Gender Disparity and Office Supplies

I found myself in need of a notebook and pen after work yesterday. This happens from time to time and has led to stockpiles of barely-used notebooks spread among my shelves and various book bags. It’s a sickness. I know.

So there I was at Bartell’s, a bit giddy in my favorite aisle of any store—office supplies. I chose a 7×5” notebook (mostly white, with a poppy design on 1/3 of the front). It was the perfect size—small enough to be portable with a decent page size for complete thoughts. I moved onto pens where I can sometimes spend an hour if the selection is large enough. (The new City Target opens this weekend, and should have an enviable back-to-school selection…*drool*)

I’m picky when it comes to pens. I like a pen that flows well, isn’t too heavy but has substance, with good width and medium line width. Ball point is preferred. I like colored inks, purple especially, but green or even red will do in a pinch, but I will always take black ink over blue, for some reason.

And a bit of style in the pen design is always a bonus.

I found a winner after a careful 15 minute consideration. It was, or so the package proclaimed, “For Her.”

I’m good friends with several “Hers” so I shot a picture of the pens to share with one of them. It was met with the question (asked in very un-ladylike language) if the pen was refilled by inserting it into a place that only a “Her” possessed. I checked the packaging carefully and this did not appear to be the case. In fact, despite the pink and purple of the pen bodies, the ink was your basic industrial black ink. It claimed to write smoothly, but so do all their pens.

In fact, the only thing “Her” about the pens seemed to be that they were a bit prettier. Ok, in the boring world of writing utensils, they were notably prettier.

I must have missed the memo that said pretty things were exclusively for “Her.” I would venture that most of the “Hers” I know would agree with me. Has the gender war finally come to office products? Does this mean all the other pens are for “Him?” Is there now a pen for women to write a rescue note from their 19th century drawing rooms or something?

There has been a lot of buzz, and deservedly so, about companies marketing products to women that reinforce tired gender roles. From Malibu Barbie to pink animal hospital / cupcake shop Leggos, they compartmentalize the female experience along lines that are increasingly irrelevant. And in doing so, they define what it is to be a boy by default. I want to see an Electrical Engineer Barbie that says things like “Those circuits need to pass QA before they ship.” I want a GI Joe that cries.

Because I hate to alarm those fine folks at BiC Pens, but I bought those writing utensils designed for “Her.” They do write smooth. I carved out the first draft of this post with one over a very manly meal of beer, tater tots, and grilled cheese at a neighborhood pirate-themed brew pub.

Because I’m a “Him,” goddamit. And I won’t let you or anybody else tell me that men don’t like things that are pretty. Because part of being a man is being confident in yourself to openly like what you like.

And I like my new favorite pens.

Update: By popular demand, a link to my picture of the pens. I wanted to use it as the main image, but was having tech issues.

7 thoughts on “Gender Disparity and Office Supplies

  1. Nathan, thanks for your thoughts on this subject! I never would have thought to check the refill procedure for “Her” pens.

    Being a “Her” of a certain age, I actually had to learn how to like pink. I mean, I didn’t *have* to, but I realized that my automatic dislike of pink was some weird defensive prejudice I’d built up, and I try to get rid of those whenever I find them.

  2. So you’ve taken photos of these pens but couldn’t include one to share with readers of this blog? Call me sexist, but I don’t think a woman would have made that mistake!

    1. You’re so right. I was unable to get it to work as the main image, and didn’t think to just include the link. The main post has been updated with that crucial information.

  3. I’m picky when it comes to pens. I like a pen that flows well, isn’t too heavy but has substance, with good width and medium line width. Ball point is preferred. I like colored inks, purple especially…”

    Just make sure you watch out for those monkeys, Annie Adderall.

  4. I also love me a good pen. However, I feel that the gender identification is not so much a push towards stereotypes, but simply a good marketing ploy. It is fairly easy to find some decent studies that show gender differences as simply “the way things are.” This may range from how women hold their pens vs. men to what colours are preferred to how long the average female writes at one sitting compared to males. The result is that if you tweak an existing product with a designation towards one gender or another, you’ll get more sales. The same would happen if you took a product and labeled it for gays or for Asians. The specifics of how such a product actually differs does not even need to be particularly meaningful as long as it does not turn out to be offensive or eventually discovered to be not different at all from another unlabeled product.

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