Saturday, September 1, 2012

Does it Matter if Bic Sells Pens "For Her"?

I posted a link to the Amazon reviews for Bic's "For Her" pens because they are hilarious, and you should go read them.

Someone asked me if I was offended by these pens and I suspect--though if you're reading this and I'm wrong, sorry!--that she was not.

It was a good question because it got me thinking. Am I offended by these pens? The answer is somewhat complicated. I am, I think, offended. But I don't think it's by these pens, per se. I think that companies are under constant pressure to expand, expand, expand even when the market for their product is likely saturated. And gendering products to sell more of them is a common way to suddenly create a much wider profit margin.

Sociological Images has a post with other gendered products: a hair dryer specifically for men, two different sizes of face masks marketed as being for men and women rather than being medium and large. Cracked also has a great post on the subject that features some ridiculous women-specific products. Women aren't buying enough guns or tools? Make them pink! Women can't resist pink!

From TomBoy Tools

This isn't just a matter of pandering, either. Often, these "For Her" products cost more. As Jezebel showed in a breakdown of the cost of Bic's "For Her" pens, women wanting to buy the "appropriate" pens will be paying 70% more for the privilege. Consumer Reports shows that women are often paying 50% more for beauty products that are identical to the brand's same product for men. Everything from deodorant to shaving cream to razor blades are put in a prettier package and sold for more hard-earned cash.

So, yes. I'm offended.

I'm offended that we live in a world where gender segregation is such an important part of our marketing. I'm offended that women are being ripped off by getting duped into spending more money for the same thing just because they're "supposed" to buy the pretty one.

To be clear, I am not offended that there are pink hammers or pretty razors or sparkly pens. But just as I complained in an earlier post about commercials for things like Dr. Pepper 10 and Burger King that explicitly exclude women, there is no need to cut half of the population off from your product. Make a product that you think there is a demand for. Then let people (of all genders) decide if they want to buy it. There are men who like sparkly pens. There are women who like Burger King's sandwiches. There are people who identify across the gender spectrum who earn money and may make very good consumers. There's no need to put people in boxes to sell them things. If the things are worth buying, people will buy them.

Finally, I can't leave this topic without mentioning that gender-segregation particularly bothers me when it comes to products for children. While I think that gendered products for people of all ages promote stereotypes (men are "rugged" and "tough" while women are "pretty"), these stereotypes are particularly damaging when they're aimed at children who are still forming their own sense of identity. Whether it's the Fisher Price "Brilliant Basics" that have rattles shaped like hammers for "busy boys" or rattles shaped like diamond rings for "sweet girls" or onesies that allow little boys to be "Smart Like Dad" and little girls to be "Pretty Like Mommy," gendered children's products do a lot of work to set up narrow expectations for our children and reinforce stereotypes.

So, I don't want to deprive the world of sparkly pens, but maybe we could be slightly more critical in our consumer choices?


  1. I'll never forget one day in Chicago when one of my friends was looking for a place to get a haircut that didn't have gendered prices - i.e. prices based on whether you were a man or a woman first, not the length or style of your hair. I'd never really thought about it then, but now I too refuse to go to places that do that. Although I'm so cheap I mostly cut my own hair...

    1. Hm. I live in Canada and my experience has been that the cost of the haircut is not based on your gender but rather the assigned gender of the cut you're getting. Like, I once had long flowing hair and got a Jennifer Aniston style layered cut and that priced as a women's haircut, but now I have a mohawk and salons charge me the price of a men's haircut when I get it cut. I think maybe traditional women's styles require more time to cut and style and are more intricate than the typical man's style.

    2. I've definitely seen salons that do it both ways. Some have set prices for women's long and women's short and then a set price for men. I've also seen salons charge one price for an "updo" and then substantially more for a "wedding updo," which is the exact same thing with, what, magic wedding dust? But I digress.

  2. The Bic "For Her" pens are just...silly. And stupid. The whole notion that there would be separately marketed pens for women is outrageous and ridiculous. I love the Amazon comments, they seriously made my day.

  3. I have bought sparkly pastel pens in the past, but never ones that were "for her." I have to agree, I don't have a problem with sparkly pens (beware to whoever tries to deny me my sparkly pens!), I just don't see why it has to be specifically marketed to women. I also have a pink toolkit, but no where on the packaging did it say it was just for women :)

    1. Oh, yes, and the reviews were hilarious. Thanks for sharing them.