BIC Pens For Her and Other Unnecessarily Gendered Products

By now, we’ve probably all heard of the BIC Cristal pens “For Her”, as well as some of the wonderful, sarcastic comments on Amazon UK. I thought I’d share two of my favourites:

A treatise on the suitability of the pink pen

Pray, what is a ‘pen’? I do like it so, because it is so pink, but I remain ignorant as to its practical use. Father says not to ask questions because it might give me wrinkles, and to carry on practising my charming giggle so I can one day ensnare a Duke – but I cannot help but be intrigued by the delicate pinkness of this curio. I can only assume that because it is pink, it is intended for a woman’s usage. I am a woman, therefore perhaps I should have this pink so-called pen?

Does one place it delicately in the hair? Could one perhaps keep it in a box and take it out to peer at on occasion, when Father is busy in the library (wherever that is)? Is it an appropriate subject for after-dinner conversation? Might one take it on a lovely picnic in Hyde Park?

Naturally, we women are single-mindedly intrigued and captivated by the appearance and beauty of all things. It is almost as if my very womanhood calls out to objects of this colour and demands to be in possession of anything which combines the fascinating shading of red and white. If the ‘pen’ (an ugly name, I think) were not so pink, I should never have noticed it nor considered its potentialities as a purchase.

However, I am frightened and cautious as well as capricious and flighty, such as only a woman can be. Upon consultation with my conscience, I cannot in all good faith acquire such an item without being fully apprised as to its application. Now that I think upon it, I have heard mutterings about the use of ‘pens’ amongst Father’s business associates whilst pouring the tea for them (though I am sure they cannot have pink ones! An absurd notion!), and this would indicate that they are wholly inappropriate utensils for the fairer sex. I fear I have been enticed into unhealthy enquiry by the dazzling genius of the manufacturer. In colouring this object so, he has perhaps some deviant purpose in mind, correctly assuming that one such as myself may happen upon it and be naturally, helplessly seduced by the hue irresistible.

I shall not be tempted. I shall not enquire nor express any future enquiry as to the purpose of the pink pen. I must not feel it throb in my fingers, if indeed that is where it is intended to be placed. I shall endeavor henceforth to merely collect other pink objects; shells, ribbons and pretty trinkets such as might be suitable for a girl of marriageable age and limited mental capacity.

Yours &tc.”

-By “You Don’t Need My Real Name”

And:

The pen for women that lets them KNOW they are women!

Thank you so much Bic!

These are more than just pens. They are little pink saviours. Every girl and woman should own one.

All my life I have written predominantly with black, blue, clear plastic, or, occasionally, metallic coloured pens. It never felt right. My sense of womanhood was deeply impacted by the lack of gender defined stationary. I remember once, writing in a public library, a child asked the time, and referred to me as `mister’. Mortified, I reflected upon why I had been so cruelly misgendered. I mean, I’m no Marilyn Monroe but I like to make an effort! Then it came to me: I was writing with an ORDINARY pen. Nothing in this writing implement made it obvious that I was a WOMAN. The next thing you know, this child might have asked me to fix something! Or assumed I understood the ins and outs of science!

Until I found your `for her’ range of pens, I was in genderless limbo. No, make that hell. Horrified at the thought of a repeat incident, I wrote only in private. No amount of make up, pink dresses, heels, and jewellery could fill the aching sense of androgyny that now consumed me. Concerned at my obvious deep misery, and apparent pen phobia, my friends and family began asking questions. How could I tell them? How would you?

Then – I saw them. First it was the pastel colours. Good, yes, but not clearly enough defined. A closer look and my heart skipped a beat. Could it be true? Pens `for her’? I don’t want to go into detail, but I will tell you that I emitted sounds of euphoria I never thought humanly possible. Many tears were wept. Tears stained pink with feminine joy.

As you can imagine, I counted the minutes until this precious package arrived. I took the day off work, bought myself a new pink writing pad, and practically sprinted to the nearest busy café. Settled with a skinny mochachino, I pulled out my new `for her’ pen (pink of course!). The result was astounding. As I began to write, flowers, heart shapes and ponies appeared on the page. I had unleashed and connected with my inner femininity! There was no stopping me now. You won’t believe what happened next. A man, looking uncannily like Burt Reynolds (in his heyday no less!), approached me and said: `Hey babe [Babe!]. That’s a pretty pen for a pretty lady’.

Needless to say we are now engaged and living in blissful heteronormativity. Stan has even asked me to make a special request to you, Bic – `for him’ pens! He says they could be in the shape of beer bottles or golf clubs. And why stop there? (said Stan). A ruler that looks like a brick would make any man feel more of a man. He is so clever. He says you must make sure to send him royalties! How we laugh about that, every morning. (But seriously, do credit him if you take the ideas on board.)

Anyway, I am sure there are still many more stationary items to be gendered feminine, and too little time! Thank you for giving me back my sense of womanhood, and please – never underestimate your role in promoting the gendering of girls and women.

-By “Happyshopper”

———————————-

I’m delighted that so many have seen it for the bullshit that it is, and that it has gained so much publicity. But it did make me think of other products that are unnecessarily gendered, but which often pass unquestioned. Particularly products made for children.

Head on over to the children’s section of any store, and you’ll immediately notice it divided: stuff ‘for boys’ and stuff ‘for girls’. You can probably guess what kind of products are considered boys’ toys or girls’ toys, but if you really need convincing, I’ve created a little sample here. These photos were taken from the Early Learning Centre, not because I’ve got anything against them in particular, but because their site was the first one I came across and I thought it was a good microcosm of the toy world.

Boys’ stuff:

Girls’ stuff:

The overwhelming message is a shockingly archaic one. Boys are active! They can be firemen, policemen, superheroes, race car drivers. They can do science and technology, and build robots for the future. Girls, on the other hand, are decorative. Their mission in life is to look beautiful and put in effort to do so. Once they have achieved this, their next task is to strike a pose, inviting admiration of their physical perfection. Their place in life is in the home – feeding babies, pushing prams, baking, and cleaning up the house. (Seriously, how is a dustpan and brush a toy?! ) If they do decide to go to work, they could enter the medical profession… but only as a nurse, not a doctor.

Children learn quickly, and adapt to the society in which they find themselves. And one of the most pervasive ideas we teach them is conforming to gender roles.

This is the definition of the word ‘role’ in the Oxford Dictionary.

noun
•    an actor’s part in a play, film
•    the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation

This is the crucial aspect of gender roles. They aren’t a reflection of how men and women really are, they are “part[s] [that we] play”, identities that we “assume…in a particular situation,”  in this case, a patriarchal society. They are a performance that we learn to perfect from a very young age, and its roots have sunk deep into us, so much so that any deviation now feels unnatural.

Worse, children aren’t just taught about the gender divide and which side they fall on, they are also taught which gender is superior. Boys, especially, are policed strictly, and any hints of ‘feminine’ behaviour from them (including but not limited to: playing with ‘girly toys’, dancing, crying, liking pink, dressing up) are met with horror and chastisement from their parents. They learn from very early on that being called a girl is the worst thing that someone could say to them, a fate to be avoided at all costs. Is it any wonder, then, that women and girls are disrespected, that their views are seen as inherently of less value than a man’s?

Children aren’t born knowing what is expected of their gender. Boys aren’t born believing that it’s shameful to be a girl. Through the toys that we make for them and the messages that we send them, they are taught about their roles and status every day. And when they grow up, they will pass it on to their children in their turn, unless we make an effort to end this cycle and make gender roles a thing of the past.

22 thoughts on “BIC Pens For Her and Other Unnecessarily Gendered Products

  1. As someone who played dinosaurs as a girl, decapitated her “Barbie”-dolls in the bath and came home all muddy from wild playing outside: thanks a lot for this entertaining, clear post! I am eternally grateful to my parents for never actively having exposed me to this bs or discouraging my “boyish” behavior.

  2. Excellent writing.

    Interestingly, pink seems to have a different connotation in France. Quite often French professional rugby clubs wear it and they’re very macho.

    Also when I was a kid the special Saturday evening football edition of the local Birmingham paper was printed on pink paper – I think it was properly called the Sports Argus, but colloquially named “The Pink ‘Un” by local men.

    Reminds me of a line from Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here” LP “By the way, which one’s pink?” :)

    • Yup, pink for girls and blue for boys is actually a fairly recent socially constructed norm. It used to be the other way round in fact!

      From Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 – “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

      I think it was in the 1940s that the colours were switched round. So nothing innate or hard-wired about it!

      • Thanks for that – news to me. I think it’s really funny when men get silly about wearing pink – I suppose it’s usually older guys – perhaps they were put off in their youth :)

      • Cheers – it came to me in the night when I couldn’t sleep and thought about your post and another blogger’s which wasn’t nearly as good as yours.
        Shit stuff gets promoted and folk can’t tell till they’ve bought the book – it’s a con really – no doubt some of the opinion-formers on FB, blogs and Twitter have been paid for pushing it.
        Anyway you can write which isn’t a common skill…

  3. It’s absolutely absurd! Because something is pink women ought to go crazy over it?! Like magpies are drawn to shiny things? Did they actually assemble a team over at BIC and concoct this idea? “Pen sales are down, quick, let us make a pink pen for women. Women love pink. They’ll be swayed yet!”
    I hate pink. I just want a pen that writes and has a comfy grip. All this nonsense really?
    The sarcasm of the responses is great! Love this piece.

  4. I wrote my master’s thesis on the gendering of deodorant products and what its meaning. It’s so neat to see that others are noticing the pure weirdness that is assigning gender to objects.

    • That sounds like a really interesting thesis. Indeed, the way scents are marketed to both sexes is absurd, and really reflects society’s ideas of what a man and a woman should be.

  5. Pingback: Magnetic Girls Talk | Edinburgh Eye

  6. Thanks for this. I am currently ranting (though I have no blog) about the weirdness of girls’ Halloween costumes, and really needed a laugh. Awesome

  7. Wow I see the last comment on here is from October, but I thought I’d add my two cents on gendered toys: while I agree that we should stop discouraging children from playing with toys traditionally assigned to the opposite gender, I feel like this article does little to support the value of “girl toys” and I find many of the comments especially alarming. Girl toys are rooted in developing social skills; anyone who’s ever played with dolls or helped a young child play with dolls can testify to this. I loved playing with dolls when I was a little girl and I’m proud of that fact! The most incredible experience I’ve ever had with a child what playing Barbies with a seven-year-old girl; she had this whole story arc with character development and plot all planned out in her head before we even sat down to play!

    The toy-gender problem arises when we somehow assume that boy toys are somehow more valuable to society than girl toys. It seems obvious how Legos can mold children’s minds: it teaches them to build and create new structures. However, it’s less obvious how Barbies or dolls can contribute to society; in fact, most would argue that Barbie does more harm than good, at least to girls’ self image. I think the way Barbie looks is a whole different argument and it doesn’t detract from her value: dolls help children become more socially cognizant and aware of the intricate nature of relationships. It helps build a sense of empathy that legos can’t accomplish in the same way. I honestly believe that both sets of toys have merits that shouldn’t be denied the other gender. Just as much discovery can be done playing pretend with dolls and stuffed animals as can be done playing outside in the mud or building with blocks. An engineer may learn from legos, but a lot of creative ability can be developed by playing pretend.

    I think that whenever one thinks of how proud they are that they never loved pink or how they never liked Barbies, they need to stop and think about if their pride puts down girls who did enjoy those things. In my opinion, Feminism isn’t about rejecting stereotypes and gendered institutions; it’s about ungendering those institutions. It’s great if you loved playing outside more than playing house as a kid, but it’s just as great if you didn’t! When we start judging our kids for liking certain things is when they learn what’s right and what’s wrong. The last thing feminists should be doing is looking down on girls who preferred to play with dolls and love pink; what we should be doing is recognizing the values BOTH “genders” of toys have and then helping kids develop both skill sets.

    I would also like to add that as far as toys such as the broom and cooking set goes for girls… children love to mimic the adults in their lives. Every child, boy or girl, likes to try on dad’s shoes or mom’s make-up and play mini adult. I’m not an expert in child psychology, but I believe that dress-up and how kids play house extends from the image portrayed by the parent, and some kids latch on to different parts. I got my love of reading from my mom, and my sister inherited her enthusiasm for cleaning. Depriving a girl of cooking toys isn’t going to make her stop playing with mom or dad’s pots and pans; it just gives her a non-destructive outlet so poor mom and dad can keep their kitchen semi-clean. Basically, this whole notion that the toys we give our child is what molds their idea of social roles for men in women isn’t entirely true; I think most people (including companies marketing children’s toys!) get it backwards. Children mimic society, not the other way around.

    Wow that’s super long, sorry! I’m not sure if this made sense 100% because I’m writing this impromptu and it’s really late, but I just felt like I needed to stick up for playing pretend! For the record: as a kid I loved reading, video games, animals, and dolls (barbies and polly pockets and bratz and animal figures and really anything i could give a name and personality)!

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