On an overcast Monday afternoon, two Wessex Scene writers went shopping, on the lookout for some products on sale that might anger your resident feminist. From ‘pretty pink’ Pritt sticks to ‘Man Cave’ face wash, we did find some of what we were looking for.
It must be said that unnecessarily gendered items were surprisingly hard to find in Sainsbury’s, Portswood. The first few aisles were disappointing regarding our aim, but pleasing to my values. I was not able to find many gendered food items, not even cereal or health bars. What I did find, however, was the well-known Yorkie bar.
Satisfied that my local supermarket did not stock hoards of gendered items, I swanned into the toiletries section. I found what I was looking for.
Toiletries is where most gendered items were found, naturally. George and I were overwhelmed by the stacks of shower gel, razors, face wash, deodorant and shampoo all labelled ‘For Men’ in large standout white writing on a black background. The ladies’ items were soft and flowery with light colours such as white or pink.
I quickly decided that I would not buy deodorant for men, since I felt the smell was not to my taste. Who says I can’t smell like a man? No one. I still didn’t buy it.
What I did buy, however, was Xtreme 3 razors. In the picture below you can clearly see how two of the same product are very clearly aimed at one gender or the other. Both items do the same thing. The only difference is the packaging. I bought the one on the right.
The ‘Man Cave’ facial wash was amongst an array of ‘Man Cave’ products including shower gel, shampoo and moisturiser. Surely facial wash shouldn’t be any different on a woman than a man? I bought it with satisfaction.
Finally, in my search for non-toiletries that might be gendered, I came across two things. The first was a ‘pretty pink’ Pritt stick with flowers on the packaging. I could not find a ‘manly’ Pritt stick anywhere. It felt dirty and patronising.
The second was ‘Foot Silk’, just like normal foot spray like the blue bottle next to it, but smooth and silky and pink like how all women’s legs should be. Maybe I should make mine silky and soft with my Xtreme 3 Razors for men. Pfft, what patriarchy?
Finally, I bought Kleenex ‘Man-Size’ tissues that are so manly and big that I could use a whole tissue as a tent. As I used them, my dainty female nose couldn’t take it.
Everyone wants you to buy their product, but whatever Sainsbury’s is selling under their own auspicious brand, was appropriately decorated for the food. The fruit, veg, meat, pasta – they all had very minimalistic presentation to focus on what was actually being sold. Food. This reassured us that perhaps heteronormativity wasn’t being taken to unbelievable heights in Southampton.
Where patronisation really began was, of course, in the toiletries.
I’ve dyed my hair multiple times, but here only the extravagant Schwarzkopf colours seemed appropriate for me: a man backgrounded with bright pink hair on the packaging, foregrounding a woman. Every single time. If you wanted something more ordinary, you had to decide which white lady you wanted to be. Not only did none of L’Oreal’s hair dyes feature men on their packaging, none of them featured people of colour.
We found two different Wilkinson Sword disposable razor packs, both the exact same product style (Extreme 3). But whilst the men’s could be found in black and green, the women’s razors were not just pink, the packaging came in a soft, pastel-like green. Both razors were, apart from different handle lengths, exactly the same.
Then came Oral-B toothpaste. One of their display boxes, labelled “Oral-B Pro-Expert”, featured a handsome man in a white coat, professional and trustworthy. Beneath this, “Oral-B 3D White Luxe”, featured Shakira of all people. Hers focussed on giving presumably female consumers “Visibly whiter teeth in 2 weeks”. Men, with their dentist design, would have to wait 3 weeks. It’s almost as if Oral-B know that women are under more pressures to live up to impossible beauty standards than men are.
Fabric softeners and conditioners made up the friendliest-looking shelving unit that I’ve ever seen. Lenor really went for appealing to womankind’s inclination for soft, clean clothes. Two bottles even featured mildly culturally insensitive caricatures. What about the men I screamed? Am I not allowed to appreciate the tactility of the textiles that cover my testicles?
These products were not intended for flavour, but function, and fairly luxurious ones at that. The few heteronormative foodstuffs we found were hardly explicit. Sure, the beef jerky was kept on the top shelf, with dark colours and big manly fonts and logo designs, but if any 6’ woman can get it down they can eat it. A few yoghurts were clearly directed at women – “Silky Smooth Caramel” are far more sensual words, although it’s hardly as if “silky smooth caramel” can’t be enjoyed by men – through language that was 100% targeted their way, based on ideas of the fairer sex’s more sensual instincts. Yet the “by Sainsbury’s” Madeira cake with a heel and a clutch purse decorating it, with packaging proclaiming the “Time to Shop” really pushed things.
In fact, apart from the almost intimidatingly masculine appearance of the “Fuel 10K: Protibrick” cereal packaging, the most explicitly gendered food items all seemed to qualify as luxuries. Because I’m hard-pressed to think of people who consider breakfast protein loading some sort of luxury.