Last week brought with it the launch of yet another odiously sweet pink mobile phone. Around the same time, the story of little girl being bullied for using a Star Wars water bottle at school caused much ire on the internet.
Katie, the girl in question, is a big fan of Star Wars but a few months into the new school term she admitted to her mum, “The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle. They say it’s only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I’ll just bring a pink water bottle.” You can read the whole story here.
How sadly unsurprising it is. Katie likes Star Wars and there’s no reason why she should be teased about it just because she’s a girl, as her mother quite rightly reassured her. Unfortunately, the mobile phone industry is more in tune with the boys who teased Katie than her sensible mother.
Pink is for girls
It’s drilled into us from birth that blue is for boys and pink is for girls, and technology manufacturers, obsessed with reaching that “elusive” female market, are only serving to perpetuate this myth. Supposedly, women need something different to male phone users; whether that’s a handset with a shopping app or pink casing, it all boils down to basic stereotyping and it’s time that it stopped.
We know from such accurate pop cultural sources as Sex and the City and Boots adverts that women like friends, make-up, shopping and shoes – and, of course, pink things. For many women, this may be true – certainly most ladies I know are partial to a shoe or two, at least. But that doesn’t mean we need to have all these things shoe-horned into a mobile phone before we’ll buy it, and it doesn’t mean we need a phone to be pink in order to like the look of it.
In fact, many girls hate the look of pink phones – a quick Twitter poll revealed such reactions as “pink phones = grodie” and “Spewewewew” which I think is fairly self-explanatory.
The problem is that a badly designed phone in pink is still a badly designed phone. As Gemma Cartwright, fashion blogger and editor of beauty site LatestInBeauty.com, puts it: “I own things that are pink and I have no problem with pink tech, but taking a bad phone and making it pink isn’t going to make me want it. I’d rather see more beautiful, ingenuitive design than a pink case.”
Phones are for Men
Assuming that all handsets are inherently masculine is the real issue. After all, there are no blue phones with comic-book superheroes emblazoned all over them. While Samsung’s Diva handset has special girly fonts and shopping tools, I haven’t seen the company come out with a phone that offers shaving apps and beer locators built in. The assumption is that regular phones are for guys. Smartphones are powerful and sleek and black or gun-metal grey – they are For Men.
But since apps have become a staple ingredient of the smartphone and are filtering into the feature-phone market, the whole feminised phone issue becomes moot anyway. You can make your phone as girly as you like – change the background, buy a case, download apps that suit you; you don’t need these things to be dictated by a faceless corporation as part of a marketing plan.
Women don’t get tech? Get out!
There’s another assumption at play here too – the thinking that women are somehow incapable of understanding technology and therefore need a less capable phone. This is simply not true – we women are capable of understanding as much about technology as we want.
I don’t mean to speak for all womankind but I think it’s fair to say that getting to grips with a new piece of kit just isn’t necessarily our idea of a good time. Following instructions and pressing a few buttons to make a black box record a programme on BBC 2 at 8.45pm on a Saturday night is a boring job, so if we can palm it off onto the nearest interested party then that’s what we’ll do.
Even the tech-savvy ladies among us do this. Gadget writer and self-confessed girl Kat Hannaford agrees: “Without generalising too much, women tend to prioritise the more important jobs — both in the house and out. If an opportunity presents itself for someone else to pick up a chore such as setting up a router or updating software, I’m more than happy to delegate it.”
Likewise, getting to grips with a new phone is really tedious – a job I’d definitely delegate if I could. It takes a while to get a new handset the way you want it and to stop clicking the button on the right that used to open messages on your old phone but shuts your new phone down. Plus, more often than not, we’ve got a million other things to be doing at the same time.
Rather than focusing on giving us simplistic pink phones with diamante detailing and a few girlish ringtones, how about making handsets quicker and easier to set up? How about making sure that a handset is built well enough that we don’t need to change handset at all, if we don’t want to?
A design for life
We’ll freely admit that there must be a market out there for pink phones, why else would mobile phone manufacturers keep producing them? And there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a pink handset – if you genuinely like the colour pink then go ahead, knock yourself out. What is wrong, though, is the industry’s assumption that all women are looking in a phone is a pink sheen.
The fact is that relatively few women want a pink handset, just as relatively few women want a powerful high-end smartphone with a good camera, amazing apps and speedy web browsing. Most women want what any sensible consumer wants: a good-looking product that just works.
With better handset design it won’t matter if our phones are pink, green or aquamarine. Phone manufacturers, please: put the lazy stereotyping to bed and focus on building better handsets to begin with.