Gendered Product Placement

I snapped this pic in the Valentine’s aisle at my local Walgreens when I ran in for some cold medicine. Among the candy filled hearts were these, a heart packaged in fake corrugated sheet metal (with stenciled lettering) and a pro-football themed heart. Very manly.

We can take as a given that Valentine’s Day is a cutesy holiday marked by fuzzy baby animals, the color pink, and other effeminate symbols. Its also, above all, a holiday focused on buying things. So what’s the deal with these manly hearts? It has everything to do with the packaging, because you know all those hearts have the same chocolates in them. Its just the trappings that change.

The heart as icon is stereotyped as feminine so it has to be qualified for men somehow in order for them to accept them (and still retain their manliness). One blogger identifies this as femmephobia or, “the devaluation, fear and hatred of the feminine: of softness, nurturance, dependence, emotions, passivity, sensitivity, grace, innocence and the color pink.”

To see femmephobia in our society, it’s only necessary to look at the differences between how we treat masculine girls and feminine boys. A masculine girl is a “tomboy,” likely to be approved of by her parents; there are many programs to encourage girls in sports and in the sciences, stereotypically male fields. A feminine boy is a “sissy,” likely to be bullied by other boys and by girls; there are no programs to encourage boys in dance and in the humanities, stereotypically female fields.

Femmephobia can also be seen in marketing. We have diet soda, and we have diet soda FOR MEN; we have loofahs, and we have loofahs FOR MEN; we have canned soup, and we have canned soup FOR MEN. Men cannot be expected to consume feminine things like body care items or diet food or soup in cans (!?) unless it is specifically marked out as Not Girly, and therefore Not Bad. With a few obnoxious exceptions, such as tools for girls (they’re pink) or video games for girls (they’re pink and have Barbie), women who like traditionally masculine hobbies get to have the same fishing poles, golf clubs and bad Trekkie novels as the boys– because, since masculinity is valued, it doesn’t matter if a woman tries to become masculine.

You might think femmephonbia is something that only applies to men, but you’d be wrong. Consider that these manly candy hearts are intended to be bought by women in order to give to their men.

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About Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is a project cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at ODU. You can find him on Twitter @m4ttTh0mps0n.
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4 Responses to Gendered Product Placement

  1. jenahmoody says:

    I actually was thinking about this at Target the other day. They had a small section at the end of the aisle for “manly valentines”. They had chocolate cigars, a tackle box of gummy worms, a chocolate bass fish with pole, white chocolate golf balls, and a chocolate tool set. Something for every type of man?

  2. johncann2 says:

    It is really unclear why the majority of boys and girls “like” the things they do, and trying to understand this practice is tiresome and difficult. If we remove gender from specific products or activities, will there really be a change in what we like? I have never had influences towards things as a child because they were “things for boys,” but I did gravitate towards things that had an appeal for one reason or the other. So, where does gender activities and selection of goods or services come from? Is it really a learned behavior or can we just attribute the phenomenon to a natural attraction to aforementioned?

  3. mpier023 says:

    I say for this I think it is just one of those things that our society today will gravitate towards because it is how we changed in society. If a man gets a flower and a box of chocolates he will get made fun of because that is a woman thing, but if he gets this box of chocolates guys will go like “wow that is pretty cool” just because of the way we are today. But when I was a boy like what johncann2 said, I never saw things because they said “boy toys” I went toward them because it was cool and awesome like hot wheels= because I did not gravitate from girl toys because they were for females, but because there was nothing there for me that I liked. The foods and products they make for men though is just something that companies do because they can make more money and because it does give the man a sense of manliness because I am sure no man wants to smell like roses.

    • Why doesn’t a man like to smell like roses? Roses smell nice.

      You see when you say that you didn’t gravitate towards girl toys because there was nothing that you liked you’re only skimming the surface. As anthropologists we want to peel back the layers and go deeper. Why do people like the things they like? And when patterns of preferences appear, like men disliking feminine things, what does that mean?

      I’m guessing the reason boys don’t like doll houses and that men don’t want to get roses are because those things are for girls and women. Liking them would call into question one’s masculinity and so males tend to avoid them. This what the blogger I quoted above refers to as femmaphobia.

      But you’re right that companies cash in on these cultural fears. It’s just very interesting to me when the packaging changes but the content doesn’t. You know these manly hearts and the ones with fluffy kitties on the front have exactly the same kind of chocolate inside. That means that people aren’t just buying it for the chocolate. People buy them for what they mean not for their use value.

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