EDITORIAL: Making waves in gender politics

Jemma Wolfe
August 10, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

This summer, my parents put a pool in the backyard. Now that it’s here, and despite the cost of putting it in, the secondary spending phase of wanting to purchase every accessory imaginable has kicked in: floating basketball net, fountain-cum-disco-light-show, blow-up air mattresses… you get the picture. And yet, it was the purchase of a standard pair of goggles amidst the excessive pool toy glory, that made me more quietly angry towards a piece of plastic than I’ve felt in a long time.

I’ve never thought of goggles as in any way political. They’re utilitarian devices that seem pretty innocuous in the scheme of things. But when the three different types stocked for purchase are “children’s,” “women’s” and “adults’”, something political is being said – and I don’t appreciate it.

In case you didn’t catch that, by making a distinction between goggles made for women and goggles made for adults – not “men,” “adults” – the company in question is implying that women are not adults, that women somehow have different goggle needs than adults, and that selling the exact same model of eyewear except in baby blue and pink rather than the adult black and grey, is somehow indicative of a person’s gender.

It’s not hard to dispute any of those claims. Women are legally adults past the age of 18 – as are men, women’s skulls aren’t much different than men’s, and pastels versus shades have nothing to do with anatomy. So the question remains, why did that company differentiate their product lines?

When I called to find out, they explained that the ladies ones come in different colours and are slightly smaller to fit a woman’s face. Generalizations on face shape aside, that doesn’t explain why women are placed in a category distinct from adults. For how is one over-the-phone customer service representative supposed to explain to me the history of patriarchy and how its strange and far reaching effects came to influence the minds of passively sexist men – and probably women – who designed the product packaging, who approved it for sale, and thought nothing of what those two little labels mean.

A few months ago, a video of Ellen DeGeneres ripping into Bic pens on her talk show went viral. Her scathing attack on Bic’s new line of women’s-only pens “For Her” was humourous, poignant, and sad in that such a product would actually exist to necessitate that segment of her show. “We’ve come a long way, baby,” she quipped. I echoed her frustration in the swim section at Walmart.

To a point, they’re just goggles. And I recognize that. But it’s little things like this that worm their way into our collective subconscious and have a big impact on how we see the world. It is because of our repeated exposure to images and products and situations that quietly, subtly, put down women that we don’t notice – and don’t care – when obvious attacks on women’s rights stare us straight in the face. That’s why half of all women in Canada have experienced physical or sexual violence, and why many women still make 77 cents for every man’s dollar, and the abandonment of female newborns for preferred male offspring is still a major problem around the world.

Next month will see the (re)introduction of a feminist-focused column into The Silhouette’s opinions section. I encourage you to write for it on any variety of topics under the umbrella of feminism, i.e. the struggle for equality of all people no matter their gender, colour, or sexual preference. Share your stories, your frustrations, your involvement in good things that are making a difference. Write about who’s creating change, and who’s not but should be. Write if you’re male, female, trans*, queer. Write from a respectful and informed place.

And in the mean time, don’t let the goggles get you down.

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