Do you ever feel isolated, lonely or on the receiving end of a generalized cultural disapproval you can't quite pinpoint? Do you ever get the feeling the products you use and love are not really "meant" for "you"? Do you ever passively wait for the man or woman in your life to purchase a product that isn't actually targeted to your gender but seems to perform its function perfectly well on your human body? Do you ever find yourself with a nagging sense of doubt when behind the wheel of an automobile that was never intended for someone with your genitalia to even know about, much less enjoy?
Then you may be suffering from gender contamination. It's when you use a product that wasn't designed for your gender, and it causes the gender it was designed for to flee angrily away from the scene of the crime (and the shelf of the store). With anger.
Products, you see, have genders and clear owners. Using them incorrectly will bring shame and dishonor to your family. The only cure for gender contamination is to absolutely, under no circumstances, ever use a product that is not specifically approved for and marketed to your gender. Products that may lead to gender contamination include:
- Facial soap
- Body wash
- Diet soda
- Smart phones
The main perpetrators of gender contamination are, of course women, meaning that the more women love a product, the more likely men will most definitely not love that product, nosirree. Nothing says gay effeminate vagina man like a guy using a woman's deodorant or body wash.
But there's hope: Marketers have selflessly and heroically stepped in to restore balance to the genders and the store shelves by creating products for men and men only, products that signify irrefutable masculinity and manliness and big strong muscular efficiency. Those products may or many not be packaged in gray or black with different fonts and may or may not include rivets.
In a piece over at Slate by Libby Copeland, this gender contamination concept is defined as capturing the "cultural disapproval that takes place when objects seen as having a strong gender identity are used by the wrong gender."
Take Dove soap. According to Copeland, men were a third of the users of the Dove beauty bar, partaking in its moisturizing, cleansing glory "passively," meaning that they just let their wife or gf buy it and then used it secretly or without admitting it to dudes. I can't think of anything more dick-shrinkingly effeminate than Dove soap on a man's face or body, and neither could Unilever, so they no doubt saved many lives in 2010 with Dove Men+Care soaps and deodorants that "fight dryness" and are "tough on sweat." It's super different than the other Dove stuff, meaning it comes in a different box.
That packaging is important! A managing director at a brand strategy firm explains why:
“You have to make sure you’re harnessing the right male codes,” says Cheryl Swanson, managing director of the Manhattan brand strategy firm Toniq. “In order for guys to even remotely check it out, they need to have permission.”
OK, but, I just want to add that needing permission to buy something doesn't strike me as "masculine" by the marketers' own definition? No matter, it's a boon.
Marketers, as well as anyone who’s been to a Toys R Us in the last 10 years, are well aware that a common way to goose sales is to split a market by gender. If body wash is a product traditionally purchased by women, design a body wash exclusively for men. Persuade both genders that they’re better off with their own gender-specific stuff, and you could wind up with double the sales—households with two types of bath soap, two types of diet soda, two sets of nearly identical kids’ building blocks, with one set in pink. Part of the reason this approach works so well is that men, apparently, don’t want to buy stuff strongly associated with women.
Like Dr Pepper Ten, a diet soda version of the regular Dr Pepper that has only 10 calories. Since everyone knows only women drink diet soda, Dr Pepper had to come up with something not girly to sell it to dudes.
The new ad showcases a mountain man who chews bark and canoes with a bear; the tagline is “the manliest low-calorie soda in the history of mankind.”
Questions: Since when do women not want to be friends with bears? Also: How can something be "low calorie" and "manly" at the same time? The only people who've ever wanted to lose weight are women. No dudes have ever wanted to drink soda but without the usual calorie load. Heh, load. Now that's something a guy could get into.
Speaking of loads, this load weighs heavier on us. Men are just out there trying to live big, strong, muscular, gravelly voiced lives, and us womenfolk are always showing up, sniffing around the garage feeling chatty, and trying to cut in on their God-given glory.
An example: Porsche's Cayenne. This SUV luxury automobile was supposed to be for dudes I guess, but women liked it too, and not only did they like it, they bought it. And DROVE IT!
Nope! said dudes everywhere:
…one Porsche fan characterized the new SUV as an “expensive strap-on for soccer-moms and effeminate stock-brokers.” Another envisioned a woman “driving the damn thing to pick up her kids,” as if there was nothing worse. “I wonder how many cup holders it will have???” the commenter added, invoking a kind of shorthand for what female drivers supposedly want. “Just shoot me now!”
Call it the No Cooties approach to marketing, but thanks to it, we have more and more genderized products on the market. Which is weird, because it seemed like gender roles are getting more flexible than ever. Citing research and a conversation with Jill Avery, a professor at Boston's Simmons School of Management, Copeland posits a theory from Avery:
She points to other research suggesting that when a cultural hierarchy is threatened, it’s natural for those at the top to cling all the more tightly to symbols of their old rank. In other words, as more and more women become the breadwinners in their families, as men have lost their majorities on college campuses, their advantages in many blue-collar and white-collar jobs, their role as head of household, they can’t help but hang on to the traditional markers of masculinity. What do they still own if not their sports cars?
Well, they still own their dicks. At least, until we decide we want in on those, too.
Image by Jim Cooke. Source photos via Shutterstock.