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.”
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?