Last week I blogged at The Stump about Hummingbird Blonde Lager, National Distilleries’ new beer “for the girls to enjoy”. It comes in a 250ml bottle for little girly hands and little girly stomachs, and is flavoured with “citrus” (which one? Who knows) to get rid of that nasty beer taste.

“Australian women drink over 44 million cases of beer a year but there wasn’t one beer made especially for them,” said the pitch from National Distilleries.

Um, perhaps women already believe beer is made for them.

Women have historically expressed their desire to be treated with the same respect accorded to men by using the same consumer products. Women wearing trousers and riding bicycles were viciously ridiculed in the 19th century; in 1897, Cambridge University male undergraduates protested the admission of women as full university members by hanging an effigy of a female cyclist.

But marketers have never abandoned the idea that men and women require their own ‘special’ products. Products directed at men tend to offer to make them physically, sexually and economically more powerful. Meanwhile, products for women are often pitched as ‘treats’ and emphasise the buyers’ appearance.

Last year, I received an email from a publicist with the subject line: “Do you have the balls to try new Mother?” I politely replied, “Being a woman I don’t have balls, but I would be very curious to try your product.”

The PR’s response? “Heheh it was a bit cheeky wasn’t it?”

Cheeky? Dull-witted. Sexist. The blurb on the 500ml can itself advises it’s best drunk “freeze your nuts off cold”, adding: “When a mate turns up with a wussy-sized can, you can raise your MOTHER up and proudly say ‘did yours come with a man-bag?’”

Needless to say, I’m drinking a can of the stuff right now with my handbag right next to me, and in no fear of freezing my nonexistent nuts off.

Women’s ‘special’ consumer products are often tinted pink and advertised with cuddly names and breathy female voiceovers. I’m not talking about tampons, bras or other products used exclusively by women. These are things like razors, cars and mobile phones. The implication is that women are intimidated by technology unless it’s smaller, rounder, cuter and pinker. Y’know. Like a baby.

Mobile phones are repeat offenders, from Motorola’s pink Razr (with matching pink Bluetooth headset!) to mirrored phones so you can check your lipstick. Possibly the most embarrassing was Alcatel’s ELLE-branded Glamphone, which was worn like a necklace in the ads.

The female-run tech blog Popgadget often comes across the stupidest stuff. There’s a fully functioning mechanical toolbox and car kit in Barbie-pink, iPoppers earphones featuring sparkly jewels and cute teddy bears, and the Miss Army Knife (geddit?), which includes a needle and thread, perfume bottle and nail file. Most surreally of all is the Pink Ice Scraper and Furry Mitt for cleaning your car windscreen on frosty mornings.

The scraper even has a built-in mirror… because all women like to look at themselves.

Cars “for the girls” are also markedly different to other cars. Even though women regularly take monstrous 4WDs on school runs, the ads still overwhelmingly show them being driven boldly through wilderness… by men. Toyota even presents itself as the bold frontline defence against feminisation.

By contrast, women in car ads tend to pootle around town, absent-mindedly leaving their chihuahuas on the roof in pink handbags or having Sex and the City-worthy o-gasms. The Honda Jazz commercials actually objectify women as cars, then have other sleazebag cars leer at them, both here and in London.

We really need to call advertisers on the absurdity of their sexism. Fortunately, the delightful Sarah Haskins from online TV show infoMania does just this. My personal favourite is her segment on yoghurt, the official food of women. And with brand names including Formé (no fat) and Elivaé (with “digestive cultures”), it’s a product category that almost satirises itself.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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