Originally Published: Slate • August 13, 2013
Marketers, as well as anyone who’s been to a Toys R Us in the last 10 years, are well aware that a common way to goose sales is to split a market by gender. If body wash is a product traditionally purchased by women, design a body wash exclusively for men. Persuade both genders that they’re better off with their own gender-specific stuff, and you could wind up with double the sales—households with two types of bath soap, two types of diet soda, two sets of nearly identical kids’ building blocks, with one set in pink. Part of the reason this approach works so well is that men, apparently, don’t want to buy stuff strongly associated with women.
…Within the business world, this squeamishness has long been the problem that has no name; marketing executives and consultants I spoke with were well aware of the issue but didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it. Avery had to borrow from anthropology to find the term ‘gender contamination,’ which traces back to the kind of ancient cultural taboos that banished menstruating women to special huts for fear they’d pollute everyone else.