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In the year 2016, companies continue to put new products onto shelves that are distinctly marketed for specific genders. Obviously, this is problematic for many reasons.
For one, unnecessarily gendered products avouch the gender binary. Today, men and women live very similar lives. We grow up together, attend the same universities and work in the same offices. There are few distinctions that require us to constantly think about how our gender dictates our role in society.
But when products that we use in our daily lives fall into two distinct categories, we are reminded that society really does see important differences between male and female. Affirming this gender binary becomes very problematic for those who don’t fit into it. With the silent assimilation of these products onto the shelves of our local stores, we render those who reside outside the typical gender binary invisible.
Obviously, these types of products are most impactful on those whose assigned gender at birth do not conform to their identity. However, it’s a problem for everyone else as well. From what we wear to how we move and talk, we make efforts to act in gendered ways in order to conform to what is expected of us, forcing ourselves to fit into the binary and reinforcing needless stereotypes that further make it difficult for those who do not identify with a certain gender. Often, gendered products not only reinforce the binary, but also suggest that women and men are expected to play unequal roles in society. Consider toys for children: girls are dentists’ assistants and boys are dentists; girls are princesses and men are kings.
In addition, there is a financial disparity that results due to gendered products. While it could be (wrongfully) argued that these products are only things for “emotionally sensitive” people to fuss over, there are real-world consequences as well. It has often been shown that the masculine and feminine version of a product are not priced the same. Typically, the one marketed towards women is more expensive. Due to the distinctions between even the most benign products (e.g. razors), it slowly becomes engrained within shoppers that there is a “right” product for them, that it makes sense to shell out more money to buy a product that most suits their needs as either male or female. However, this is but a marketing ploy; realistically, there are no differences between the two products. Women are therefore paying more for products that aren’t much different besides being the colour pink.
In truth, unnecessarily gendered products are as problematic as they are dumb. Companies often employ the excuse that gendered products are beneficial to shoppers because men and women are fundamentally different. For instance, many of these products advertise that the version for women is smaller than the one for men in order to fit women better. Gendered ear plugs are a prime example of this.
Again, this is an issue for many people who do not fall into the two distinct categorizations. Moreover, to argue against the reasoning behind these products, it would make more sense to create earbuds of various sizes and let the buyer decide what is the best for them instead of making assumptions on their behalf. Gendering ear plugs and having the distinction be “smaller for women, larger for men” is a vast generalization. These types of products make larger women or smaller men feel invisible. In a society that already pushes for women to be small and dainty, we don’t need earbuds to reinforce this outdated notion. The same goes for the stereotypes we perpetuate against men. Companies need to start catching up with the times and realize that what they may think as harmless marketing tactics do cause very real and upsetting ripples in the world they create their products for.