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Boycott Valentine’s Day Marketing: How Gender Specific Marketing Reinforces the Gender Binary

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching we are likely to see a fair share of heterocentric and gender specific marketing tactics like “Gifts for Her” and “Gifts for Him.” These gifts are full of assumptions about a specific gender identity and are often homophobic and excluding. This is just an example of a classic, popular marketing technique: gender segmentation.

Gender segmentation is implemented in obvious ways like department stores that have a men’s clothing section and a women’s clothing section, but it can also show up in ways you might not expect. Like the infamous Bic Pens for Her. Or these Mandles: soy candles for men.

Then we have things like razors, deodorant, and shampoo that are more often than not, gender specific; even if they contain the exact same ingredients. However, usually the female product costs more.  According to Forbes, California was the first state to ban gendered pricing in 1996 and found that women spent an average of $1,351 per year in extra costs and fees.

This way of dividing up inanimate objects by gender is not only limiting to both men and women — as well as financially unfair to women —  but it erases the identities of people who don’t see themselves within the strict gender binary.

The reality of the situation is that products don’t have to be labeled by gender at all. The only people that benefit from gender segmentation are the corporations who can double their profits by dividing up their market. They can sell the same product twice by adding an arbitrary gender signifier. Gender segmentation overall does more harm than good, and reinforces our society’s binary way of observing gender.

It Gives Us Only Two Categories to Choose From

This is the most obvious way that gender segmentation erases non-binary identities. When companies sell products that are designated male or female, they are only recognizing two of the various amounts of gender identities that exist in our world. The people who create products “for women” or “for men” typically have gender conforming, cisgender men and women in mind. Trans and non-binary people are usually left out of the equation.

Having products “for men” and “for women” is an unfortunate symptom of the binary world we live in. Even newborn babies are divided by what’s in between their legs. It determines what kind of baby shower to have, what color nursery, and whether the baby will be a princess or a ninja for Halloween. Before we are even old enough to speak our gender is already decided for us, and it ends up determining even the most arbitrary aspects of our lives; like what kind of earplugs to buy.

It’s Based Off Stereotypical Gender Roles

Not only are we given only two categories but those categories are based on stereotypes of what we are are perceived to be like. Even cisgender men and women don’t always, and shouldn’t have to, conform to the gender they belong to.

This can lead to bullying for children that blur gender lines. Parents might try to encourage kids to conform to gender roles that they feel will protect them. Unfortunately, when children are told that they need to stay in the lines of what’s appropriate for their gender assigned at birth, then it reinforces the gender binary for another generation. This can lead to gender dysphoria as well as self-loathing.

Gender Segmentation tells us that women are dainty, small, and feminine, and that men are strong, big, and rough. There are trans, cisgender, and non-binary women who prefer a traditionally masculine aesthetic, as well as trans, cisgender and non-binary men who prefer traditionally feminine things. Some people don’t identify as either a man or woman.

Our preferences for certain aesthetics aren’t even innate. Though the false dichotomy that blue is for boys and pink is for girls is commonplace, it used to be the opposite; in the early twentieth century pink was seen as a stronger color appropriate for boys and blue was seen as more dainty and suitable for girls.

It’s not naturally ingrained in girls to latch on to anything pink, but according to gender segmentation there are only two ways to experience life; as a hyper-feminine woman or a hyper-masculine man. The fact of the matter is, not only are there are multiple genders that a person could identify as, but multiple ways they can express their gender. Just take a look at this Genderbred person. It shows that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation all lie on a spectrum. There are many different ways someone can describe their gender:

Genderbread-2.1

If gender segmentation wanted to be truly inclusive, then we would also have earplugs “for femme men,” “for butch women,” “for androgynous genderqueer folk.” Although we can see how ridiculous this is because one’s gender identity doesn’t impact their ability to block out noise.

It Implies Biological Sex is the Only Option for Gender Identity

The knowledge that gender isn’t binary is becoming widespread, however many people are still quick to talk about sex in a binary way. There are differences between the bodies of AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) people and AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) people, but even sex exists on a spectrum. “Deviant” gender, like intersex individuals, people are constantly forced into invisibility in our society.

Certain gender segmented products imply that the product is tailored to the specific body needs of a particular sex. For example, “Men’s Tea” and “Women’s Tea”.

These kinds of products suggest that all AFAB people identify as women and all AMAB people identify as men, which is just not true. There is also no reason that anyone of any identity can’t drink either tea. If a product helps with menstrual cramps, then marketers should emphasize that, without labeling something as “for women.” There are transmen and non-binary people who also have menstrual cycles. So to exclude them is to imply that your gender is determined by your bodily functions.

There are some things that everyone can use despite their biology, that have been unnecessarily gendered. Cisgender men have been using make up long before Sephora came out with a makeup line “for men.” They could easily use models of any gender for their regular make up products.

And although the idea of gender neutral marketing is more inclusive, it might be difficult to communicate to marketers who still believe that cisgender women should spend more on a product because it’s floral and pink.

In a world where we are moving towards equality for all genders, using terms like “for men” and “for women” erases identities and doesn’t push us forward. It says that people who don’t identify as male or female don’t exist, and if you do identify as male or female, there is only one way to be a man or woman.

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Sadly, we still have a long way to go before the gender specific marketing strategies are abolished and the gender spectrum is properly acknowledged in the mainstream. Fortunately the tumblr page for Non-Binary Support has a resource page of gender neutral products on the market. 

It’s difficult to find products that aren’t targeting a specific gender. But we can protest this by supporting gender neutral products like the ones in the list, and by not buying products just because it says it’s for the gender assigned to us a birth. Of course many trans and non-binary people already do this, but cisgender men and women can do it as well.

We need to keep fighting for the rights and visibility of trans and non-binary people. Marketing is just one part of our society that erases these identities, and a very prevalent one at that.

Have a thought about this piece? We encourage your civil communication with our writers. Tweet us at @fembotmag or reach out to us on our Facebook page.

Image via fly.

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Written by Astral Plane

Astral Plane enjoys analyzing media under a feminist framework, so naturally she was excited to join Fembot in 2014. Astral is a Media Studies major and an Illustration minor who enjoys drawing comics. She desires to become involved in the film and television industry with hopes of bringing more diversity into the media.

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