Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let the gender games continue

I spent Monday and Tuesday at The Gender Games in Melbourne. No one died, though we had a good go at patriarchy! Seriously, though, it was wonderful to see such a diverse crowd of academics working in different fields coming together. I sat in on any number of interesting sessions and chaired a session that I flippantly referred to as 'the panel about dead women'. Seriously, the number of papers given on the topic of how often women are portrayed as 'dead' was fascinating and not a little alarming. Is our culture still more comfortable when women are represented as dead?

The coffee was good, too.

I'm still thinking about gender and I'm still engaged in my favourite topic - pink. This morning, a friend tweeted this boing boing link. It's titled "Girls' crappy fake toy laptop is pink, and half as powerful as boys' crappy fake toy laptop." I heartily agree with the sentiments, but I have a couple of issues.

1. Both boys and girls' laptops are referred to as crappy and fake, but the girls' laptop is described as pink, while the boring old grey, white and black of the boys' laptop is not mentioned.
2. The inference is that the girls' laptop being pink is part of its 'crappiness' (I admit, it's an awful shade of pink and the design could be better - the iBooks of yore did it better - but pink in itself does not make for a 'crappy' product).
3. The fact that the laptop is pink seems to be more significant than the fact that it is less powerful, has fewer features, and is comparatively more expensive as a result.

I'm really kind of tired of products getting away with being more expensive and offering less quality by being 'pink'. I'm also really tired of people getting upset at the colour, rather than the way pink products are made and priced and restricted to usage by females.

I'm also interested in how people construct their ideas of 'gender neutral'. The boys' laptop looks very masculine to me. All straight lines, boring colours, ruthlessly corporate (okay, I may be exaggerating slightly). Often people respond to pink for girls by complaining about the lack of gender neutral products. I have two points.

1. Pink should also be available to boys. Boys like pink. I know, it's amazing.
2. What is gender neutral?

I think that's a really difficult question today. There are some obviously gender neutral toys and objects. A toy penguin, providing it isn't clothed, can easily be gender neutral. But otherwise?

This question amused me when the controversy over the 'Bic for Her' pens arose. Look at how the linked Jezebel article approaches the topic, asking "I mean, women can use men's pens but all that comes out is pesky math and science. And what are we going to do with that!?" The default is that pens are masculine! Yes, the author is being snarky, but why can't women have pens designed to look feminine? Many pens are designed to look masculine - dark, utilitarian colours, metal, 'techy,' large and chunky features. They don't have to tell us they're made for men, because it's so obvious, right? And gender neutral pens? What do they look like? I mean, really? Think about it. You could say a plain old bic pen is gender neutral, but it usually comes in blue and black, colours we associate with masculinity, not gender neutrality. They're supremely, almost aggressively, functional. Again, this is something we usually associate with masculinity, not necessarily gender neutrality. Is our default for gender neutrality actually masculinity in disguise? Or at least, perhaps more troubling, the absence of femininity?


Michelle Smith said...

Belatedly, I like the way you challenge the standard response to "pinkification". I would agree that as well as pink subsuming all other choices for girls that there is an element of denigrating pink/purple because they are associated with femininity. Boys can't choose them because they're coded as feminine, hence inferior. We should be concerned about that, just as much as performing a task "like a girl" is insulting.

Also, I do agree that "gender neutral" is a strange term that I haven't necessarily questioned, but have never wholeheartedly embraced. As you say, what does a lack of gender in an object look like when we tend to assign this kind of gendering to them (even the toy penguin would likely be seen as "feminine" if it was soft and fluffy)? What I would like to see is more freedom to move between toys, hobbies, even pens, that are seen as masculine or feminine without penalties attached. Sadly, it does seem that the perceived penalties for boys desiring girls' toys/colours are higher.

Doc-in-Boots said...

I completely agree with you, Michelle! And I like the way you're questioning it, too, on your blog. I've been really happy to see some commenters on the EasyBake Oven issue scoff at the idea that a boy can't play with a pink or purple oven. I think the marketing could help overcome the problem by showing boys playing with it, but small steps!