A reader named Judith B. wrote in confounded by the copy describing the watch pictured above. It began:
Don’t be fooled by the girly blue and white face on this multifunction Pro Spirit® digital sports watch. It’s more than a match for any tough guy’s watch…
“Girly blue and white?” she asked. “Huh?”
I think I’ve got an answer for you, Judith. And it has to do with fractals. Trees are good examples of fractals: branches can split into two branches, and each of those branches can split into two branches, etc.
The gender binary — that is, the rule that everything (oh animals, jobs, food, kleenex, housework, sound, games, deordorant, love and sex, candy, vitamins, etc) gets split into male and female — is fractal. That means that, for every male or female version of something (say sports versus dance), there is a further gendered split that can be made. If we take sports, we might divide it into the masculine football and the feminine swimming. If we take swimming, we could probably divide it down further. Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.
What does that mean for blue? Well, it means that, even though “blue” is socially constructedto be masculine, blue can be broken down into more and less masculine types of blue. Turquoise and light blue, for example, are often seen as more feminine that the primary color blue or royal/dark blue. The text, then, is referring to, literally, “girly blue.” Lots of ads aimed at women employ the feminine blues. These ads sent in by some of my former students are good examples:
Usually the use of a “girly blue” serves to balance masculinity and femininity. It’s no accident that these ads are sports-related, or use copy such as “strong & beautiful” and “I totally have a soft side. You comfortable with that?”
So, that’s my explanation for “girly blue”: fractal gender binaries.
When I teach gender I always talk about the ways in which societies actively construct ideas that men and women have very different bodies, capable of different things. In the U.S., our gender ideology includes the belief that female bodies are weaker than male ones, more fragile. Particularly in the Victorian Era, this belief led doctors to discourage physical activity by women. Among a range of other concerns, doctors argued that physical exertion in women might cause their organs (particularly the reproductive organs) to become dislodged and wander around the body, causing all types of problems. I know I’d certainly be distressed if my uterus migrated and I ended up pregnant and carrying a fetus in, say, my elbow.
A result of this, of course, is that (White) women were discouraged from being physically active and taking part in sports. This, combined with heavy clothing and corsets that actually did shove organs around, led to the condition that the medical community claimed already existed: women’s bodies were less capable of physical exertion than men’s and they were more likely to faint (corsets often making it difficult to breathe adequately). It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you believe women’s bodies are weaker than men’s and thus discourage or even prohibit women from being physically active, you create differences in physical capability and fitness that you can then claim prove you were right all along.
James T. found this awesome ad for a product that, among other amazing things, ends “misplaced organs” and will even move them back where they belong (from Modern Mechanix). The ad (from 1934) says that satisfied users include both men and women, but concerns about misplaced organs were a concern applied predominantly to women:
Medical practitioners weren’t just worried about physical exertion. They believed mental activity could be harmful to women as well; perhaps all that thinking meant the brain would take blood away from the reproductive organs and lead to infertility. A common diagnosis for women was “hysteria,” a general term that could be applied to almost any woman. A common “cure” for hysteria was bed rest, preventing both physical and mental activity. The diagnosis of hysteria served as a justification for severely limiting women’s activities, drawing on the ideology of the fragile female body. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” after her own experience of being forced to stay in bed with no mental stimulation, not even books.
Hysteria was also often associated with sexual problems, including a lack of interest in sex. The cure for this was “vaginal massage,” which was exactly what you think it was. This was done manually in doctors’ offices, but eventually mechanical vibrators became widely available, allowing women to treat their hysteria more cheaply and at home, and reducing the time it took to produce a “paroxysm”:
“Very useful and satisfactory for home service.” Uh huh. I bet women did indeed appreciate them.
I find it fascinating that the construction of (middle/upper class White) women as “hysterical” and often sexually repressed and frigid made it acceptable for them to purchase a product that allowed them to sexually satisfy themselves at a time when masturbation was still widely vilified, and excuse it on the grounds that it was medically prescribed.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Paul S. sent in a link to a cell phone for five-year-olds (plus or minus). The fact that it has a button for dialing a female and a male person (presumably mom and dad) is a nice illustration of how having two parents of opposite sexes is normative. Many children have two caregivers of the same sex (e.g., a mom and a grandmother or gay parents) or only one caregiver (or, for that matter, more than two). But it is expected that a child will have a mother and a father involved in their life. That this is “normal” will be reflected back at that child again and again, whether or not it reflects their reality.
Tara C. sent in this video about why big blockbuster video games haven’t tended to appeal to women, and what might need to change to make the (non-casual?) gaming world more interesting to women in general:
Apparently the creators of this trailer for Record of Agarest War, sent in by Goku S., hadn’t seen the video (NSFW):
Nor, presumably, did the creator of the Pocket Girlfriend iPhone app, sent in by Suzanne B.:
You’ll be excited to know that she’s real!
Pocket Girlfriend moves, she’s interactive, and most importantly she’s real. YES SHE’S REAL!!!! She’s not some 3D rendered mannequin. Seriously, why would you want to buy an application of a dancing mannequin?
Looks like Yahoo didn’t get the message either when it hired lap dancers to attend an event to recruit developers to build things for Yahoo.com, and then posted images of the dancers on the Yahoo Developer Network blog:
Yahoo later apologized.
[And for the record, yes, I realize these are just some examples and don’t represent the entire gaming community, especially the Yahoo thing. That’s true of anything we post–they’re specific examples that we try to fit into a larger context.]
On a related tech-and-gender note, Brigid told us that Wired magazine recently described a study that suggested the stereotype of computer scientists as “unwashed nerds” may be off-putting to women and discourage them from going into computer programming:
Cheryan and colleagues tested this idea by alternately decorating a computer science classroom with objects that earlier surveys pegged as stereotypically geeky—Star Trek posters, videogames and comic books — or with objects that the surveys found to be neutral— coffee mugs, plants and art posters. Thirty-nine college students spent a few minutes in the room, then filled out a questionnaire on their attitudes toward computer science.
Women who spent time in the geeky room reported less interest in computer science than women who saw the neutral room. For male students, however, the room’s décor made no difference.
Make of that what you will.
UPDATE: Comments closed. Sorry, but it was turning into a big fight that wasn’t constructive.
UPDATE 2: Upon request that I rethink closing comments, I’ve cleaned out some problematic ones and am reopening the comment thread. Please remember–no personal attacks or insult wars. Play relatively nice.
I was intrigued by the Toys R Us guide because it asked the buyer to specify the gender of the child, but then tended to have more or less the same “personality” and “interests” options. For example, below are the choices for girls and boys. You’ll see that they are very similar.
Boy personalities (same, sans “Glamour Girl”):
So, why even ask about gender, I wondered? I did a test. For both boys and girls ages 12-14, I checked “techie” and “building” to see what I would get.
What I got was rather fascinating. I can’t remember where I originally heard it, but someone somewhere observed that when it came to technology, there was a stereotype that men were the engineers and designers and women were the consumers and users. That is, both men and women might like technology, but men were active in producing technology and women just got to benefit from men’s hard, brainy work.
Well, that’s essentially what Toys R Us told me. Remember, for both boys and girls, I checked “techie” and “building.” Here is the top 24 gift suggestions for boys:
So that’s 13 building/engineering games (like Lego and KNEX), 3 ipod accessories, 4 portable DVD players, 2 MP3 players, and a few other things.
What do girls get? Seven ipod accessories, 5 portable DVD players, 4 MP3 players, 3 laptop computers, 3 cameras, and one building/engineering game. One.
Sure enough, Toys R Us confirms that girls may like technology, but boys build it.
UPDATE: In our comments threat, Reader adilegian offered this great breakdown of the commercial:
0:04. The voice over’s question “Should a phone be pretty?” is visually answered with an effect reminiscent of melting celluloid. The rupture starts on top of the woman’s head, exploding her “pretty” face.
0:06. Women are beheld as dolls.
0:08. Images appear superimposed over images beneath a verbal judgment. The beauty queen (fake) made out of plastic (fake) shown on a television (fake) is definitively stamped “CLUELESS.”
0:10. The commercial erased its first woman by destroying the medium of her representation (supposedly celluloid). The commercial again destroys its second “woman” by destroying the medium of her representation (a television).
0:10 – 0:13. Words across the screen: FAST, RACEHORSE, SCUD. Images: Lightning, racing horse, ripping off duct tape, SCUD missile. Combining these motifs into one single image, we see the SCUD missile flying across the screen with the word RACEHORSE as though it were written with lightning.
0:14. Droid applications: Reality Browser 2.1, Google Sky Map, Qik, Mother TED, CardioTrainer, Where. While I doubt that these applications were developed with the commercial’s themes in mind, their selections reinforce the messages thus far enforced visually: reality (woman of burnt celluloid, destroyed television), sky (SCUD missile), quick (FAST, RACEHORSE), mother (a Freudian slip recognizing the infantile nature of a power fantasy? ^_~), exercise (beef up for manliness stat +4), and going places (which SCUD missiles, race horses, and THE MANLIEST OF MANKIND’S MEN all do).
0:15. Word overlay: DOES. Men do things. Women are pretty and useless.
0:16 – 0:18. Buzz saw cuts banana over a brief yellow outline of a robot.
0:18. Three slim pretty boy models. Again, we see a conflation of all things hitherto condemned: prettiness and effeminacy (designer clothes on fancy-pants, unmuscular pretty boys) and superficiality (plastic people).
0:19 – 0:21. Fruit appears now as a weapon. Hardcore Droid-using man (who is also most likely a fancy, beautiful, professional male model IRL, natch) throws apple at sassy plasticman’s hat, suggesting a Victorian upstart’s rambunctious bucking of all things pretentious with a snowball thrown to knock off a businessman’s hat. Succeeding apples create gore effects.
0:21. Porcelain sheep crushed between the maws of raw, unrelenting MANROBOTPHONE power. Porcelain sheep also conflate all previously condemned messages: prettiness, delicacy, weakness, and artifice.
0:23 – 0:25. Sissy phone explodes into a milky white substance, suggesting ejactulate, with the word NO followed by an image of a woman holding the same ejaculate-phone in her hand with her lips parted. The word PRINCESS is superimposed with glitter effects.
0:25 – 0:27. Layers within mechanical layers give way to reveal the Droid phone. The Droid phone now appears in the palm of a man’s hand. From his POV (deliciously male gaze, yes?), we see him traveling the world at blinding speed (FAST, RACEHORSE) with city lights blitzing past (lightning).
0:28 – 0:29. MANBOT phone breaks through a white, crumbling wall, again conflating the previously condemned ideas (bland superficiality as connoted by white porcelain sheep, white plastic male models, and light pink plastic Miss Pretty).
Maria B. and Heather both sent in the video for a new iPhone app created to publicize Amp, an energy drink (the brand is owned by Pepsi). In this app, called AMP UP Before You Score, you get to choose between 24 “types of ladies” (Rebound Girl, Sorority Girl, etc.). The app then gives you links to types of information you could supposedly use to impress–and thus have sex with–each type:
The app also includes a discussion board where men can brag about their sexual successes.
Women as sex objects? Check. Depiction of sex/relationships as a game where it’s acceptable for men to manipulate women so they can “score” with them? Check. Stupidity? Check.
On Tuesday, Pepsi sent out a tweet that said, “We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate [your] feedback.”
Quite the apology, that.
As the commenter for the NPR story points out, though there has been a lot of complaints about the app, and despite their heartfelt appreciation of consumers’ feedback, PepsiCo is unlikely to pull it unless the controversy gets quite a bit worse as long as they calculate that the app is popular with the target audience–young heterosexual men–and doesn’t endanger consumption of other Pepsi products. They may even see the controversy as a benefit, if the company thinks it makes Amp seem hipper or edgier to young men as a result.
Here’s another collection of images about gender and marketing of various techy things, particularly video games. You can see my other jumbled post of such images here (check out the links at the bottom of that post–I’m not going to reproduce them here).
Danielle F. found a post at bitmob that includes this old ad for Game Boy:
Notice that the presumed user is either a heterosexual male (or, I suppose, a lesbian…but I doubt it). And as we see, the Game Boy is so awesome it’s better than having sex with a woman tied up waiting for you. I hope the unhappy look on her face is because her partner is distracted and not because she doesn’t really want to be tied up.
Morgan C. alerted us to an ad for DirecTV that features Peyton Manning and the following dialogue:
Manning begins “…why you need to watch football in HD: for the one handed grabs” (cue shot of scantily cheerleader’s chest as she is jumping around), “the most naked bootlegs” (kicking line semi-crotch shots), “and all the punishing hits” (don’t forget the chest and abs shots!). It’s a pretty shameless marketing scheme when you hire a professional athlete and project images of women and their body parts behind him.
Here’s the delightful ad:
A reader who prefers to remain anonymous sent in this image he was forwarded that someone created equating different browsers with women. Again we see that the assumed user is male:
The reader says,
…notice how all the women are described primarily or entirely in terms of sexual attributes, and criticized for whatever ways they fail to be ideal sex partners…Unquestioned assumptions here…that “women” means “people whose purpose in life is to provide you with sex”. Male gaze much?
I find the Chrome image particularly icky. The equating of IE with “easy” women, who are of course the “first woman [users] tried” (because she’s not relationship material, just for getting started), and the connection to STDs is also classy.
The sender-inner continues,
Like most software companies, mine has an extremely imbalanced male-to-female ratio, maybe something around 90% male, and most of the women are in the marketing and HR departments so the balance is even further skewed among the people who engineer the software. (Full disclosure: I’m a man.) I have no way of knowing how prevalent e-mail forwards like this one are among engineers in the software industry, since most of them get passed around under the table. It makes me wonder what role they might play in perpetuating or reinforcing a “boys-only-club” kind of culture that makes women feel unwelcome, or whether that has an influence on the extreme gender imbalance of my industry.
On that note, Sabriel pointed out a post at Feministing in which the author, Cat Marshall, a female animation student, expresses dismay at a video used to encourage submissions to the International Erotic Animation Festival. The video reinforces the sexualized female image and also brings up interesting questions about what is considered erotic. Although, for the record, the sexualized women do appear to be zombies:
And we got several more submissions of gendered marketing of techy items. Stephanie G. sent us a link to her post at Mother Jones about Sony Ericsson’s attempt to market cell phones to women by making them “diamond” shaped:
The company claims that “structured forms, intricate corners, hidden depths” are trendy. Stephanie points out,
The phone has some features that clearly illustrate stereotypes about what women (should) care about:
“The two inch screen’s clever design means that at the touch of a button the screen becomes a mirror, offering a discreet way to make sure you look as good as your mobile phone. It is also the first Sony Ericsson to feature Walk Mate step counter, to help you stay in shape wherever you go. It also has an exclusive fashion interface which automatically updates with zodiac signs and special events throughout the year.”
Liz noted the following about Ubisoft’s series of Nintendo games aimed at girls:
…includes stuff like ‘Imagine Makeup Artist’ and ‘Imagine Wedding Planner.’ Without exception every game is about physical appearance, performance for the purpose of looking pretty, or nurturing/childrearing.
If you haven’t gotten enough yet, Kate M. sent in these examples of “time management games” (what?!?) at Shockwave:
I don’t know what to make of this one:
UPDATE: Reader Shodan says, about Virtual Families and Virtual Villagers,
…in those games, male and female characters can take on dozens of roles, with males able to take on tasks that have been often portrayed as the role of women traditionally (house cleaning, child rearing) and women taking on tasks that are often portrayed as masculine masculine (research, construction).
If you want (once things are progressing and you’ve got a steady food-supply, a hut or two built, and you’re working on unplugging the lagoon) you can task a couple villagers to be “Breeders”. Be advised that this is only a good idea for females. This was another accidental-discovery. I had everybody but “The Runner” set to Breeder (to get the population moving) and shut the game down for a while. I came back to discover that one of the males had decided that Runner would be a good mate — food-production had halted. Needless to say, the two men in the village were immediately tasked with Runner’s duties while the females nursed the infants.
So maybe I’m totally offbase on those two. Or maybe not.
You can also play Create a Mall, Posh Boutique 2, Diaper Dash, or a variety of games about diners, salons, and boutiques. Kate says,
Even the ones that involve you having a successful career (and saving the community! What a hero! Nurturing all of us!) don’t start off with you wanting a career – you fall into it by accident, on account of your love for your family/community/cooking/fashion.
NEW! (July ’10): Bri A. sent in another example of gendering technology. This is an image from TeamViewer, a program that lets people remotely access your computer. Notice what it says under Info: “This number identifies you. Tell your partner so he can connect to you.” Because only guys would be using this, obviously.
About Sociological Images
Sociological Images encourages people to exercise and develop their sociological imaginations with discussions of compelling visuals that span the breadth of sociological inquiry. Read more…