The Vault

1980s Lifehacking Software for Ladies, Gloria Steinem-Approved

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Each program in the 1984 Women’s Ware software product line came folded on a miniature wire hanger like a pair of slacks, with package photography displaying a red-manicured Caucasian hand gently caressing a keyboard. Women’s Ware was a software suite offering seven programs for managing home accounting, home productivity, and personal schedules: Budget, Calendar, Checkbook, Directory, Filebox, Freefile, and Recipe.

While the software may look like a gimmick dreamed up by a boardroom of male MBAs, Women’s Ware was actually conceptualized by a female former computer analyst, Marie Norwood, and none other than Gloria Steinem served as a last-minute product consultant.

Norwood and her husband, Dwight, co-founded Neon Software, set on delivering products to a market most software developers didn’t believe existed: female microcomputing users. Marie Norwood thought that the best way to appeal to female consumers was to market a product that was “refreshingly uncomplicated.” A single 5.25 disk and a slim manual (written from Norwood’s POV) were all that accompanied the pantyhose-sized software packaging.

Wanting to ensure that Women’s Ware would serve its target demographic, the Norwoods took the product to Gloria Steinem. According to an interview with InfoWorld magazine, Steinem didn’t find the concept of “women’s software” sexist. Rather, she believed the Norwoods were trying to recast a male product as one available for everyone’s use: “You want to make women feel invited and welcome, but also make it clear the product isn’t limited to women.” It was Steinem’s suggestion to add “for modern men too!” under the title. 

Steinem’s stamp of approval, however, didn’t save the product from some castigating reviews by tech-savvy women. Betsy Staples tore into Women’s Ware in the December 1984 issue of Creative Computing in a sarcastic review written in the style of a letter to her mother: “It’s almost as if they had been listening to our conversations during the commercials between the soaps last week. They know that we are mystified and intimidated by the [computing] activity that takes place in dens and basements of our split-level tract homes. And they have come to our rescue.”

Special thanks to Maureen Ryan at Northwestern University for the tip.

Women's Ware software cover

Photo by Laine Nooney.