The XX Factor

Are the iPad Ads Sexist?

With five kids-two girls and three boys ranging in age from 7 to 18-we’ve already got too much stuff, and every day brings more sparring over everything from computers to telephones. So the question we ask each other when evaluating any new gadget is whether the children will share it. With the iPad, it seems like we will definitely need more than one because the new Apple product performs different functions for boys and girls-or at least that’s what the iPad’s ad campaign would have you believe.

We have seen dozens of Apple’s print ads for the iPad in national newspapers and magazines, all of which have been variations on the same theme: An iPad sits comfortably on the lap of a user who is navigating the device with an index finger. In the ads featuring a male using the iPad, he is always shown reading the New York Times or Wall Street Journal , while the ads with female users always show her organizing picture albums or reading Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song .

Now, it’s possible that these ads are driven by product tie-ins, with newspapers trying to reach male readers and Sparks’ publisher targeting his largely female audience. But Apple’s marketing prowess is legendary, and Steve Jobs is famous for having his finger perfectly placed on the pulse of the American consumer, and so it’s still worth asking why the ads were crafted this way. Do they reflect an unspoken reality about the different interests of men and woman? Do boys and girls use their iPads, iPods, and iPhones differently?

We don’t have answers to these questions, but we do know that the ads don’t reflect the reality of our house, where our 16-year-old daughter is the one most likely to grab the morning paper.

There’s another ad in the iPad series that doesn’t mirror life as it unfolds in our house. It pictures a mother with her feet up, lounging on the couch with her iPad while her child plays nearby. One of us saw the ad and demanded, “What mother has time during the day to put her feet up?” The other never even heard the question, sitting in the next room engrossed in the Times with feet propped up on the couch. Steve Jobs sure has him pegged right.