Friday, March 11, 2005

Pretty Computers

The Light article mentioned how computer ads targeted at women stressed that they were "easy enough for women" to use, or that they could be helpful in organizing your recipe collection or cataloguing your fine china. This reminded me of a more recent trend in computer ads trying to appeal to a female audience: the computer as fashion accessory.

A few years back several computer manufacturers came out with computers that were available in different colors. I remember in one of the Radio Shack computer ads with Teri Hatcher she was getting all excited about having a computer that coordinated with her room, and maybe buying some more computers so she could have a selection of colors...

Around that same time my mother decided she wanted to upgrade to a computer with more memory. I went to Best Buy with her and we were looking around at the different computers when a salesguy sidled up. He said, "Oh, this one's really cool!" Why was it so cool? Because the CPU had a front panel you could remove and replace with ones in different colors! That was all this guy had to say to two women looking at computers, that you could get one that changed color. My mother did not buy a new computer that day, or ever in fact. (She has since inherited my old one.)

Now, there's nothing wrong with putting more thought into designing computers to be aesthetically pleasing, but it's going to take more than a prettier computer to appeal to female buyers.

I think the article is right in that women can't wait around for the industry to tell us what we can do with computers and make them seem appealing to us. The industry apparently has no clue what women want. Left to their own devices, a pink computer seems to be the best they can do. It's up to women to figure out what we want to do with computers, and help shape the market that way.

To a great extent we've already done so. As more and more women go online, I think the Internet is changing. The Light article was written ten years ago, and the online world was often hostile to women then. Just having a feminine-sounding username left you open to all kinds of obscene messages from other users. Now there are a lot more women online, a lot more websites by and for women, and a lot more acceptance of the simple fact that women do go online -- and not just women in technical fields or with advanced degrees, but all kinds of women.


  1. I think the success of the ipod mini -- and frankly, the success of apple in general these days -- shows that the appeal of color options and other aesthetic choices is not gendered.

    I say this as I close my old -- and long-missed -- tangerine powerbook. Sure, it looked like a jaunty toilet seat, but it was a jaunty toilet seat with STATUS!

  2. I agree that aesthetic appeal isn't gendered, but the early advertising for these things did seem to be female-focused. In fact, I got the impression they were hoping women would buy multiple computers to coordinate with their wardrobe, as if they were handbags or something.

    The iPod is an interesting case in that you can wear it on your body, so it actually is a kind of accessory. So it's more important that they look good than something that's just going to sit on your desk in your office.

  3. This reminds me of when my friend in college was given a tool set from her parents that came in a pink tool box with small pink colored tools. She--a mechanical engineering student that already owned a set of tools--was mostly horrified. The thought that makes me feel better about all this is I believe advertisers probably aren't marketing to *all* women or women that already buy "regular" tools or computers with these campaigns. They are aiming at women (and also men) who wouldn't usually buy these products but *might* if they were marketed differently. I guess that sort of makes me feel better?!?

  4. These are all very interesting comments coming from Kelly and Eric. Leave it to me to think that the internet has only existed for as long as I've been using it and it has always been the way it is now. Thanks for the perspective.