Gender Blind Spots

At an anthropology lecture, one of the professors held up a photograph of an antler bone with 28 markings on it. ‘This is alleged to be man’s first attempt at a calendar.’ 

To which a student in a corner questioned, ‘Tell me professor, what man needs to know when 28 days have passed? I suspect that this is women’s first attempt at a calendar.’

As modern day marketers, we often pride ourselves on being able to aptly communicate with our consumers. But what if these stories misrepresent reality.

“Years ago, while working with brands like Asian paints, who traditionally had only focussed on the male, we highlighted that it was the female who played a key role in the decision making process. She is the one who is at home, speaking to neighbours and consuming ads as well. We all remember the iconic ad that emerged from this insight – “Mera wala green”.

PS- ‘Mera wala cream jo mere mann mein hain woh milta nahi’ – was the actual consumer line around which the entire campaign was built.

This deep understanding of the consumer is thus critical for brands to get right. 

A recent thread by someone on twitter, mentioned how she met a female postman and was astonished to know that the lady had been doing this willingly (Not due to unfortunate circumstances) for years.

When we fail to notice such blind spots, we not only lose connection to our customers, but we also perpetuate harmful assumptions and stigmas that can widen gaps in inequality.

There are enough and more studies that highlight a need for the corporate world to catch up with the real world in terms of gender roles and mass stereotyping of women.

But the real opportunity is in context to what search patterns reveal.

“Since most products are designed keeping an “average user” user in mind who is male, women often have to specify their gender in the search bar.”

And it’s interesting if you think about it in terms of different categories and their associated default gender – the norm or average mould.

Think trousers, deodorants, sportswear, luggage, tech products, face masks, eyewear, financial or investment products – who do you think is the default gender or mould.

“The only way to solve a problem is to first recognise it.”

In each case the default associated gender would typically be male, thus for women consumers, the search would have to include – “Gym wear for women”.

“Because some products are not built with women in mind, women feel the need to specifically call out their gender while searching online to get safe sizing or fit. 

Search reveals numerous queries for “women’s full-face helmets,” “women’s diving mask,” or “mask for a small face”.

And this opens up areas of opportunity from both a product and communication perspective. A gold mine that can help us think differently.

Imagine, Mutual Funds, Health Insurance or Loan products specially designed keeping a female consumer in mind.

Imagine, services and offerings that are women first (Where the norm is a women consumer) – tasers, pepper sprays, self defence classes, location monitoring and sharing, helpline numbers, co-sharing services, job portals etc.

It all starts with a single pertinent question – for your brand, is the norm a male or a female consumer and how can we neutralise or change that.

The same also holds true for categories where women are the norm, think beauty, personal care, hygiene, fashion, fitness (weight, diet) etc.

This sensitization and constant consideration of “category gender defaults” is surely worth rethinking in this modern day and age.

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