The sex appeal of a pink pen
Want to increase your appeal to the opposite sex? Investing in products targeted at your gender has now been scientifically proven to do the trick.
So while the manufacturers of razors and pens “for her”, with pastel tinted thinner barrels “to fit a woman's hand” and “Lady Doritos” for women “who don't like to crunch too loudly in public”, have been widely condemned and ridiculed for exploiting patronising gender stereotypes, according to new research published in the Journal of Business Research, there’s good reason such products “remain almost inexplicably popular”.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres ripped Bic to shreds on her show when the pink and purple “For Her” pens were launched. “For the last 20 years companies have spent millions of dollars making pills that grow men’s hair and fix men’s sex lives, and now ladies have a pen.”
Sylvie Borau, professor in ethical marketing at the Toulouse Business School, and Jean-François Bonnefon, from the Toulouse School of Economics, conducted research to find out why men and women succumb to marketing and societal pressures to buy gendered products such as mugs, razors, pens, earplugs, toothpaste and cars.
After a series of tests, conducted on about 400 men and women, they came to this conclusion: “Gendered products act as flashy signals towards the opposite sex, exaggerating signals of femininity or masculinity and influencing the way the opposite sex perceives the physical appearance of their owners.
“Because typical female or male characteristics play a key role in physical attractiveness, consumers — either consciously or not — use gendered products, inspired by sex-typical characteristics, to allow others to quickly assess their level of desirability.
“Men and women can artificially increase their level of physical attractiveness by surrounding themselves with gendered products, sending stronger signals of femininity or masculinity to the opposite sex.”
Men and women who owned gender-typical products were imagined to have nicer bodies than their gender-atypical competition, the researchers concluded.
“These findings suggest that consumers may strategically purchase gendered products to increase their physical attractiveness and overall desirability.”
Drinking out of an obviously feminine mug acted as a supernormal stimulus in much the same way as breast implants, make-up and high heels, they argued — “they signal exaggerated femininity to increase the physical attractiveness of their owners, and to increase desirability.”
Likewise, products with bulky proportions, angular shapes, dark colours and rough textures are perceived as more masculine, which reflect men’s “more solid, defined body, edged, sharp facial shapes, and darker and thicker skin”.
By investing in “gender typical” variants of consumer products — products usually sold at a premium price — “consumers could make themselves more sexually dimorphic, attractive, and desirable to the opposite sex”, Borau and Bonnefon said.