Oh, hey! It’s been a while! You see, I was under deep cover in an undisclosed location.
By “deep cover”, I mean “the duvet”, and by “undisclosed location”, I mean “my bedroom”.
Anyway, I’m back, lured by the tantalizing scents of bad copy and casual sexism. Check this out: Marvel’s selling stuff to women now! Women!stuff! Only not women. Females.
The consumer products team at Marvel is thinking big when it comes to females.
That’s the first line. Who writes this stuff? (That is a question rhetorical: the WWD byline says someone called Julee Kaplan, who I will charitably pretend is really sad about the damage done to her perfectly articulate article by some confused intern.)
This one always gets me. Referring to women as “females” is dehumanizing, particularly when it’s contrasted with the use of terms like “men” or “guys”, rather than “males”. Both female and male are fine as adjectives, in moderation. However, when you want to use a noun to refer to female humans, “women” is better, both stylistically and politically, as a recognition of that very humanity. If you want a description for both women and girls, then “women and girls” is the way to go.
The fashion industry magazine in which this article runs was, by the way, originally titled Women’s Wear Daily.
The words “female” or “females” appear five times in the article, three as an adjective (twice as “female product”), and twice as a noun. Women turns up once, as “women’s apparel”. When men turn up, they are not “males”, but “guys”, in this truly wonderful quote:
“Since our core customer has always been guys, we need to be very careful when we introduce female product so that we don’t alienate our core,” said Paul Gitter, president of consumer products, North America, for Marvel Entertainment Inc. “What we have found through testing is that we haven’t alienated them, which gives us the OK to move forward with female product.”
That’s what he says. What I read:
One: When introducing things specifically designed for women, we must be careful not to alienate guys. Because when it comes to things for women, it is the opinions of men that are most important.
Two: Did I say women? I meant females.
Three: Also, our core customer is lots of guys, squished together to make one super-huge dude. Subject-verb agreement is hard! Let’s go shopping!
The actual products, of course, are the typical cutesy girl!fare – lip glosses, T-shirts that express love for superheroes rather than identification with them, heart pendants. These things are not inherently bad. I personally love sparkles; I have a plastic wand with a star that lights up and twinkles and I adore it beyond all reason. I also note with no little glee that one of the twin heart pendants features Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Their love is so volatile!
What I resent is more of the same gender-specific shit: girls don’t want to be superheroes, they want to love superheroes; “female product” is about specific kinds of normative feminine, rather than “shirts cut with space for breasts”; before making anything for women, we have to be careful not to piss off men.
I’m aware that, broadly speaking, products marketed to be appealing to men can also be appealing to women, but the reverse is much trickier to pull off – partly because of centuries of gender-specific marketing. Nevertheless, you’d think Marvel’s president of consumer products would have the grace and marketing nous to realize how ugly this sounds, and refrain from baldly stating so.
You don’t have to be a marketing expert (although the one I know agrees with me) to notice it’s pretty dumb to announce you’ve got big plans for selling to women in terms that are so insulting to women.
- – - – -
Discuss this column here.