Shine On

Bic “For Her” pen sparks avalanche of biting reviews

BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pens. (Screengrab via Amazon.com)BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pens. (Screengrab via Amazon.com)It's hard to believe that only a few decades ago ads like this existed. But there they are, in all their retro glory.

A man smiles smugly at the camera. His wife, done up in red nails, lipstick and a giant cook's hat lovingly embraces his back.

"The Chef does everything but cook — that's what wives are for!" the copy for the Kenwood Chef mixer reads.

"Most men ask, 'Is she pretty?' not 'Is she clever?'" explains another old-timey ad from Palmolive.

Marketing tactics like these show how far we've come as a society when it comes to the language we use to describe women.

And while sexism still runs rampant in the way our consumer dollars are targeted, one can argue that, at the very least, the language has gotten subtler.

Then there are strange lapses, like the "Bic For Her" pen — a collection of simple writing utensils designed specifically for a woman's tiny, birdlike hand and produced in attractive lady-colours like pink and purple.

"A ball pen essentially for women!" reads the company's website copy, which would be remiss not to throw in disclaimers like a "Fun comfort grip" and "Modern design."

[See also: Mom defends 'Time' breastfeeding cover]

There's even the For Her Fashion retractable pen, for the full-grown adult female that isn't just concerned about ergonomics — but about looking more stylish than her boring regular "For Her" pen-using femmes as she attempts to write.

While there are no direct links to Canadian retailers, the product is available in Europe and sold on Amazon in the U.S.

Two decades ago, this product may have garnered a handful of (handwritten) complaints from individuals disturbed by the implications that a woman needs her own stereotype-laden writing tool.

Perhaps a number of people would notice the pen on store shelves and make a comment about the need to infantilize grown women with pretty colours and a slimmer "fashionable" design.

But that was before the Internet. So now, despite the fact that the pen was released over a year ago, a few sarcastic reviews have propelled the product into the spotlight and triggered an avalanche of hilarious replies on Amazon UK.

"I was recently given a box of these as a gift from my husband, but I have no idea what to do with them! They're too thin to make a good rolling pin. I can't ladle out my soups with them. And the tiny point doesn't even make a dent when I try to use one to chop veggies! I don't get it. If I can't use it in the kitchen, what the hell am I supposed to do with one???" cracks an Amazon customer with the handle kittenwench.

[See also: Controversial JC Penney ad]

"My only criticism of these wonderful pens is that I get a bit bored with all 12 looking the same," complains M Holloway. "I get around this my customising each pack. At the moment, the pen I have in use is covered in stripes of glitter and I glued a pink pompom and one of those diamanté charms you get on mobile phones (I couldn't fit any more on my phone) onto the top. I think BIC should start adding pens like this to their range because some women find it difficult to hold tubes of superglue properly - I asked the 6 year old boy who lives next door to help me."

Men are equally engaged in the process. "This pen is great. I bought it for all my female friends and relatives. It enabled them, finally, to write things (although they may not yet know to do so on paper; but you can only expect so much, really). I thought they were just a bit slow," writes jonny, adding, "Hopefully a range of 'for her' paperclips is on the horizon - my wife has an awful time keeping her recipes together."

For fans of a good riposte, the product's UK page, at 300-plus reviews and counting, provides quality reading.

Meanwhile, the buzz has brought untold attention toward the product and as these things go, will likely send Bic sales through the roof.

A quick search, however, shows that the pen company is far from the only business shilling similar wares.

Amazon pulls up a long list of pink power tools for handywomen who need a shock of colour in their lives. And if that doesn't tickle your girlish fancy, you can always try a hammer or tape measure in a print of pretty flowers.

And hey! Maybe if you bought her a pink chainsaw with a giant heart you could get your woman to cut down those trees in the backyard like you asked.

What do you think? Is this much ado about nothing, or do the sarcastic reviews reflect the public's weariness with blatant gender bias marketing?

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