) neutral spaces that aren’t associated with men or women, like museums and the internet.
When something is distinctly feminized, however, things flip. @jessimckenzi and @freedenoeur forwarded us a pointed example: a brand of lotion called “everyone.” Everyone lotion comes in two types: everyone lotion “for everyone and every body” and everyone lotion for men:
This practice reminds us who belongs where by making one gender or the other the neutral participant and then adding a modifier in order to selectively include the other sex. Another example of this phenomenon is the masculinizing of feminine products in order to sell them to men and the feminizing of masculine products to sell them to women. Together these practices affirm and naturalize gender-based segregation in our social spaces and activities.
by Adrianne Wadewitz PhD with Peter James, Nov 22, 2013, at 07:00 pm
This summer I went hiking several times in California’s Eastern Sierra. Each time I went I counted the number of male to female hikers and ended up with a 5:1 ratio. This reflects many women’s experience of the wilderness and outdoor sports such as rock climbing or mountaineering. These are male-dominated arenas.
One of the reasons for that is because these activities are advertised to women as an escape from their stressful lives, not as a sport meant to challenge their physical ability. Outdoors equipment marketed towards women, then, consistently focuses on comfort and style, in contrast to men’s marketing. Moreover, much of the gear that is produced for women assumes less of a desire to do activities that are as physically demanding as men — the gear is often less hardy and more decorative. The assumptions behind these marketing strategies reinforce stereotypical ideas of gender: that women are physically weak, that women are fascinated by fashion, that there is one specific female body type, and that women are “soft.”
Exhibit #1: Women’s backpacks
Osprey is generally acknowledged as the maker of the best backpacks for hiking and backpacking. Their top-of-the-line backpack for long multi-day backpack trips for men, the Xenith, can hold 105 L and between 60-80 lbs. The women’s pack, the Xena, on the other hand, can hold 85 L and between 50-70 lbs. This is because the women’s pack is shorter. Osprey is betting that most women have a shorter torso and thus need a shorter pack. While this might be true for some women, they could attempt to engineer another type of pack that would allow women to carry the same poundage as men. Moreover, it is unclear why these packs are labeled “men’s and women’s.” Plenty of women have longer torsos and men shorter ones. And, indeed, on backpacking forums on the internet, you constantly see stories of people buying gear of the “wrong sex” so that it actually fits.
Exhibit #2: Choose your sex!
Many hikers and backpackers buy gear online and oftentimes the structure of the websites of the major companies who sell gear reveals the companies’ assumptions about the interests of their consumers. Some, such as Arc’teryx, open their websites with gender distinctions. One must choose men’s or women’s products immediately upon going to their site. Other companies, such as REI, open their site with the opportunity to choose an activity, such as hiking, climbing, cycling, running, etc. or sex category, which is better. By so dividing their products, Arc’teryx is making it harder for those who need to buy gear from the “wrong” sex or to market unisex gear while REI is making consumers feel part of a larger community of climbers or backpackers or hikers.
Exhibit #3: Playful gear
The marketing of backpacking gear is itself highly gendered, with women’s gear being presented as comfortable and stylish. Oddly, it is not marketed with an eye towards serious wilderness excursions. Take, for example, the Yumalina pant manufactured by Mountain Hardwear. The men’s version is described as “Durable softshell seriously protects on the outside, while lightweight fleece on the inside keeps you warm on those chilly hikes” while the women’s version is described as “Serious on the outside and soft on fuzzy on the inside. Perfect for work or play during the winter.” The women’s pant is thus not seen as for someone who is serious about backpacking.
Exhibit #4: Decorative, sexy climbing
The naming and color palette of much women’s gear also reflects the idea in the backpacking industry that women needed to be treated delicately. Black Diamond, which manufactures popular rock climbing harnesses, has named their women’s harnesses “Primrose,” “Siren,” “Aura,” and “Lotus,” emphasizing the stereotypical connection between women and flowers and sexuality. Women are connected to passive agents. The harnesses themselves are typically in pastel colors as well. This is in contrast to the men’s harnesses, which are named “Chaos,” “Focus,” “Flight,” and “Momentum,” which are strikingly active words in comparison and are designed in bright, bold colors.
As Brendan Leonard points out in his post, Girly Girls and Manly Men, “No company feels like they have to do anything special to men’s gear, or ‘masculinize it’ it. Yoga is arguably maybe the most feminine (or just female-dominated) of any active pursuit, but you don’t see any companies making yoga mats with patterns on them that look like cascades of hammers or football helmets or beer mugs, to encourage men by saying, ‘It’s OK, dude. You can own one of these and still love Home Depot.’” Why do companies thus feel that women cannot be serious backpackers, hikers or climbers without feminized gear?
Adrianne Wadewitz, PhD is a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow at Occidental College specializing in emerging media from the 18th-century to the present. Peter James is an avid outdoor photographer and wilderness traveler. You can follow them at @wadewitz and @PBJmaesPhoto.
Here’s an interesting example of the triumph of ideology over simple fact. Fia K. sent in a link to a costume sold at Amazon titled “Tiny Boy’s Costume.” The costume is a green pterodactyl. There is no equivalent Tiny Girl’s Costume. When I search for that phrase, the search engine deletes the word “girl” and sends me back to here.
This is more than just an instance of associating boys with dinosaurs and excluding girls, although that would be problematic enough. No, the costume is called “Tiny” because it’s associated with a cartoon character with that name from the show Dinosaur Train.
Funny thing is, Tiny is female (note the eyelashes, you can always tell by the eyelashes).
This is evidence of how powerful gender ideology can be. Tiny’s actual fictional femaleness is less powerful than the ideological association of boys and dinosaurs. Hence, a Tiny Boy’s Costume.
In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner. These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies. Some of them were pretty cool, actually.
Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign. Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner. But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.
From human to machine, then. But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift. In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men. I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population. But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.
The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative. The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.
When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females. Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.
When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce. It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.
How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.
Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Boston Globe included a discussion of the pink ribbon campaign and cause-related marketing (products marketed with a promise of a donation to a social cause) more generally. It, like books by sociologists — including Samantha King’s Pink Ribbon Inc. and Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbon Blues — paints a pretty depressing picture of cause-related marketing.
As the article discusses, this approach to raising money for a cause is suspect for a number of reasons. In many instances, the percent of profit that goes to charity is very small. For example, one woman bought a candy bar being sold door-to-door under the auspices of a breast cancer donation, only to discover that she was invited to spent .42 cents to mail in a coupon (story here). The company would then donate one cent to breast cancer research! (And the chocolate was bad, too.)
In other instances, companies have a cap on how much they’ll donate. But consumers may or may not know that the cap is exceeded when they are in a position to buy the product. This is the case with New Balance.
In addition, companies that participate in cause-based marketing may do so without thinking through and altering their own practices that may be contributing to rates of breast cancer. Yoplait, for example, “pinked” their yogurt for breast cancer, even as it contained milk from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone, a substance correlated with breast cancer rates. After pressure from Breast Cancer Action, Yoplait changed its practices (Dannon followed).
This suggests that companies participating in cause-related marketing may not really be behind the cause, but may instead simply be interested in the profits. However, cause-related marketing does give advocacy organizations a wedge. If Yoplait hadn’t pinked its product, it’s unclear whether it would have felt compelled to change its ingredients. In this sense, the hypocrisy was an opportunity.
The article also introduces Jeanne Sather, who blogs about “the most egregious, tasteless examples of pink-ribbon products.” The winner of her most recent contest for the most tasteless product: Jingle Jugs, “plastic breasts mounted taxidermy-style on wood” that jiggle and bounce in response to music. They are, as you might imagine, marketed largely to frat boys (and the like) and the breast cancer edition allowed fraternities to merge their philanthropic and misogynistic tendencies seamlessly:
Jingle Jugs’ slogan: “Partnering with our nation’s youth to save our loved ones.”
Nice double entendre there.
This type of objectification of women’s bodies in breast cancer awareness advertising is common. Renée Y. sent in this advertisement for a breast cancer research fundraiser. Again, note that it says “Save a breast,” not “Save a woman’s life.”
Corina C. sent in this image of a t-shirt (I found a lot with the same catchphrase here):
This week I had the pleasure of being a part of Take Part Live’s discussion of “pinktober.” Here’s a really interesting piece of research that I didn’t get a chance to talk about, sent in by Lindsey B.
A paper in the Journal of Marketing Research suggesting that the current approach to raising awareness of breast cancer hurts more than helps. You might have noticed, just maybe, I mean if you’ve been paying attention, that breast cancer awareness has become associated with the color pink.
Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that when women were exposed to gender cues, like the color pink, they were less likely than women who had not been primed with a gender cue to think that they might someday get breast cancer and to say that they’d be willing to donate to the cause. Pink, in other words, decreased both their willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.
Puntoni explains this finding with a common psychological tendency. When people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive. In this case, when women are exposed to information about breast cancer at the same time that they are reminded that they, specifically, are vulnerable to it, they subconsciously try to push away the idea that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something that they, or anyone, needs to worry about it.
Originally posted in 2010, with an extended version appearing at Ms.