The XX Factor

Strong Enough for a Man, But Marketed to a Woman

The January issue of Consumer Reports has a charticle comparing personal-care drugstore products targeted toward women with the gender-neutral (or male) version made by the same company. There’s no discernable difference in active ingredient and function-but a marked one in price. Women pay lots more. For a can of Barbasol shaving cream, for instance, the men’s version is $1.69 for 11 ounces; women’s (sorry, “Pure Silk”) is $2.49 for just 9.6 ounces. (Plenty of ostensibly unisex products are prettied up to be marketed to women- Torie Bosch recently highlighted the “Pink it and shrink it” school of gadget-selling in a DoubleX slide show .)

So why are women so much more susceptible to gender marketing? Aren’t men supposed to be the ones so deeply worried about telegraphing their masculinity? Isn’t it easier for women to float across and back gender lines? (I’m painting with a broad brush here, I realize. But still.) I’m not convinced this phenomenon is entirely about the looks of the packaging-although women probably do care more, on balance, about how harmonious a stick of deodorant sitting on a dresser looks than the average man. Maybe we’re willing to pay a slight premium for that. But I’d imagine it has to do more with price creep. We’re used to paying stunning amounts (or at least reading in magazines about other people who pay stunning amounts) for La Mer face cream or Chanel lipstick. Even if that Nivea body wash for women is $2 more than the version marketed to men, it’s a bargain compared with, say, $54 Guerlain shower gel .