In some cultures, religious talismans and sacred objects are kept out of the hands of women for fear that females will rob them of their power, a power coded as “masculine.” And according to Harvard Business School’s Jill J. Avery, ours is one of these cultures... when it comes to our worshipful treatment of the products we consume.
While it might be relatively easy for women to appropriate products labeled as manly, like deodorant or razors designed primarily for men, men are harshly scrutinized for using products targeted at women. Not only that, but many male consumers fear what Avery calls the “gender contamination” of their favorite brands: “Gender contamination occurs when one gender is using a brand as a symbol of their masculinity or femininity, and the incursion of the other gender into the brand threatens that.”
Consider the Porsche Cayenne debacle: when the sports car brand introduced an SUV, Porsche loyalists panicked. Sports cars are typically targeted at men, and SUVs are normally marketed to mothers and families. Avery saw varying reactions from long-standing male Porsche-lovers. First, they distanced themselves from the Cayenne, expressing on message boards that the sports car driver was a totally different breed of man than the supposedly feminine SUV driver. Other customers claimed that the larger vehicle was not a “real” Porsche; some felt betrayed by the company. The brand suffered a significant backlash.
This is why other brands have created special subdivisions “for women.” Gilette for women, Avery writes, “[is] a line that was distinctively marked for women [and therefore] protected male Gillette users from the feminization of their brand,” Avery says. Brands with a large female fan-base must create something completely exclusive for men in order to be competitive within a male demographic. For instance, Diet Dr Pepper is mostly aimed at women, but as their website hilariously cautions, the diet beverage Dr Pepper Ten is “not for women.”
Products like Bic’s “Pens for Women” or Yankee Candle’s new line of “manly” candles seem ridiculous. We would hope our gender identities aren’t be so absurdly dependent upon what we buy, but this disturbing tendency to ally oneself with a brand based on limiting gender definitions is pervasive in modern society. Using purchases for self-expression is great up to a point, but the moment we begin to turn away from brands for providing helpful products simply because it doesn’t fit with a narrow definition of “masculinity” or “femininity,” we need to take a good hard look at ourselves.
Thanks to Forbes