“By the time I was 12 I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything.” -Wilma Rudolph
Dear equipment companies:
My name is Erica and I’m not a niche market.
I know, I know…for years, I’ve complained about how companies tend to focus on the male body as a default blueprint for all bodies– that sex-specific aspirin research that was marketed as universal made me blow a gasket for a while. I’ve also complained about the fact that having breasts can make some of your equipment very difficult to use. That being said…
I don’t require a special “women’s” model for everything you make. My wonderful new sleeping bag is one of these items. The only difference between it and my (male) partner’s bag is that mine is two inches shorter. Oh, and it’s labeled “women’s” while his is simply “sleeping bag.” Same goes for the sleeping mat. Why is mine gendered, while his is unspecific? How about labeling them “small” and “medium,” or if you’re feeling cheeky, “human” and “slightly taller human”?
When it comes to equipment that is weight-dependent or shaped to fit specific body proportions, consider this: there’s more variation amongst human bodies than are sex-specific. Take me as an example. I’m 1.67 meters tall and I’ve got an hourglass build. I’m not tiny by any means, but my body is definitely the product of significant amounts of estrogen and progesterone (what might be termed as “I look very female”). And yet the overnight backpack that fits me best- the one that’s designed to allow a person to carry clothes, tent, sleeping bag, and food for six or more days at a time- claims to be a “men’s bag.” Go figure (no pun intended). Is your women’s model intended for someone with even broader hips and an even lower centre of gravity? Somehow I doubt it.
Labels don’t need to be gendered to be sensible. Marketing weight ranges, shapes (i.e. hip circumference for climbing gear), or physical needs (“hiking boots for people with club feet!”) makes just as much sense as attempting to lump all people into two sex-based categories that wind up having loads of overlap that companies didn’t anticipate, especially when working with equipment that all outdoorsy folks use. My trekking poles don’t need to be “women’s” trekking poles based on colour or size. Give me a weight range or a height option and I’m good. There’s no need to divide people into groups that often have nothing to do with their equipment needs.
Please don’t send me a pile of research about how women “prefer” certain colours over others or “need” lower weight limits on their luggage to justify your gendexing of the travel market. And please, for the love of God, stop marketing your travel shoes as “comfort without sacrificing style!” My entire existence doesn’t revolve around how cute or attractive I am at any given moment, especially if I’m in the middle of something requiring a lot of walking or a lot of mud. There are plenty of ways to broaden your selection of styles, colours, and suitcase dimensions without resorting to limiting them to one sex or another or pandering to a superficial understanding of what a broad group of people might want in their footwear.
This isn’t about “having it both ways” or any such stupid argument against rethinking your assumptions. I really do appreciate your newfound ability to recognize that bodies and abilities come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and strengths, and I encourage you to continue investigating how your products can meet more peoples’ needs. However, I’m begging you to stop boxing us in. I’m only one woman in billions, but I’m not the only one who feels slighted by your beliefs that I require certain colours, labels, sizes, shapes, or functions in order to want or need your products. Bodies should be taken into consideration but shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of your production schemes.
I’m a woman. I’m part of your market. But I’m not your niche.