September 10th, 2012

Marketing to Women

I was reading Nate's excellent blog, and telling R. the funny story of the RPG game going on over in the Nook Store comments (ah, brings me back to bb days at the UW, with nick wars). R. brought up, apropos of funny-stuff-in-reviews, the thing about Bic pens over on Amazon that worked its way around the online commentariat recently.

Sample coverage:

I rolled my eyes for the most part, but when it made it to MSM coverage and R. brought it up, I just snapped. So I'm going to describe a little of why I find the Bic Pen controversy so infuriating; if you read it, maybe you'll think a little before you start mocking the next thing marketed to women and/or in pastel colors. Also, remember that I actually have no discernible sense of humor.

(1) Most shit you can buy (outside of women's clothing and personal care products) is marketed to be neutral, that is, acceptable to male buyers. That's not much of a definition of neutral.

(2) If your sense of humor involves making fun of a marginalized group or stereotypes associated with a marginalized, You Are Not Funny. Think you are making fun of someone _else_ for making fun of a marginalized group or making fun of THEIR stereotypes? Better make sure it is not possible to confuse the two. cf. Stephen Colbert's chinese character. I like Colbert. I don't like Colbert when he's doing that routine. I know I'm not supposed to like Colbert when he's doing that routine, but I conflate that Colbert with all-Colberts and it makes it hard for me to watch the Colbert Report for days afterward. Just thinking about it makes me feel awful.

(3) It is possible to like pink, purple, glitter, pastel and so forth without necessarily invoking things like barefoot, pregnant, kitchen, eating disorders, etc.

(4) Items designed to fit an "average" person may not work well for everyone. While I recognize that we make fun of Big & Tall shops, that does not make poking fun at Women's Specific Design acceptable. Just because people make fat jokes at the expense of large men doesn't make it okay to make jokes about women.

Finally, and most importantly,

(5) If you are a member of a marginalized group, and you mock the accoutrements of a marginalized group in a venue that is not primarily occupied by that marginalized group, that doesn't make it OK. That probably means you are seeking status among the oppressors, which as a strategy for personal advancement is practical, but makes me cranky. (Telling bad-women-driver jokes to all women is very different from telling bad-women-driver jokes to a mixed audience. Not that bad-women-driver jokes are ever okay.)

Let's think about a world in which no one _ever_ marketed things specifically to women, if they had a market which could include men and women. Let's compare that to our world.

Now let's think about a world in which no one _ever_ marketed things specifically to men, if they had a market which could include men and women. Let's compare that to our world.

Which one is more like our world? Our whole world is tilted so hard over to make-it-for-men-and-women-will-buy-it that when someone makes-it-for-women-and-men-will-buy-it, people freak the fuck out. And that, My Dear, Dear Reader, is Wrong.

Really, it's a wonder that anything gets marketed to women, but the truth is that stuff marketed to women using pink/purple/pastel, or with women's-specific-design (smaller shoulders, smaller hands, shorter torso, etc.) sells (and not just to women, but never mind that right now because I honestly don't feel like being reminded of that David Sedaris thing). When I buy something with a practical use (a bicycle, backpack, re-usable grocery bag that packs up small), I desperately try to find something in purple (I will take pink as a much less good substitute). I love purple, but the real reason I do this is because Useful Things Are Borrowed and sometimes not returned. I'm willing, up to a point, to buy the equivalent for someone, but I'd rather do that after they compliment me on it and/or return it to me than constantly having to do the emergency-repurchase-after-flattering-theft incident. Hence, the pink/purple choices. I am not the only person doing this, so why are we attacking not-black, not-neutral color offerings if the purchasers are just trying to own something memorable enough that they can hang onto it? And if there is anything on the planet "stolen" more often than pens, I'm not sure what it is (coffee mugs in the break room? I had an electronics teacher who wrote "herpes" with a sharpie on the inside of his coffee mug. Never, ever, ever had to replace it. That guy was hysterical. He'd explain how capacitors work, demonstrate it, then ask someone in the classroom -- usually a football player -- to come up and touch one that he'd charged up. He didn't actually let them touch a charged one that I knew of, but the point he was making was DO NOT BE THIS GUY!).

Finally, the route to greater acceptance of colors like pink in our culture is NOT to reify the association of pink (or other pastels) and the oppression of women or stereotypes about women or whatever. The route to greater acceptance of colors like pink in our culture is to market the crap out of pink (purple, pastel, glitter, etc.) on useful objects. My son uses a pink scooter. My husband bought pink pruners. Really, marketing pink is one of those rare instances where what the Komen Foundation did was less obnoxious than what the snarkers on Amazon did.

But just barely, because identifying pink with breast cancer is problematic in its own right.

Timbuk2 Candybar Backpack Review

With the kids (mostly) out of diapers, I've been switching away from the big bags and backpacks to something a little smaller, and oriented more towards electronics. While the iPads all have cases (some better than others), it can be nice to have a bag with a built-in compartment for electronics.

I bought a Fossil handbag sized for an iPad, with an organizer compartment and a little additional space. Alas, it just never felt quite right (which was a bummer -- it was a really nice, purple leather -- but the leather made it heavy), so I don't use it very often. Also, it only looked good when it was mostly empty; never a good sign in a bag.

I have returned to my dorky, but functional ways: a cross-body black canvas mini-bag (wallet on a string, type of thing -- currently a Zealand, which I've long since forgotten where I bought it; I've had versions from many different makers) paired with a small backpack.

Timbuk2 markets the Candybar thus:

"Our most compact ballistic nylon backpack lets you move with ninja-like agility, carrying only your beloved iPad or e-reader, and basic essentials. Plus, Swing Around access means you can bust out your technology at baffling speeds."

"Ninja"! It comes in several colors, including black, and the liner is a high contrast pattern, making it easy to find your stuff inside (the black one seems to have a solid, light grey liner). I bought the "village violet/night blue", because PURPLE! Also a very nice blue. I do not use the organizer (because I have the dorky cross-body mini-bag for that), or the key looper (keys live on a carabiner attached to the dorky mini-bag). I primarily keep the following items in the backpack:

6 ChicoBags, which are shopping bags which pack into an attached pouch. I have two complaints about these bags. (1) The original fabric was prone to ripping. The new fabric is thicker/bulkier but more rip-resistant. (2) The mini-biners on them tend to break and/or get lost. I keep the six bags all on a larger biner, so when I am at the checkout, I just need to grab one and I get them all.

A Sennheiser Bluetooth headset, which I mostly use for music, but will occasionally do short calls on.

A kindle touch.

A pBook, usually from the library

A hat (typically a Disney ball cap with "Grumpy" on it, to let people know what they're in for if they talk to me)

A sunglasses case

A larabar

And in the electronics compartment, 1-2 iPads. I resist 3 and flat out refuse to put 4 in there, altho R. would probably try if allowed.

If I have A. for a long outing, I might have diaper(s) and wipes, or her sunglasses and hat, but if T. is with me, I bring his backpack for his gear.

For my purposes, the Candybar is Fantastic. It is light. The straps are close enough so they don't fall off my small and smaller shoulders (I have noticeably different sized shoulders, probably because I have scoliosis). The backpack is short enough it doesn't bounce off my ass and narrow enough at the bottom that it doesn't stick way out on the sides (I may be fat, but I'm just not that wide up top). It goes to the playground, book group, restaurants, shopping, etc. I do not think I would use this in a school context.

The Candybar, in short, has the Best Women's Specific Design I have ever encountered in a backpack. Interestingly, Timbuk2 is not marketing it that way. Some of the color choices are clearly on the feminine side of a full-spectrum, but there's also that all black with grey liner option, and two different grey options with blue trim which look almost perfectly neutral in style to my eyes (which remaining stylish). REI lists this backpack as a women's backpack. The YouTube video (not produced by Timbuk2 AFAIK) has it demo'd by a women, and Timbuk2's photo of a person wearing it sure looks like a woman. Many of the reviewers on Amazon identify as women (but not all of them). And women are not the only demographic that might benefit from a narrow, stylish, backpack with closer-set strips.

So, is this intended for women? Probably. Timbuk2 has other backpacks with a similar range of colors, but with two photos: one showing a man wearing it and one showing a woman. They also have backpacks with just a photo of a man. But they've left open the possibility that a man could buy and use this, without feeling All Weird about it.

Just a _little_ more information would be so helpful

I'm reading _Putting Asunder: A History of Divorce in Western Society_ by Roderick Phillips, which I am enjoying. Mostly. I'm around 150 pages in and it is a bit of a slog: heavy on details and close argumentation, light on narrative thrust due to the chronological and/or geographical organization. That's not a complaint; it's an observation with carping.

He has already observed that in the early middle ages, serfs could not contract legally binding marriages in Western Europe (when he was noting the point in time when that changed). And throughout the period covered by the book thus far, the institution of slavery exists in one form or another (I'm to the 1770s, where Phillips is getting into how the colonial legislatures responded to the additional freedom to allow divorce) and I know from elsewhere that slave marriages were very contingent to the extent they were recognized at all. Further, Phillips has spent a fair amount of time (and will spend more) describing separation (either through ecclesiastical or civil courts) followed by a nominally bigamous second marriage as a sort-of replacement for divorce. But when he cites divorce (_actual divorce_, not divorce replacement like the separation + bigamy thing) and attempts to put that in perspective, he puts it into perspective across the population of the jurisdiction in question.

I don't think that can possibly make sense. Even if his population calculation excluded the people we know couldn't access divorce because of being slaves (which he has not specified), I think it's safe to say that divorce was only accessed by a particular segment of the population -- the examples he gives are heavy on the aristocracy, and not the lower ranks, either. To give a sense of at what rate people accessed divorce, we'd need not an overall population figure, but a figure for that segment -- whether it be 1% or 10% or somewhere in between.

I recognize that it's probably not possible for most of this time to get any sense of more informal procedures for terminating one relationship and replacing it with another. I'm not asking that. I'm asking for a little more information on the kinds of people who did petition legislatures (or ecclesiastical courts) for relief (whether they got it or not). Maybe there were, occasionally, poor laborers -- I'd love to know! But if it really is all very rich and powerful folk, I'd rather see those numbers given against that subpopulation.