Jewels, Eyeliner and Gas Pedal

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Shimmering purple. Sparkly gold accents. Eyeliner emphasis. While many may think that these words describe a unique makeup look, they are actually words that describe a new “car for women,” created jointly by car manufacturer SEAT and lifestyle publication Cosmopolitan. The two companies unveiled this effeminate car at Cosmopolitan’s FashFest event in London on Sept. 23.

This car, titled the SEAT Mii for women, is smaller than most cars and includes, according to CNN, “jewel-effect rims, a handbag hook, and eyeliner headlights that are emphasized in the same way as make-up emphasizes the eye.” Additionally, SEAT and Cosmopolitan have marketed the car as ideal for “impromptu karaoke performances, last-minute wardrobe changes, dramatic gossip sessions and emergency lunch-hour kips.”

A video posted by SEAT (@seat_official) on

The SEAT Mii immediately received public outlash, with many attacking it for egregiously perpetuating gender stereotypes. One female Twitter user tweeted sarcastically, “Is the steering wheel small for my delicate hands?!” Another Twitter user tweeted: “Oh thank goodness, finally there’s a car wearing eyeliner. How have we women coped so long without this.. oh wait.”

Junior Ellie Newman recognizes that while certain women may be attracted by Cosmopolitan’s gender-oriented marketing strategies, she personally prefers a normal car.

“I have a problem with [these strategies] when the manufacturers of the products are using stereotypes to create a product geared toward women,” Newman said.

Similarly, sophomore Tosca Langbert asserts that she would personally not buy the car, acknowledging that she normally harbors negative feelings toward gendered products.

“When a car becomes gendered, it creates an unnecessary divide,” Langbert said. “But then again, people should be able to get the cars they want, and if there’s a demand for the product, they have to right to get them.”

 

SEAT responded to the public backlash on Twitter regarding the “woman car” with a statement expressing their regret at any misunderstanding and clarifying that the car, rather than being targeted at all women, “responds to a very specific target—the Cosmo reader—and in no way to women as a whole.”

However, in response to SEAT’s clarification, Upper School government and economics teacher Kristen Olson believes that the companies should have adopted a broader outlook when developing their product. She believes that the follow-up statement almost over-generalized the Cosmopolitan readership.

“Especially in the world that we live in now, although you might try to target one group, it’s not like those are the only people who are going to see the product you made,” Olson said. “Cosmopolitan should have thought of the broader impact that this could have on their brand and their image. I think on some level Cosmopolitan wants to empower women, and this kind of moved them backwards, even though it was unintentional.”

But the SEAT Mii is just one of many gendered products available to consumers. In 2012, BIC, a corporation that manufactures ballpoint pens, released a line of pink and purple pens with jeweled accents labeled “BIC For Her” (in cursive text). In 2014, Bath & Body Works released a “studly apple” scented green sanitizer aimed at men, decorated with an orange and blue label and titled “Mr. Mom.”

Langbert does not see the female-oriented BIC pen as necessary.

“There’s no shame in owning and being proud of your gender, but I think I’m perfectly capable of using a regular pen,” Langbert said. “I’ve never thought, ‘Wow, this man pen is too hard for my lady hands to hold.’”

To an extent, however, Olson believes that these gendered marketing strategies do work. When thinking about gendered products, Olson’s mind immediately jumps to razors for women and razors for men.

“When choosing something because of the color, maybe a girl might want to choose purple instead of black, so advertisers and businesses can make money off of trivial preferences,” Olson said.

Being an economics expert, Olson believes that the issue comes down to if there is a price difference between products marketed at women versus products marketed at men. For instance, on Amazon, a pack of 12 medium-point black BIC ball pens costs $2.40. On the other hand, a pack of two medium-point BIC For Her ball pens costs $11.50. (The BIC For Her package also came with a host of snarky comments on Amazon, with one reviewer joking, “I gave these [pens] to all of the men in my office and they all received pay cuts a few weeks later.”)

In terms of advertising, Olson affirms that producers deliberately work to make the consumers think that products are designed specifically for women or for men. To illustrate, Olson brings up the example of lotion and other toiletries.

“For women, [producers] talk about being beautiful and soft and other things we stereotypically want women to be,” Olson said. “I’m sure men want soft skin too, but we don’t necessarily see a men’s lotion commercial.”

Newman agrees, believing the root of gendered products stems from inherent societal stereotypes.

“I think it definitely tells us that we’re still adhering to a binary system of genders and that a lot of stereotypes are still prevalent in our society, associating the home and child-caring with women and strength or power with men,” Newman said. “Hopefully, society’s coming to realize that that doesn’t have to be the case.”

In the end, Olson acknowledges that the efficacy and practicality of gendered advertising and products depends on the type of product. When certain products are actually perceived or used differently by varying groups of people, Olson agrees that targeting a specific audience proves a valid marketing technique. She states, though, that these are the products that are not being criticized by the public.

“I think the problem comes when you’re gendering products that don’t need to be gendered,” Olson said. “When you’re trying to market cars, which serve the same purpose regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, the features are the same. I think that [gendering cars] is silly, and it’s good that we’re talking about it.”


Elizabeth Guo – Copy Editor