Women vs. People

It’s time for a round-up of all the reader submissions illustrating the annoying habit of having products and products-for-women. The phenomenon illustrates the way we continue to think of men as people and women as women, thereby centering men and men’s lives as “normal” and women’s as “special” (and not in a good way).

Anti-Monkey Butt Powder and Lady Anti-Monkey Butt Powder, sent in by Jennifer N.:

Alexander is a “little kid,” Isabella is a “little girl” (thanks Heather F.!):

Snippet from a consumer survey taken by Alison M.:SMBC t-shirt order page, sent in by Mordy O.:

At REI, Jackie H. noticed, there are “road bikes,” “mountain bikes,” “recreational bikes,” “urban and commuting bikes,” and… “women’s bikes”:

And no “men = people, women = women” roundup would be complete without a sports website. As Amy H. says: ”Basketball, Running, Soccer, Football, Baseball, Training, Women. Sigh.”

For more, see an earlier roundup of the neutral male and our posts on the Body Worlds exhibit, “regular” t-shirts and women’s t-shirts, scientists and female scientists, Best Buy assumes all customers are male, stick figures and stick figures who parent, and default avatars.

This post originally appeared at Sociological Images. Reprinted with permission.


  1. Head meet desk

  2. I would say the reason the science shirt is designated by womens sizes/other is because they sell different kinds of shirts for women, which are usually more fitting to curves. it sucks that women are the other in that situation but all that is needed to rectify it just throwing in a ‘mens’ so that there is an obvious and reasonable differentiation

    • I agree. Typically the one without designation are uni-sex and ‘boxier’ (so both men and women can comfortably wear them) where as the women’s versions are tighter with more stretch.

    • gitterrost4 says:

      But… the T-shirt thing is completely good. Women can Physically wear both types of shirts. Men can only wear the first type. So one of the shirts is a shirt for both sexes and the other will only fit women, so it is a Women’s shirt.

      • Well, except men CAN wear the tighter tees; I’ve seen skinnier guys especially wearing them. The problem is that most guys won’t wear anything that could be seen as “women’s” clothing, because being a woman in shameful while being a man is not.

      • You’re missing the point, regardless of who can wear which shirts.

        Imagine the order form with S, M, L, XL, followed by Men’s S, Men’s M, Men’s L, Men’s XL. Men and women both would realize that the “special” men’s sizes were boxier and more relaxed. Men and women could still buy and wear them. The standard would then be the more tailored fit, and it would be the men’s boxier, looser frames that would be “special” and exceptional. Women would be “people” and men would be “exceptional.”

        But we’re so entrenched in the current view that not only do you miss the point, you think the status quo is a GOOD thing!

        • Or the more shapeless ones could be labeled Unisex S, Unisex M, etc.

        • Heya– I’m the guy who sells the shirts.

          The unlabeled shirts are unisex. We carry “women’s sizes” because women request them. They aren’t just tighter fit – they are tapered in the middle to match what is (not always, but on average) the shape of women’s bodies. Men certainly can wear them, but they’re not designed for the purpose, and I suspect would not be very comfortable.

          We don’t carry “men’s sizes” because we’ve never once had a man request a fitted shirt for men, though they do exist. If we did get such requests, I would be selling them.

          While I don’t disagree with your sentiment, I don’t perceive our storefront as sexist or reinforcing any status quo. We have generic shirts that fit men and women, and we have (again, by request) fitted women’s sizes. Because the latter are fitted for women, they are called “women’s” as opposed to “regular” or “normal” or unlabeled.

          • Zach, just admit it. The storefront is sexist and yes, it reinforces the status quo.

          • Here’s an idea: You could call the fitted shirts FITTED SHIRTS.

            It really is mind-blowing how many people are missing the point of this piece entirely.

          • I get what you’re saying, Zach, and I agree. Women’s shirts are designed differently because women have different proportions than men. Sure, anyone can wear the unisex shirts (so not labeling them as anything special makes sense…because they AREN’T anything special for any particular group). Whereas the women’s shirts are more fitted…for a woman’s body specifically. And likely not just tighter around the waist, but leaving a little room in the chest for breasts. Those are physical details that would make the shirts more for women than most men, thus…women’s shirts. It’d be the same thing if there were shirts that had more room in the shoulders for men (as men usually have larger shoulders). I agree with a lot of these products being included in this list, but in this case, I think people are ignoring important facts in order to make a point.

            Although, in general, women’s clothing is typically lower quality and less comfortable than most men’s clothing. So I feel that it could be a good example, but this particular case just doesn’t work in my opinion.

          • “Here’s an idea: You could call the fitted shirts FITTED SHIRTS”

            Except men’s fitted t-shirts are shaped differently (like a wedge) then women’s fitted t-shirts (like an hour-glass). I think the t-shirt example misses.

          • Why not call the first set “unisex” then, to avoid unfortunate implications?

  3. Wow. Shouldn’t the WNBA fall under “basketball”? :/

    The t-shirt example I understand and am ok with. “Women’s” shirts are the form-fitting tops that many women find more comfortable (myself included), while the other shirts are considered the “unisex” T-Shirt, so it wouldn’t be correct for it to say, “Science Shirt – Men’s S” for example.

    …but really? “Lady Monkey Butt Powder” that is “Satin Smooth”? I’m willing to bet it’s the same ingredients as the Monkey Butt Power for “everyone else.”

  4. I’m wondering why having special “women’s” sizing and cuts are bad… Usually it indicates a t-shirt cut a little tighter through the waist and looser across the chest, for comfort as much as fashion. They also tend to be longer.

    There are bigger issues out there than ladies cut t shirts; are the women’s t shirts more expensive? Are they derogatory?

    Also, used the Monkey Butt stuff; baby powder works better.

    • The point here is not that products are adapted to women (though one should ask, in every case, whether there is really a specific need for a “female” version, or whether that version is built on stereotypes and then labeled “for women” – case in point, anything that isn´t usually pink and suddenly pops up in that colour). The real point, I think, is that only one half of the products is labeled by gender – thus implying “this is the norm, oh, and this is the special extra thingy for women, read: people who are not normal”. If one absolutely NEEDS to put gender-labels on things, it would be more honest to also offer “mens” products.

    • You need to think of the reverse in order to understand. What if the women’s cut weren’t labeled at all, and the men’s were labeled “men’s”? Then THEY would have to figure out whether the “unisex” shirts suited them or not

  5. In defense of REI: there are women’s bikes have measurements specific for women; all other bikes, not specified as women’s geometry, are based on male geometry, meaning that there is more space between the saddle and the handlebars, which can be hard on shoulders. Some women are fine with the male geometry bikes, whereas others prefer the female geometry (I’ve ridden both and I can do fine on both). There are also women’s and men’s bike seats (which are a GOD SEND), and are usually specified by symbols (♀ and ♂). There is little, if any, cost difference; granted, all bikes and bike accessories tend to be CRAZY expensive.

    But the monkey butt powder? Seriously?!

  6. To those commenting on women’s size shirts. It is not the fact that women’s sizes exist, it is the fact that there are regular size shirts and women’s sizes, and not men’s sizes and women’s sizes, thus contributing to the idea that women are different and men are normal.

    • back in days of yore, everybody wore the standard boxy cut shirt. Far enough back, it was all but impossible to get anything but XL, which is why I, who will often wear a kid’s sized shirt, have XL still around to lend to larger guy friends.

      Many many women are still interested in the standard boxy cut. Some of us want something more fitted to an hourglass body shape. The latter shirt shape is the new thing.

  7. Re: being okay with Women’s shirt sizing

    It is not about the fact that there are different fits for shirts and that some are marked to fit women’s bodies…it is that the other shirts are *not* labelled. They could write “men’s” or “unisex” if that is what they are. What not labelling other choices does is “center[s] men and men’s lives as “normal” and women’s as “special”.”

    Another kind of labelling that bugs me (enough to mention it whenever I see it, and then you should see the looks I get) is when I see “Mens” and “Ladies”. Argh!

  8. I’d like to speak in defense of women’s bikes — having something that was built with a woman’s body geometry in mind really makes a difference.

    • It’s great the bikes exist; its not great that men’s bikes are considered standard and women’s customized.

  9. There’s also things like the “Just For Men” hair coloring, (as if there’s a difference in our hair), and how much MORE do those “women’s” versions cost vs. the regular product?

  10. Luna Bars.

  11. The thing with the women’s shirt sizes is that by not indicating “Men’s small”, Male/Men becomes the default otherwise stated. Thus, we are being taught to assume that everything is male or made for men until we are told otherwise.

  12. I found the angle presented here to be a little skewed. In my opinion it is largely a different gender issue that is demonstrated here, and only by some of the products. For the children’s books and clubhouses, I see the problem being that in our society it is quite acceptable for girls to play with “boy toys” or read “boy books” …so much so that to label a toy, book, or other item as being for “boys” is seen as offensive and exclusive of girls. However, it is not nearly as acceptable for boys to play with “girl toys,” so marketers are perfectly content to go on targeting products to girls specifically. Essentially, what used to be for “boys” is now labeled gender-neutral, while “girls” items remain exclusively targeted to such. The resulting labelling differences, I think, say more to how oppressed in societal gender roles men and boys still are compared to women, and less about women being the “exception” rather than just people.

    The t-shirts and bike examples, I think, are sort of red herrings. In both cases, the “women’s” items are designed specifically to suit fundamental differences in physical structure. Is the solution to only make shirts that are equally fitted to both male and female figures? Hell no. Is the solution to label the “normal” shirts as “men’s?” (You could label them unisex, but it seems a bit redundant to say they’ll fit everyone if it’s already quite clear that they do…) I doubt it… didn’t they used to be labelled “men’s”? Of course! We can’t do that any more, because many women feel more comfortable in the less-fitted, “men’s” t-shirts regardless of whether they have a more “boyish” figure or not. It only really works one way… it can be seen why someone with curves might choose a less-fitted t-shirt, but what person (male OR female) would feel comfortable in a shirt fitted for curves and protrusions they don’t have??

    The bicycles are a bit different still. I see other commenters on this post have covered the physical differences, so I won’t go further into those. To give some historical perspective on the matter, for a long time bicycles were ONLY designed based on the male physical structure. It’s only within the past few decades that women’s geometry has been considered by bicycle manufacturers at all (and thank goodness for that!) Also, it’s not as if the website is saying that there are hybrid, touring, mountain and road bikes… and THEN there are women’s bikes. The women’s category overlaps with the others. It’s a simple way of limiting search terms (and sadly, there are still many more men’s bike designs, so limiting to only “men’s” wouldn’t help nearly as much.

    All that being said, it’s been very interesting to note the disparities in marketing shown here… and I agree, I don’t know what is up with that monkey butt powder LOL. Thanks for the post!! 🙂

    • I think the issue here is why do they have to be labelled at all. The club House could have been labelled by color rather than Club House and Girl’s Club House. The bikes could have been labelled as specialty bike with specific height requirements. The t-shirts should have at least had unisex on the rest of them. And what the hell is the deal with the books? Yeah, have books that are catered to boys and girls if you want, but at least keep the same byline for the girl as the boy or add boy to the byline. If advertisers and marketers are going to take the time to differentiate, at least do it a little less sexist. And why don’t we just have universal shoe sizes?

  13. *Sigh* These examples are great for demonstrating the principle at issue: Humans are men unless otherwise stated. Men are neutral, they are the standard from which women are the deviation.

    Shall we now add Lego to the list of offenders? With their new Lego Friends line aimed at girls, they now have “regular” Legos and “girl” Legos. So disappointing.

  14. Carol Brown says:

    Has anyone mentioned sportscasters and how in figure skating, gymnastics, and tennis, for example, there are men’s events and there are LADIES’ events? Also women are consistently referred to as girls, even by women sportscasters. Now that I think about it, do I remember that this speech also takes place in the Olympics? This habit is sooooo 1950s! I hope someone will give these so-called professional commentators a huge headsup and possibly some training that will bring them up to date.

    • I agree, Carol. The news media is very male chauvinistic and it shows in their language. I have told reporters that I stopped reading their articles as soon as I saw sexist language.

  15. Dawn Kosec says:

    I don’t mind the women’s shirts or bikes… but what is the difference between the “clubhouse” and the “girls’ clubhouse”? Just the color?

    Young girls may as well get used to being something other than human, after all, the way things are going, eggs have way more rights than living, breathing women. I hope we can turn this mess around in my lifetime… keep voting pro-choice!

  16. Ruth Cody says:

    A lot of people are suggesting use both genders as signifiers, men for the unisex or men’s sizes and women for the women’s sizes. I find this equally disturbing, because it forces us to consider our gender first then our body types and then our preferences, which I see as a step backward. It also assumes that all women and all men are certain sizes or certain shapes, or prefer certain styles, which is also detrimental to a truly diverse culture that is gender-stigma free. How bout we just say plain monkey-butt powder and silky monkey-butt powder, and let us choose how we want our ass to feel without worrying about being masculine or feminine.

    • Thank you Ruth. This type of article and author drives me crazy. it is good to see some people still have their rational minds intact.

      the main stream media and the feminists/other fanatics the media represents as good people rarely do… the feminists in particular are good at putting women over men and turning everything into a blame game but horrible at helping us all learn how to respect + love ourselves and each other(this is where true equality lies and is along the lines of ruths though).

      This isnt just my opinion, prominent feminists such as Germaine Greer consider equality(for men and women) and feminism to be two different things.

      the author needs to take a course on logic, set theory, marketing,psychology of marketing and history of clothing/fashion instead of spouting out this hateful garbage that gives credit to illogical thought and scapegoats men in a similar way to Hitler claiming jews were the issue.

      Lisa fails to realize that she hurts her own argument by talking about “womens” and unisex things… men are becoming the invisible group… there are women and unisex…

      look at marketing, more and more things are marketed for women… sometimes its just to make an extra buck by making you buy 2 shampoos but on a larger scale…

      studies show that women make most of the big purchase decisions in households. this isnt something you see feminists talk about..but once you read the stats it makes lisa look like a fool.

      you want to see inequality? watch prime time tv and count how many smart/loving/competent husbands there are vs how many wives run the show and the poor man could barely live with out them.

      listen to every psa about abuse you have ever heard and count how many mention men as victims… the sad thing is you see a headline “NEW STUDY MEN ABUSE WOMEN”
      if you ever bother to read the actual study you would find that some showed no gender bias in who abuses more but most found only a small difference. btw the “men are stronger” argument doesn’t work either… abuse requiring hospitalization makes up only 2-4% of domestic violence…

      most studies but few/no headlines also show women are 2x more likely to get physical first… ah yes but the man must have deserved it(equality…sigh)

      thank you Lisa and Ms. you are helping create a gen of women who hate men when they should really hate the powers that be that mess with both of our heads(btw if u look past history to herstory you will find female rules have been just as brutal).

      ill end with a personal story… after fox chewed out jcrew over the mother painting her sons nails i decided to paint my toenails and wear flipflops to see what the reaction would be… after all women can wear doc martins, pants, polos most of mens fashion with out issue… a simple color on my toes shouldnt be a big deal…

      for most it wasnt. the only negative i got was a girl i constantly hear blaming the patriarchy(she is near my own social circle)…

      her: “you should take polish off it isnt for men”
      me : you should go change into a skirt and heals
      her(trying to hold back anger): You are a sexist pig!

      Hail Feminism!

  17. The thing with the t-shirts is, a men’s button-down shirt or polo will fit me (female) just as well as a men’s t-shirt will. Yet those are never marketed as unisex. If you’re going to argue that the men’s t-shirts are “unisex” because women can wear them, too, you have to ask why other styles aren’t. It’s assumed that if a woman wants to wear something more dressy, she wants something that actually fits and flatters her shape, and thus a woman would never wear a nice shirt that’s cut to fit a man (so there’s no point calling it unisex). But apparently, wanting to wear something casual=wanting to hide your femininity?

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