Women make up a large percentage of technology purchases, (and around 70% of all consumer spending) but advertisers seem to have decided to ignore this statistic and continue to create condescending and sexist adverts that suggest we are all Barbie toting pink glitter bombs, waiting to exhale sparkles onto everything we breathe. Sure, there exists a selection of women who DO like everything they own to be pastel and covered in flashing LEDs, but they make up a small margin of the female technology market; and seeing as we’re all not pink obsessed tweens a little more diversity would be nice. This is just addressing the most obvious element of how technology marketers have misunderstood the female consumer;- we can dig deeper than the pink and look at how many female focused products are still working on a ‘male gaze’ sales tangent, designed to place a woman in the role of sex kitten rather than empowered gadget user.
Parks Associates conducted a HSN* sponsored survey in 2011 and their findings showed that women consistently had more plans to purchase tablets, laptops and smart phones than men, which makes them pretty influential in the consumer electronic scene. Women might be major players in technology purchasing now, but looking through advertisements of the last decades, it seems pretty clear this was not always the case-or potentially, years and years of sexist misrepresentation.
In a follow-up to our feature on how technology companies market to women from last year, lets take another stroll down memory lane at some of the strange ways technology and women have been related to each other. Some may amuse, some will entertain and some will most likely offend…
The Penril Modem
OK, I’ll grant you that when we look back at the role of women a few decades ago, a modem wasn’t really something that was aimed at a female market. It’s hard enough to sell people on the idea of one particular brand nowadays, let alone when the tech was new and the concept undefined. However, it’s an interesting early example of how sexuality and technology have been merged from early on, and shows how this idea has become institutionalized as a way of advertising tech. It also illustrates the uncomfortable manner in which a woman’s attributes ‘dependable, comfortable, maybe even sexy’ can be translated into technology- an idea supported by sexist programs like Mad Men and reiterated by many media outlets (insert Murdoch owned company name here).
Cosmetics and Technology Brands Create Social Mediated Beauty
Some very unusual collaborations have occurred in 2012, and it’s hard to even put these into words without laughing hysterically whilst crying blood (not in a True Blood manner). We’re used to seeing technology ape fashion trends in terms of design and color choices, but I’ve never seen it switched around to this extent. Welcome to the world where Nokia releases a hot pink nail polish to match their pink Lumia phone and YSL creates a Facebook palette WITH Facebook, exclusively ordered via Facebook, where you can buy a series of unflattering shades you’d never want to wear.
The idea of what constitutes style and technology have fused in a strange and unexpected manner and it’s odd to see beauty brands teaming up with tech companies to what we surmise is mutual satisfaction. Duality Nails was Nokia’s partner and YSL and Facebook need little introduction (note: This may not have been a sanctioned FB collab, but it is sold exclusively via Facebook, and we know what they’re like with brand infringement and big name peeps, so we’re guessing they OK’d this Yves Saint Laurent Devoted to Fans Facebook Palette launch).
What will be next- a Twitter shade of nail polish and a YouTube smokey eye palette? Worryingly, it’s really not that inconceivable.
This advert is a lovely example of a technology company that really liked to put women in their place; their place being firmly in two designated areas. The kitchen- women cook- and the bedroom – women sleep/groom. If this wasn’t a clear enough delineation of what Sentinel expected women to do, the middle image that transposes a man relaxing with a cigar in the living room suggests that the woman is accepting of her role on the sidelines and her place sleeping/cooking is her preferred role in life. This type of product placement with women interwoven as side characters despite it being aimed at them makes me very uncomfortable;- I would like to hope society has progressed from something this stereotype.
Before you think this is all hating on technology companies and their sexist standards of women, I want to share an advert from people who seem to be mainly supportive of women with gadgets, and who for the most part realize that there’s something between the breasts and hair (by this I mean brain, if that was too obtuse for you).
Ansco All Weather Film
This camera film was released in the 1950’s and whilst the advert might not show a girl as ballsy as The Kodak Girl, we still get to view a woman taking out a roll of film- either to demonstrate she’s finished using it, or to place it in the camera. She is the only person in the frame and it’s clearly about HER personal camera use and journey with photography and though we have feminine elements to it-glossy nails, shiny lips- it’s all about her experience and her pleasure (and she doesn’t need a male figure to help her with the camera film- she’s perfectly capable of using it herself). I know celebrating her capability is a little odd, as this should be a given, but considering the decade this advert was made in, it is still a great occasion, and the fact that the film is ‘all weather'; just adds to our sense of her potential adventures.
Hoover Advertisement Circa 1953
Christmas morning she’ll be happier with a Hoover is the slogan from this 1953 Hoover advertisement, which pretty much sums up their attitude towards women very deftly. Women in the 1950’s were supposed to be overjoyed at receiving a Hoover- thank heavens their domestic life could be even easier, so they’d have more time, to uh, shine their husbands shoes and stare vapidly out a window? A tiny bonus point should be added for attaching the same colour bow to the Hoover as the sash on the woman receiving the gift- suggesting both are perfect cleaning machines that know how to suck (sorry, sexist ads bring out my inner filth mode).
Superscope Radio 1970
I’m a little conflicted about this advertisement, designed to sell radios. On one hand I love the fact that the woman depicted looks like a total badass, cleaning her gun and lounging around; on the other hand I HATE the fact that the woman is lounging around in a sheet whilst the archetypal male figure does all the work; looking out window, scoping out smugglers and preparing for action. It’s nice that ‘Marikka’ is imbued with certain ballsy qualities, but I also feel that I’d have liked her to have a more active role in the stakeout. It’s possible she DID- the text accompanying the image mentions the pair had been staking out the area, while so she may have conceivably left the bed, worn clothes, looked through the binoculars; but the whole story is told from a male viewpoint with her in a reclining femme fatale pose, so that doesn’t make me particularly happy.
Samsung Barbie Laptops
This laptop in all its girly glory was actually first released in 2009, so tailoring tech to a certain section of womankind is still alive and kicking. This was a Korean release though, so there’s a little bit of leeway allowed for the cultural differences and lifestyle.. perhaps.
The laptop was actually fairly decent for its time- it retailed for approximately $1150 and had 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a Core 2 Duo processor. Available in black and pink and the follow-up Barbie Special Edition Laptop was then released the following year (2010) in white. So all in all there was the SENS X170 and the SENS X180 models to choose from for Barbie lovers. Extra benefits are a matching Barbie mouse pad and Barbie makeup pouch- so you’ll be able to be Barbified no matter where you are. It might be a cute laptop but it’s a shame to see that women are still relegated to stereotypical notions of femininity when choosing products.
I struggled with how to describe this Kenwood advert for some time. I dabbled with wordplay, puns and scathing commentary but in the end I decided to go with my respect for you- the reader- and allow your amusement or outrage to be all the above image needs. A picture can say more than words, and in this case, I feel that your own brain will do it better justice than any expressions I might share. If your thoughts on this image are particularly lucid please share them in the comments field below- I would love to hear them.
If the above advertisements haven’t accurately demonstrated to you how biased the tech world still is towards women it was only a few months ago that Daewoo announced a special cosmetic section for their new line of refrigerators, so your nail varnishes can happily sit next to your produce. I have no idea WHAT the fridge will look like but it’s not unreasonable to think pink and sparkly is it? Maybe I’ll be wrong and it will be smooth sleek and silver and a step towards giving women products they need- storing nail varnish in the fridge really DOES expand its life cycle- and will be a step towards offering products that help women, without treating them like Justin Bieber fans.
The world is constantly evolving, and despite some of these glaring adverts, I do honestly believe we are making progress in terms of women and technology. I’ll be interested to see where we progress in future, and as the nature of advertising transforms into digital solutions, we can hope to see some cool and innovative products get created that fulfill needs we didn’t even know we had; and be sold to us in a non-sexist manner!
Here’s to getting rid of the pink and moving towards a more accepting multicolored world.
Note* The Parks Associates survey used a network of HSN consumers, which tends to be predominantly used by women, so these statistics can be viewed as a broad guide to buying habits, rather than a completely unbiased survey.