Friday, December 12, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Time to spend lots of money! No, the economy's not in great shape right now, and you've probably got a bit of debt piling up. Sure, the obsession with stuff has some serious consequences.

But did you know that you can do your bit to save the economy by buying stuff?

Of course, what you buy is almost as important as how much you spend. Make the wrong decision, and you could end up in the doghouse.

So, Target wants to make things a little easier by sorting their products into appropriate categories for the special people in your life:

So, a few of these "personalities" have pretty similar gender options ("Doting Grandma"/"Doting Grandpa" etc).

Others, however, have only rough equivalents. How about "Corporate Diva" and "Office All-Star," for instance? Here we have a woman's success as a personality trait, one with negative connotations of being arrogant, self-centered, and hard to get along with. The man's success, on the other hand, is attributed to skill. It also links him to sports at which he, presumably, also excels. But not like a diva; the all-star is the best on his team. We could also look at "Corporate" as an adjective implying the cold, cut-throat world of business and "Office" as a team-oriented space. It almost turns the "man as rugged individual, woman as social" on its head, except that it turns the woman into an aggressive loner (as women in the business world are often stereotyped to be).

Then we have "Nature Lover" and "Outdoor Explorer." Anyone else seeing hippy treehugger on one side and mountaineer on the other? That's encoded in the language. "Nature" implies a more subjective or experiential perspective, one which is frequently associated with positive things like harmony or order and gendered representations ("natural order of things," "Mother Nature"). "Outdoor," on the other hand, is equivalent to "wilderness," or that which is "outside" the limits of civilization. Rather than a place of order or harmony, it is untamed and dangerous. Of course, "Lover" is connected with emotion and peaceful co-existence, whereas "Explorer" sounds an awful lot like "conquerer" in connotation. So, women are in sync with the harmonic order of things, and men are brave conquerers of untamed wilderness. Yeah.

One more: "Domestic Goddess" and "Mr. Fix-it." The "Domestic Goddess" is not only responsible for the peace of the household; if we look at representations of goddesses in popular culture, she is also hyper-feminine and sexualized. She is like the 19th century ideal of the "angel in the house," a woman who is responsible for maintaining a peaceful home (so her husband has nothing to worry about there) and keeping her family morally upright. Compare to "Mr. Fix-it," who, by definition, appears when something goes wrong to make it right. He is the rescuer, the one who steps in when the poor female's brain has been overtaxed by problems like leaky pipes or squeaky doors. Notice how she maintains an aura or atmosphere of peace, whereas he takes an active role in fixing things that go all pear-shaped.

I want to emphasize the problem that these stereotypes create for everyone who doesn't fit traditional gender roles. By pigeonholing desires based on gender, companies define the limits not only of proper behavior but also of proper self-identification. A man should not want to hug a tree; a woman should not want to mend a flat tire. A "Guy's Guy" should want things to do with beer and meat, especially things covered in camo. By buying the proper things, by accessorizing one's gender identity, a person submits his/her/hir gender expression for the approval of the community. This system renders invisible those who either diverge from traditional roles for their genders or whose gender expression doesn't fit traditional categories at all.

And I didn't even go into the kids' categories...

What are your experiences with gendered marketing? Have you ever been "targeted" (or not) based on presumed gender (ie Facebook ads, telemarketers asking for your husband/father?) Ignored or assaulted by perfume spritzers in malls? Had salespeople recommend or discourage you from clothes based on (perceived) gender?