We all know that being a woman requires specialist material. For instance, your vagina needs its own deodorant, stylist, and stick-on jewels just to get it through the day. We need hundreds of things men don’t, like lipgloss and Veet, and we’re used to that now. But recently, there seems to have been some really quite amazing ingenuity in producing special lady-products where we all thought a unisex one would do. Victoria Pendleton has created ‘the first all-female bike range’ for Halfords; Cadbury have just released ‘Crispello’, a chocolate bar specifically for women; BIC recently launched a range of pens ‘for her’ (provoking some very scathing, very funny comments on its Amazon page), and London Transport produced (and then swiftly revoked) a leaflet called ‘Tube Tips for Women.' Nowadays, you can go on women-only bike rides or to women-only gyms, and, if you can’t control your alcohol intake all by yourself, there are women-only drinks available. How far can it go? How many more things can be ladyfied?
To be fair, Victoria Pendleton is just trying to make more women cycle, which is a good thing, and BIC and Cadbury are just trying to make more money, which isn’t a good thing but isn’t exactly sexist. They’re all cynically after men’s cash too, in similarly ridiculous and patronising ways, what with ‘Not For Girls’ Yorkie bars and McCoy’s ‘Man Crisps’ (whose website won’t let you enter their virtual ‘pub’ without a ‘manliness test’.) Carlsberg, when promoting their female spritzer ‘Eve’, even go so far as to suggest they’re striking a blow for equality: ‘It is criminal that the drinks industry has largely ignored female drinkers’. Yes, of all the problems gender inequality has given us, that’s probably the one to focus on. So what’s so wrong with pretending women need special lady-products, apart from it being patently untrue?
Well, firstly because the marketing copy often implies that women can’t use normal stuff due to our being a bit stupid. While marketing that is targeted at men is often geared towards traditional notions of masculinity - 'I'm a LAD- GRRRRR' - marketing towards women regularly implies weakness. Not to mention the fact that our only criteria for buying things seems to be the colour it comes in. Pendleton’s lady-bikes have a ‘distinctive blue and cream design with complementing chainguards and mudguards’ or an ‘aubergine purple design – Victoria’s favourite colour’. You’d like to think that when Halfords had the opportunity to talk to an Olympic sportswoman about bike design, they hadn’t asked her ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ but apparently they did. One bike has a ‘low-step design – making it easier to get on and off’ and ‘simple to operate’ gears, which is nice because I can’t tell you the difficulty I’ve had getting on and off my bike. Crispello is ‘lady’ because it’s marketed at the weight-conscious, and obviously weight-loss is a solely female arena – it’s low in calories and its copy insistently tells us it’s mysteriously ‘lighter’. It comes in three pieces so you don’t have to eat it all in one go – this is the equivalent of Cadbury cutting up our food for us. BIC lady-pens come in ‘pink and purple’ and ‘fit comfortably into a womans [sic] hand’ – seriously, BIC, seriously?
The picture all this gendered marketeering builds is of women helplessly writhing around, unable to operate simple machinery, eat or write their own name, without help from some friendly corporations. The truth is, we’re actually getting on OK. I have never once had trouble using my bicycle and I can scribble away with the best of them. I’m happy deciding how much to eat or drink and owning things that don’t come in ‘attractive’ colours. And most of the time, I don’t actually want or need to be reminded I’m a woman. I’m quite happy just being a person.