Girling up my Droid

I recently joined the smartphone party by purchasing a Droid Incredible. Today, the case I ordered for it arrived in the mail and the first thing I noticed once I clipped it on was, “Wow. This phone is totally gendered.”

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I chose this particular case for a few reasons. It was rubberized, which I like. Also it was cheap and the website I bought it from had free shipping. But also, naturally, I chose this case because I loved the design and felt that it represented something about myself and my style, aesthetic, what have you. But now, looking at my bright, colorful, swirly, and whimsical smartphone, it is clearly identified as a girl’s phone. As mobile devices become a standard personal accessory, it’s interesting to think about how they become a part of our personal identity – the one we demonstrate to the world.

Mobile devices do so much more than make calls, browse the web, and take photos. We use them as a fashion statement – a way to express ourselves and our individual style and aesthetic. (They are also status symbols, demonstrating what you can or cannot afford, or perhaps what you do or do not value.) But like any commodity – clothing, toys, home furnishings, cars – mobile devices and electronics in general are increasingly gendered. Most phones and digital cameras that come in different colors always have a “girl” one, usually pink or purple. And even if they don’t come in different colors (like the Droid), accessories like cases or charms provide a number of ways to personalize your device, which is often code for gendering your device.

What is really interesting is that the marketing campaign for Android is very masculine. It uses a lot of robotics and sci-fi imagery, not to mention the black/red color combo which is, in my opinion, a choice that caters to men rather than women. If the Droid is marketed as a “guy” phone, was my choice to get a “girly” case possibly motivated by a semi-conscious desire to assert my gender identity?

The Android marketing campaign might be distinctly masculine, but all electronics were traditionally thought of to be in the male realm. Computers and gadgets were supposedly masculine things, just like science and math. I think we have made great strides in that area, though. Just like the obvious talent of female scientists and engineers has turned that assumption on its head, the profusion of technology into our daily lives has made it pretty obvious that girls are good with computers and gadgets. (Says the girl who is “Chief Technology Officer” of her parent’s household despite her terrible math skills.) This shift was perhaps best demonstrated by Barbie’s 126th career as Computer Engineer Barbie. But take note: Computer Engineer Barbie’s laptop is pink and her Bluetooth headset is baby blue.

Gender expression is certainly a part of our identity, and I believe that self expression is a good thing. It’s great that electronic accessories allow us to express ourselves and our own aesthetic style. But something about the gendering of electronics, particularly Computer Engingeer Barbie’s pink laptop, still feels problematic. Are we “girling up” our gadgets because being techy challenges our femininity? Does Barbie’s pink laptop make her less of a threat to her male colleagues? (“She may be just as qualified as I am, but she’s still a woman.”) We (in the feminist community) often complain about the lack of gender-neutral childen’s toys. Yet, when given the opportunity, many of us choose to go ahead and gender our electronics the same way – using “girl colors” and “boy colors.” Are we brainwashed? Or is self-expression still awesome, even if it does fall along traditional gender lines?

I’m curious to know what you think. What color is your phone?

4 thoughts on “Girling up my Droid

  1. I find the Droid ad campaign a bit off-putting, because it seems to totally unnecessarily seek to alienate half the human population. Fortunately, it doesn’t succeed in its attempt (I know female Droid owners who like the phone for what it is and not for how it’s advertised.)

    I just don’t understand this desire some corporations have to gender products that do need to have a gendered ad campaign. iPhones are quite successful in part because Apple isn’t stupid enough to market its phones as particularly male or particularly female. All Apple does is say “Hey, isn’t this cool?” And its “cool” is rather androgynous.

    The funny thing is that my most recent phones have been marketed more on age than gender, and both were marketed badly. I used to have a Virgin Mobile prepaid phone, which Virgin tried to market as some kind of hip phone the teenagers would be dancing around with while using to text their friends. In truth, I knew no teens with Virgin Mobile prepaid phones. I was able to convince an older woman to get a VM phone, and she loved it, because she didn’t have to use very many minutes per month. My current phone is the T-Mobile MyTouch, which was marketed to baby boomers (using a lot of older celebrities, some of whom I didn’t even recognize), but the only people I’ve seen with this phone are young people.

    Oh, and my phone is white. My wife picked that color for me, because she thought it was “different.” I believe the other choices were magenta and black.

  2. What a great post! And yes, Verizon’s DROID campaign and brand are very much masculine, but I had always interpreted it as a way to elbow iPhone users and coveters for enjoying and wanting a “fluffy” or effeminate device. Apple is often perceived that way in the brand space, as a less rough and tough manufacturer, one that is often considered compassionate. (Why else would Foxconn get so much bad press lately? They build for Dell, HP, Nintendo… but Apple? Apple cares.)

    I hadn’t considered how the masculine angle might affect gender, but I’m thrilled to see you, and other females embracing what’s been a pretty male-oriented space: smartphones. I’ve got a younger cousin who told me she wants her dad to get a DROID because that’s the easiest way she’ll get her hands on one. It doesn’t mean she’s less feminine or more masculine though. I think she sees past the gendering of DROID and appreciates its features and capabilities–something that hopefully more consumers will see as the devices become more common, available, and accessible.

    I’d love to see a lady-phone running Android–oh wait, T-Mobile’s got that covered. Their line-up has rounder, softer, prettier devices with comparably styled ads. (Although one of the most recent supports how much mom likes to shop, son likes ice cream, and dad likes to lie.)

    The case you picked is quite lovely, and I’m curious to see how your Incredible looks in it.

    There’s one smartphone out there that I think has successfully bridged the genders, other than the iPhone, and almost as well: Blackberry. But, those come in lady-friendly colors too.

    I think the weirdest side-effect of the smartphone gendering is that compared to the iPhone, which comes in only two visible flavors (black, or white–which is delayed), the choices of Android devices and their makers’ determination to trump the iPhone, has lead to a line-up that supports the eye-rolling conversation of whose penis phone is bigger/better/faster.

  3. As I think you know, I’ve got the Droid. The one that only comes in black and has sharp, defined corners. I don’t have a case on it. I like it that way.

    I never felt alienated by the Droid marketing campaigns. I felt they were relevant to me. Is it because I’m a scifi geek and therefore robot references appeal to me?

    I felt the Droid marketing definitely targeted a certain demographic… I just didn’t realize it was a male one, because whatever the ads tried to speak to, they spoke to me. I identified with the robotic imagery, and I identified with the message: Droid does. Does what? Whatever I want it to. To me, the marketing felt very techy, and I can’t see why it shouldn’t. The Droid is technology, and it’s really good technology. I never read the red and black as being male; I read them as being bold. I really like red and black, so it appealed to me.

    I’m not saying they didn’t intend a gendered campaign… I’m just not convinced they did intend one, either.

    Maybe this is all more muddled for me, being in the tech industry.

    Like, it’s hard for me to tell if I’m the only girl in the department because they didn’t get any qualified female candidates, or if I’m the only girl because the female candidates have to be *more* qualified to get noticed. I can’t tell if I don’t fit in with my department because I just don’t, or if it’s specifically because I’m a girl. I feel bad asking coworkers to lift things that would hurt my back, because I’m afraid it’ll be read as “She’s a girl,” and not, “She has a back that is prone to injury.” I feel like a failure as female tech because my health problems prevent me from proving that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m too dainty to do the heavy lifting. I AM too dainty to do the heavy lifting, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my gender. I have scoliosis. But I feel like I’m representing other female techs poorly because I can’t play with the big boys. I know that’s stupid, because I have a health problem, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to say right out loud, “AND IT’S NOT BECAUSE I’M A GIRL,” when I ask the guys to lift the 50+ lb printer.

    They took a permanent hire at work who isn’t as qualified as me and doesn’t act as professionally, and I can’t tell if there’s some perfect quality about him that I’m missing, or if it’s just that they already offered him the job before they took me on as a contract, or…. if it’s because I’m a girl.

    There is one other contractor at work right now, a guy. Both of our contracts expire at the end of July. They have one open full time position that they want to give to one of us contractors. My boss is trying to push for a second full time position so they can keep us both. But if it comes down to it, and they only have one slot… whether I get it or not, I’m going to wonder if my gender had anything to do with it. If I don’t get picked, is it because my gender made them think I was less qualified? If I do get picked, is it because they don’t want to be perceived as an all-boys’ club?

    Anyway… As for girling up your phone…. I don’t think gendering our gadgets with cases and whatnot is any different from choosing our sheets. Boys aren’t going to buy the case you bought, but they also aren’t going to buy pink sheets with lime green polka dots for their beds. We all use a myriad of things every day that serve the same function for both sexes, but are “gendered” because a particular aesthetic style appeals to their owner.

    Do I think Barbie’s pink laptop is questionable? Yes. But only because that Barbie is an emblem. Do I think it’s a problem for girls to choose pink covers for their laptops when picking them out? No. Effectively, Barbie is the media, influencing our little girls. I wish she just said, “It’s ok to be in IT,” rather than, “It’s only ok to be in IT if you stay hyper-feminized.” I just wish her laptop was black, and that maybe it came with little tiny paint pens or something. Because young people, male and female, do decorate their computers; with stickers, with markers. The concept isn’t gendered. If little girls still choose pink laptops when Barbie’s is black, then I’ll assume they really just like the color pink, and that’s ok with me.

    I think selling gendered accessories for our technology isn’t bad. It does allow us to flaunt our style wherever we want, if we want. I wish I thought Barbie was doing just that, but I don’t know how I would improve on her.

    Bah. Gender and technology is hard.

  4. It’s interesting to note that Motorola’s two big hit phones (the Droid and the Razr) both have/had very gender-aware marketing. I won’t rehash the same points you made about the Droid’s ad campaign, but I will mention that at the height of its popularity, the Razr was available in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different shades of pink. Then again, people didn’t buy cases for the Razr, so Moto couldn’t rely on the accessories market to pick up the slack.

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