Does This Laptop Make Me Look Gay?

by Shaker Caitiecat, a 42-year-old translator, writer, mother, and grandmother, who lives in Soviet Canuckistan, not far from The Centre of the Universe (sometimes known as Toronto). This is her first guest post at Shakesville.

I ran across an article yesterday, and as I'm sure hundreds of Shakers do every day, quickly dashed off an e-mail to the QcoFM with a virtual shake of the head. Her response was, "Well, want to do a guest post about it?" When I came back to my senses, I heard this awful keening noise, and realised only slowly that it was me, making a sort of high-pitched "squeeeeeeee" sound. So, yeah, here I am. Thanks, Liss.

So let's get deconstructing, shall we?

The article is titled "Laptop gender wars: What your netbook (or Toughbook) says about you," and, in case you haven't already guessed, its main ingredient is a metric ton of variously phobic generalizations.

It'd be the easy route, here, to just take the hapless journalist to task, for Cluelessness in the First Degree. But I'm inclined to cut him some slack, because he does actually ask one of those first questions people ask when they're drifting toward progressiveness:
You may have noticed that my initial curiosity, about how someone's computer threatened his masculinity, led me to a number of discussions about marketing to women, not men. My initial queries were about "gender" in marketing, and so I was very struck that people came back to talk to me about women in particular. But ChristieLyn Diller, an adjunct professor of women's studies at Towson University, says that shouldn't come as a surprise. "From my educated opinion, this is rooted in the fact that our society, in all spheres, is rooted in the masculine generic, a byproduct of our patriarchal structure. Think of how we refer to everyone as 'guys' or 'mankind', etc. So when gender issues come up, it makes us think of the 'other' category, in this case women, without reference to the dominant group, men, which requires no explanation. Lesser groups require qualifiers to let us know that we are not referring to the dominant group."
And kudos to Mr. Fruhlinger, he asked that question, and even had the sense to approach a women's studies prof to get an answer. So my angle here is going to be more gentle than I might otherwise be, because it's clear that we have someone who's at least trying to question automatic sexism. We like that, here at Shakesville.

And this is good, because without that redeeming paragraph, this'd be a bit of a misogyfest.

For a start, we have an article based on a complaint by some dude who's worried his stylish and cute laptop might be giving women the wrong impression: Women *wink-wink* "think [he has] a different presence than [he] actually want[s] to portray." In case you missed the crucial subtext here, His Laptop Isn't Getting Him Any More Vajayjay Than He Was Getting Before He Got It, and Women Think He Might Be, Y'know, One of Those. Because, of course, one should be buying one's tech based on whether it gets one laid more, or gets one labeled the right kind of cute (but totally not that gay kind). Argh.

But, to be fair, our columnist is not saying these things, he's just reporting them. Secondhand sexism – is it more or less dangerous than secondhand smoke? Guess it depends who's breathing it in.

The first paragraph after laying out the problem goes well, as he speaks to a couple of experts—notably women, as throughout the article, which is good, but speaks to the subtlety of sexism, too: a) He wants the legitimacy of having a woman attached to the quotes; and b) It's not as easy to find men who do gender studies stuff. The experts give really good analysis, on the first page, anyway, with Learned On Women's Andrea Learned giving solid advice about how not to do it: Ditch the pink and balloons and stuff, and treat women like adults, able to make reasoned decisions. And be prepared for a backlash if you don't follow that wise advice.

But we're starting to see the unconscious sexism drifting in, here. Mr. Fruhlinger perceives his audience as men:
You may be surprised to hear that this approach was not well-regarded by most of the consultants I spoke to.
Well, no, Mr. Fruhlinger, most women wouldn't be surprised at all. Maybe a lot of men would be surprised. Not all, though.

Then we come to the second page, and things slide a bit. Ms. Yohn gives more good analysis:
Companies should take care not to over-emphasize the gender orientation of their products. To capture the widest appeal and to avoid reinforcing stereotypes that alienate, they should pursue specific styles and aesthetics that resonate with both men and women.
See what she does there? She makes the crazy-ass point that maybe women and men are looking for the same things, or making decisions from subsets of the same criteria: Price, reliability, functionality, not "does this laptop make me look gay?"

Then things go downhill, quickly. Mandy Minor, of J Allan Studios, says she never takes her B2B IT marketing to a level that is "football manly":
"I keep my clients' messaging in the 'smart and in-the-know guy' territory."
Urk. Sexism: You're soaking in it. The blanket assumptions that: a) It's only men in IT; and b) Men, naturally, still need masculine (if not "football manly") messages, or they won't pay attention. And to prove it, we have an ad for the Toughbook, the Manly Laptop for Manly Men Who Do Manly Things in a Masculine Way. As we all know, women have no need of a laptop which is waterproof, shockproof, or any of that stuff. Why, they'd be breaking nails all over the place!

Next, it's back on-message: Don't overdo it, guys, 'cause the ladeez don't like it. They clearly forgot to include the "This article is intended for the male reader. Female readers are directed to our new sections on Easy Weight Loss and How to Please Your Husband" warning.

Oh, Mr. Fruhlinger, that final paragraph:
But what about our Slashdot reader, wracked with anxiety over what his tiny, effeminate netbook said about him?
Oh dear. "Tiny, effeminate netbook"? Way to play right into the sexism thing, there, dude. You wrote this article to examine an assumption, and finish by replaying the assumption in a new, more sexist form? Before, you were mocking him for worrying about whether his laptop would get him more sex, now you're agreeing with him that having a small laptop makes him effeminate. And OMG, as we all know, Civilization Will End if we don't mock men for being effeminate: I mean, who would want to be thought of as like some sort of icky girl? And by the way, I was talking to Janice in history and she totally likes you, dude.

And then we close, with a page from the "any attention from women could lead to sex with women, and is therefore inherently good" playbook:
"Women are talking to you because of your laptop, and you're complaining?" It seems that most of us, men and women, are OK using a cute laptop.
Indeed. Because the purpose of a laptop is for men to attract women.

Anyway, I'm off. I've got to take my laptop back to the store. I can't find where they put the genitalia, and I don't want to have the wrong kind. Men might not want me if I do.

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