If a person is grappling with his or her sexuality or true gender, they need only to spend half an hour in a convenience store such as RiteAid, and specifically, the health care aisle, and he or she will have a crystal clear idea of what gender is and to which one they gravitate. Through the utilization of immensely powerful, subconscious tools, cosmetic producers have clearly identified which product is for which gender, and thus, which characteristics are assigned to each gender. Bright minds in the sociological sphere maintain that gender is merely created by groups of people–effectively a social construct–and if we assume those groups of people are the companies that sell to RiteAid, it is clear that they have successfully used color, packaging, and display techniques to divide and define the genders.
Upon walking into RiteAid, the signage is explicit as to where certain genders belong through the use of color. The circular structures that hang from the ceiling designate which area has what: the pink “Beauty” sign has women, the brown “Home Care” sign has men, and the gender-neutral green “Pharmacist” sign has either women or men. RiteAid has capitalized on the already established gender assignments of color (pink is girls, blue is boys, etc.) in order to give not-so subtle hints that dictate which aspects of life each gender is responsible for. In this way, both men and women are responsible for their own health (this is the 21st century, after all), men are responsible for doing the handiwork around the house, and women are responsible for making themselves look pretty. If “… gender is a socially scripted dramatization of the culture’s idealization of feminine and masculine natures” as West and Zimmerman put forth in Doing Gender, then RiteAid has compounded the rigidity of that script in the subconscious of its customers through the use of color.
Venturing further into the store and wandering into the personal hygiene section, there are further clues as to what each gender must gravitate towards. Something as seemingly simple as shampoo packaging yields a fascinating look at the disparity between the genders. The wall of female shampoo containers has delicate shades of white, pink, purple, and light blue and the bottles are, on the whole, tall, long, and slender. The wall of male shampoo containers, however, has jewel tones of blue, green, red, and the occasional grey and the bottles are large, boxy, and square. For the implications of the shampoo color scheme, one need only consult the aforementioned analyzation of color and gender; the packaging, however, is very much of interest. If visual hints suggest what each gender is responsible for, then it is a safe assumption that physical hints suggest what each gender must look like: a female must be tall and slender (the body type of female models certainly verifies this assertion) and men must be large and boxy, or muscular (male models also verify this concept). Likewise, Kimmel asserts in Gendered Society that “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings”; in other words, there is no singular body type or a man or of a woman, but shampoo companies certainly have an idea of what each gender’s body type should be and thus, the norm of body type is a product of social doings. Through clever and subconscious packaging, shampoo companies have established the parameters of gender.
Finally, the most furtive method of gendered commerce ably embodies the most potent point of Kimmel’s. Even the one object that a shopper never thinks about, but is constantly looking at while shopping, designates gender roles: the shelves. In female grooming sections, the shelves are either the plain white, metal shelves that are present everywhere else in the store or–for more beauty-related products such as makeup, hair, and nails–the shelves are pure white, underlit shelves, giving a pretty, airy, feminine feel. In male grooming sections, there are dark grey shelving units, with brown and orange highlights, giving an earthy, solid, masculine feel, and thus embodying a physical manifestation of the ‘flight from the feminine’. The design of the shelving units is nothing different from the aforementioned color and packaging discussions, but the units themselves and the fact that men and women cannot share even shelving units when buying products is sobering proof of the triumph and sacredness of capitalism. Kimmel states that after capitalism, the masculine concepts of Marketplace Man won out (i.e., no sissy stuff, a sturdy oak, etc.). This Marketplace Man requires proof of his manhood in the form of what he buys: “… Marketplace Man is capitalist man” as Kimmel states; therefore, the color and packaging of what he buys (his proof), even the shelves on which it is sold must never have even a hint of what society has deemed feminine, lest Marketplace Man’s sense of masculinity come tumbling down.
The gendered way in which companies such as RiteAid sell items simultaneously establishes and reestablishes gender norms through the use of color, packaging, and display techniques. Kimmel’s assertion melds quite nicely with West and Zimmerman’s: Kimmel states that biology or any other omnipotent force does not predetermine gender, but that gender is a social construct and West and Zimmerman specify that it is a construct to reinforce the “idealization of feminine and masculine natures”; these two conjoined theses are confirmed tenfold through RiteAid’s gender specific sales techniques. Further, Kimmel establishes that capitalism created Marketplace Man’s idea of masculinity and further perpetuates it because he needs the market to continue feeling masculine; RiteAid’s sales techniques have made it possible for Marketplace Man to both buy things and feel masculine about the things he is buying. In conclusion, any young person who is struggling to self-identify his or her gender must experience RiteAid’s extraordinarily gendered commerce.
Kimmel, Michael S., and Amy Aronson. The Gendered Society Reader. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
West and Zimmerman, Kimmel, Michael S., and Abby L. Ferber. Privilege: A Reader. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2003. Print.