Justify it however you want. The studies show, the numbers prove, it just sells. Marketing people seem to think that women and girls respond en masse to pink displays. While I know of quite a few little girls who enjoy princesses and sparkly, singing popstars, I also know of quite a few who enjoy doing puzzles, solving mysteries, wielding a fearsome weapon, and beating the crap out of their on-screen opponent. I am just so damn sick of seeing these sad attempts at including the wimminz in what was considered just a few short years ago to be a sort of “boys’ club.” Take it from just one of the many, many female gamers out there: You’re embarrassing and annoying us. Allow me to elaborate.
I’ve played games since I figured out what Frogger was, and that I could play it on my family’s Commodore 64. My sister and I worked feverishly to raise that daunting $70 to put toward our very own Super Nintendo (we weren’t allowed to have a Nintendo system when they were cool; don’t you know you burn out your retinas and turn into a degenerate who can’t read when you play such filth as DuckHunt??), and we played the hell out of that system. We scoured pawn shops for discontinued games, for new systems (or old, crappy ones, as it were) to add to our gaming console collection, or for quirky posters or other paraphernalia that was distributed with games back in the 80s. (Full dungeon map for Final Fantasy? Oh yes, I think so.) You get it? Do I need to go on? Back when this was considered to be for guys only, my sister and I, without the help of anything pink, sparkly, or itsy-bitsy in size, were drawn to games. Gender segmentation of video games wasn’t even an idea that had formed in my head.
So, when I was made aware that there was such a thing as a “Gameboy”, I became perplexed. Why is it a GameBOY? What is it about this thing that implies it’s for boys? For the first time, I actually thought about the fact that nearly all my friends had brothers who owned a gaming console, and most treated it like a prized possession that noooooo one else could touch, particularly their sisters. So, after more than a few sleepovers, I finally got the guts to ask why no one ever wanted to play games, like I did. My answer was a little less than satisfying. I was told simply, “Girls don’t play games.” I guess this sentiment started early and continued, because for years after that, I was viewed as sort-of “odd” for liking boys’ toys. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a poor me pity-party, but it’s necessary to reflect on my experiences to understand that this has been going on a long time. Marketing used to exclude women and girls from the gaming community all together; as a result, people assumed women weren’t interested video games or technology, and consequently, they also began to assume we knew nothing about it. But with the rise of the internet and the growing importance of understanding at least the basics of technology, marketers found themselves up to bat for a new challenge: Getting women and girls to “pay attention” to mens’ and boys’ toys, and getting them to use these gadgets independently.
Cue the shitstorm. I don’t know what was going through marketers’ heads, but I assure you it was more than likely a team of 40-something white guys tossing out ideas: “How do we make them look at this? Oh I know, let’s make it pink! And CUUUUTE! Women like pink and cute, right?” I KNOW there are women out there who like pink things; this is not something I’ve ever denied. But to assume that women function as one unit and respond simply because something is pink is beyond insulting. It’s just plain stupid. Because along with something that’s decked-out in pink, you can be sure to find that the quality probably isn’t as good (more than likely because they threw it out there as an afterthought), and that the suggested uses for it are ridiculous. Take, for example, Dell’s pathetic attempt at marketing laptops to the laydeez: Della. Within two sad weeks of its launch, Della was gone. Why? An asinine pastel website design, paired with helpful “tips” on how to use a Della (Use it to count calories! How about looking up some healthy recipes?), just plain turned women off to it. And you know, I’d be willing to let it slide if it were a one-time slip-up that Dell learned an important lesson from, but unfortunately, it happened again.
Oh, look, the women have pink and magenta laptops. And the one that isn’t pink? She’s using her webcam to put on her lipstick. So cute! The lipstick and computer like, totally match! Now, don’t get me wrong, I know they weren’t trying to imply that women ONLY use computers for arts and crafts and on-the-go/bus-lipstick-applying (if they learned anything from the Della debacle), but come on. The guys were all actively taking pictures, organizing their record collections, looking businessy and important, and proudly posing with Google Maps by their (admittedly) awesome cars, you know, doing the things they usually advertise about in order to sell personal computers or laptops — organize your music collection, plan a roadtrip or vacation, edit your photos, take it with you for business trips. The women were standing there, doing… I’m not sure what, maybe arts and crafts? Or putting on lipstick. Do you see computers advertised for that? Get your own personal laptop so you can replace that tiny, antiquated mirror in your purse! Get a laptop so you can print out stencils! Doesn’t quite mesh, does it? There is the exception of the first girl on her Vespa, but of course… it’s all pink, and I don’t see what that has to do with selling a computer. With the way she glances up at her helmet, perhaps she used her pink laptop to buy a pink helmet on Ebay to match her pink ride.
But before you get all up-in-arms, saying I’m focusing on stupid things when I could be donating my time to more important things, what I’m writing about here isn’t simply just knocking the pretty pictures and color schemes that they use to appeal to women and girls. It’s also about the language of marketing directed towards women and girls, namely, in simplistic terms. And this has a more widespread effect than most people think.
I may be a tad biased as a linguist, but language really is the basis for our formative ideas about a product. We listen to advertisements describe what a product can do, how it will improve our lives, and how easy it is to use. Colors, imagery, and music are all integrated with the words to make a 30-second impression that we’re supposed to remember, so we can rush out and buy the merchandise. The problem arises not only when women and girls don’t see representations of themselves in commercials, but when the language clearly isn’t directed towards them (yes, I know, it’s a gratuitous, ridiculous example, but the idea is still the same), or it’s just plain ridiculous. (Bonus: This site has a whole list of commercials that exemplify what I was discussing earlier about pink, and it’s a hilarious article to boot!) “Play now, my lord”? Well, I guess that kinda leaves ladies out of it, doesn’t it? “Imagine Babyz”? You’ve gotta be kidding me, as if all women just want to play with babies all the time. At least the DS commercials feature women of varying ages playing different kinds games, and you know what? That’s pretty accurate. Women self-identify as gamers these days, and apparently they make up 40% of the gaming market. There’s a lot of money to be made by appealing to women and girls who play video games, and the point that these marketers seem to be missing is that there are different kinds of games that interest different people. That is, men and women alike. Using language that creates an atmosphere of exclusion, or that infantizes women’s gaming interests creates a social stigma that says, “Women don’t play games, and when they do, it’s not the same games that men like.” These separate, but “equal” gaming strategies aren’t working, and they’re just plain annoying. Take a hint from the many, many women out there who are fed up with this: We’re people, with a whole spectrum of interests when it comes to games. Stop assuming we’re going to respond to only pink, or only things specially labeled for us as ladies. Oh, and please: get on hiring some more women already.