Attention, ladies. Are you tired of struggling to hold a pen that is too bulky for your slender hands? Is the rubber grip on a regular pen too rough for your delicate skin? Do your pens fail to sparkle sufficiently? You're in luck! Bic is here to solve all of your writing utensil woes with their new line of Bic Cristal For Her pens.
Designed "just for her," these pens "feature a thin barrel designed to fit a women's hand" (I guess ladies with larger mitts are out of luck). Not ladylike enough? They also have "a diamond engraved barrel for an elegant and unique feminine style." Meaning, they're sparkly. And nothing says, "I'm a working professional who deserves to be taken seriously," like a sparkly pen.
Judging by the scathing product reviews on Amazon.com, Bic missed the mark on this one. "When I'm not in the kitchen or scrubbing the floors, I like to write. These pens are great because my finger muscles are not as strong as a man's and these pens are so much lighter," writes a customer going by the name of Sassy Female. "I use it all the time to copy recipes from Good Housekeeping and Redbook. The case colors make it really easy to match with my daily outfits! It helps me write really clearly, so that my kids can always read their names when I write them on their school lunches!" writes another. Some poor sap at Bic is shaking his (it's got to be a man who created these, right?) head, ruing the day he ever thought to market a typically gender neutral item such as a pen to women only.
But really, why are we so surprised by this? From toiletries such as razors and deodorants to food items ("Choosy Moms Choose Jif"), products have been branded to women since the birth of branding. In the 1970s, Secret came up with its ill-advised slogan, "Strong Enough for a Man, Made for a Woman," which unfortunately stuck around until the early 2000s, at which time it finally morphed into "Strong Enough for a Woman." But women still choose pink razors over black ones, and commercials for cleaning supplies still refer to "Mom" instead of "Dad," or a more neutral "parent." Are pens marketed specifically to women any different? Nope. But that doesn't make it okay.
Gender normalization starts the day you are born; baby girls get little pink fuzzy blankets and little pink fuzzy hats, baby boys get little blue fuzzy blankets and little blue fuzzy hats. Little girls are given dolls to play with and little boys are handed trucks. Before girls have a chance to choose for themselves, they are steered towards things that are glittery, pretty and pink. Girls who are more attracted to playing in the mud than playing house are labeled "tomboys." Their parents are reassured that it's only a phase. While there are exceptions, this is pretty much the rule.
Star magazine perfectly exhibited this forced dichotomy by pitting Suri Cruise and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt against each other on its cover (at right). While Suri is lauded for her accessorizing, Shiloh's short haircut and army fatigue raises eyebrows. Why must little girls always be classified as the "princess" or the "tomboy"? Why can't they just be kids?
From color-coded blankets in the crib to His and Hers towels on the wedding registry, members of the "fairer" sex are told to buy things that will display their femininity. The products themselves may only differ in color, but time and time again, women are told to go for the pastels. I'm not against the items themselves — heck, my friend loves her hot pink power drill – just the "Ladies Only" label slapped on the front. Go ahead, make your pretty pens, Bic. I'm sure ladies will buy them and love them. But do you need to brand them as "for her"? For every girl or woman who is drawn to these pens for their appearance, a boy will be repelled by the "just for her" proclamation. Bic is not only driving a wedge between the genders, but straight through the center of its customer base. And that's just bad business.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Bic; Star]