Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bic 'for her' pen backlash

Company should've seen the writing on the wall

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Here I was having trouble meeting my Free Press deadline and thinking I had writer's block. It turns out I was just exhausted by having to drag a big, bulky man-sized pen across the page.

The Bic company recently unveiled its "For Her" line of pens, which are pretty, pastel-coloured and slim (to enable "better handling for women," says the company's product description). For years I've been buying 12-packs of standard black and blue Bic pens in the mistaken belief that they were gender-neutral. Now I understand that they were really made for rough, rugged, Hemingway-esque writing and the rapid cut and thrust of hyper-masculine thoughts.

What a relief, then, that I can buy a pen made just for me. Finally, I can say along with hardworking female writers and journalists everywhere, here is a pen a woman can actually use.

Now, I'd heard of "gendered writing" before -- the idea that men and women's writing is different. Hell, I went to university in the intellectually earnest 1980s, and that's practically all we talked about. But who could have suspected it all went back to writing implements? Turns out all those "penis, pen/is" postmodern jokes were right.

Seriously, though, now that I'm wielding a girl-pen, I can write a little about the perilous pitfalls of marketing just to women. The strategy is often described as "shrink it and pink it," meaning that you take your object -- hammer, sports jersey, cellphone, convertible -- and make it smaller and more colourful. And of course, you tack on a premium cost. Not only are women drawn to shiny things, but evidently we love to pay more than men for equivalent products and services. It makes us feel special.

Companies see a big payoff in reaching the lucrative lady demographic. But there are also risks. In the case of For Her pens, many women are using their newfound writing ability to slam the company, with hilarious results. The For Her backlash has become a social media wipeout that will stand as a cautionary tale in future marketing texts.

The epicentre of the discontent is the customer review section of Amazon, which has always been a repository of comic consumer sarcasm.

As one reviewer writes, while no doubt dotting her "i's" with little daisies and doodling pictures of ponies with long manes: "Since I've begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approachable. It has given me soft skin and manageable hair and it has really given me the self-esteem I needed to start a book club and flirt with the bag-boy at my local market."

Another enthuses: "Bic, the great liberator, has released a womanly pen that my gentle baby hands can use without fear of unlady-like callouses and bruises. Thank you, Bic." Other writers, perhaps picking up on Bic's bizarre promise that the For Her pen offers "all day comfort," make a parallel to tampons (a product that is marketed to women for a legitimate reason). "I use it when I'm swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It's comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty!"

Well, there you are, Bic. If you make a pen "essentially for women," you shouldn't be surprised if they start writing you snarky notes.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2012 G5

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