During our weekly Tesco run, my best friend-cum-roommate Nancy and I happened upon Pink Lady apples in the fruit section. Any bystander, in the next few minutes that passed, would have seen two people staring intensely at the packet. We were absolutely baffled, confused and bewildered. Pink? Lady? Pink Lady apples? We looked at the price — double that of standard apples. We looked at the standard apples. And then back at the packet, reading the description of their “delicate pink skin with a crisp bite and sweet fizz.” Having stared intensely for so long, and exchanged quizzical looks, we decided to leave, with an unsolved mystery to deal with. On the way back home, we pondered. Were they for women? Were they farmed by women? Were they only meant to be eaten by women? Were they only meant for ‘ladies’? Did they have to be eaten “as if one were a ‘lady’?” Did they contain more oestrogen than normal apples? WHAT WERE THEY? Having run out of options, we Googled it. Apparently, they are pink because John Cripps — an Australian who crossed golden apples with red ones to get that shade — genetically modified them. While they are not explicitly for women, all the marketing seems to say otherwise by using pink, suggesting recipes and employing pictures of women in the advertising.
In the picture to the right you can see Nancy’s scathing post on Facebook and while it is amusing, I am more interested in linking this to other women who have been vocal about brands’ targeted marketing strategies (discussed below). I am thinking of the now viral “Bic Pens for Women” video made by Ellen DeGeneres. I would like to focus on one of the comments she made in the video — namely that of women’s products costing double those of men. A quick example of this is the razor — Gillette Fusion for men and Gillette Venus. The men’s one costs £5 according to Amazon, yet the Venus one is £11 on the Boots website.
Without going into too much detail about other products, we can safely assume that marketing strategies utilise sexist tools for attracting women. This is not to say that all women hate pink — but neither do all women love it. This kind of marketing also draws on essentialist notions of gender, in addition to ignoring the general differences and attitudes women have about products in general. However, this view is contested. Regarding the relationship between women, postfeminism, and colour, Veronika Koller comments in her article “‘Not Just a Colour’: Pink as a Gender and Sexuality Marker in Visual Communication,” that:
“While associations with pink still overwhelmingly make a connection between femininity and its stereotypical values, as well as with sexuality, an emergent concept is that of fun and confidence… Finally, the emergent associations of pink with fun, independence and confidence find their visual reflection in the use of pink as a postfeminist colour indexing economically independent, hedonistic femininity.”
What does this mean for consumerism and femininity? In my opinion, gendering inanimate objects (and animate ones, for that matter) is highly problematic to say the least. Going back to Pink Lady apples, my bewilderment stemmed from wondering why on earth is it necessary to differentiate between apples for different consumers? I do realise the difference between razors, for example, but apples? Don’t get me wrong: I do not wish to belittle the work of the man who spent years trying to genetically modify apples to get this shade of pink. What I am wondering is how much more advertising can capitalism produce that makes us think that we need pink to be confident, independent and feminine?
Another brief example of this is tissues for men — Kleenex mansize tissues. Is that meant to be a compliment to men? Or a criticism of men? I wonder how many more products rely on gender differences to sell. When discussing this blog piece with my boyfriend I asked him, in a rather frustrated manner, what the next commodity “for her” could possibly be. He replied sarcastically: “phones with a better HD front-camera for better selfies.” I feel as though this anecdote highlights how marketing draws on assumed concepts of women — in this case that women like taking selfies. Why is it that “for her” commodities are all pink and fluffy but the “for him” lines utilise darker colours in their marketing?
I would like to end by asking whether these commodities actually contribute to the production of normative femininity and its maintenance? Pink laptops, pink phones, pink everything — how does this add to the understanding of what femininity is, and why does it have to be in such opposition to masculinity? This is not to deny people any agency (guys buy pink laptops and girls buy blue phones) but why is it necessary to use the phrase “for her” when advertising completely generic things? Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how these products are received and how they are appropriated, used and contested by different people.
For further reading, please check out this article on the ‘10 Dumbest Products Marketed to Women.’