Justification of Gender Stereotypes – Are Razor Cartridges Luxury Items

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Introduction

Gender stereotypes in advertisements reinforce the label that women are passive by using a light color scheme or hesitant poses in picture and video advertisements. Similarly, gender-based price discrimination bolsters the stereotype of women that they need more hygiene products than men or that women like the color pink which in turn allows the market to attribute a higher price for a color change on women’s products despite having the same functionality as men’s products. In the book, “Brandsplaining: Why Marketing is (Still) Sexist and How to Fix It” by Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, we can take a closer look at how the advertising industry in the United States has progressed from the 1950s, or in reality the lack of progress in targeting women consumers. These specialists spotlight the reality of companies rebranding identical products by shrinking the size of an item with the addition of a “flowery color code.” This further highlights the underlying issue of increased pricing of these items as premium quality. Furthermore, companies make a profit off the stereotypes they enforce on society by taking advantage of women’s product production by creating beauty norms through advertisements. This encourages young women to try to emulate the appearance of the thin, beautiful women whose “imperfections” are manipulated into nonexistence. By representing women as flawless, companies are able to glorify these images as a result of using set products; ultimately giving a false representation of women’s confidence and success1. In other words, gender stereotypes send the subliminal message of actions or traits that are considered normal, which are seen as necessary attributes to have a secure role in society as a woman. On the other hand, this toxic phenomenon continues to drive the idea that “one size fits all,” thus excluding other shapes and forms of women that do not fit this industrialized image. It may occur for one of these types of advertisements to slip under the radar, however, it seems as if the general consensus of the majority of advertisements is streamlined to fit this idea on women’s products. This tendency of advertising the stereotypical woman as delicate and soft can be seen in men’s product advertisements as well. The same strategies are used to emphasize traits such as dominance or power, to appeal to men by exemplifying the standards they need to fit. When looking at the advertisements for women’s and men’s products side by side, it forms a dichotomy of two contrasting portrayals of gender. Distinguishing women and men by strength: strong versus weak, or stance: timid versus bold. This intensifies the stratification of men and women and strengthens discrimination.

??Numerous studies and experiments show gender-based pricing differences in the sales of hygiene products such as deodorants, shampoos, and razors. For instance, products may be altered in minor variants to advertise to a specific gender, but the overall quality of the formula contains no substantial difference2. Although gender-based price discrimination, defined as companies charging women consumers more for the same products, is illegal, companies have justified the price disparities by manufacturing or advertisement costs. We could suppose that gender-based pricing is affected by special qualities such as the product being all-natural, 2-in-1 with 2 functions in one product, or a designer brand containing perfume. However, after calculation and tests of the cost per ounce of specialty lotions and non-specificity lotions compared to men’s lotions, women pay more for lotions regardless of the “special qualities”3. This subsequently leaves women to be financially burdened and discriminated against by the unreasonably high prices of necessary everyday products. Razor cartridges were not exempt from these tendencies with razor cartridges marketed for women costing almost 25% more than those for men4. Listed to be one of the products with the biggest cost difference between men’s and women’s, previous research done exhibits, with razor’s brand, price, blade number, gender specification, and color all recorded, under four-blade razors, women’s were 66% more expensive than men’s, five-blade razors 47% more. Most razors have gender specifications for men or women noted with marketing images and adhere to the gender stereotypes as bolder colors for men and lighter colors for women. Gender stereotypes that ultimately affect the cost discrepancies of razors can be seen in advertisements.

Based on my research on the topic, I have found that the current status of research is effectively addressing my research question, which is: How do razor cartridge advertisements in the US, produced between 2017 and 2022, present razor cartridges as luxury items to justify gender-based price disparity?

In order to support my conclusions regarding my findings, I decided to use a survey of Korean teenagers attending an international school to create categories within a culture. The use of American Advertisements was a strategic decision as the American market trends and consumer products are also observed worldwide in popularity. In addition to product popularity, the advertisements shown in the United States contain different content than that of other countries. This would ensure that the probability of the students viewing these images and videos would be greatly reduced in order to collect authentic first impressions. Overall, I found that many of the respondents’ first impressions were heavily based on the design and color scheme. For instance, numerable responses were answered with words like “purple” or “blue” when asked to describe a certain advertisement in three words.

 Literature Review

“Beyond the Pink Tax: Gender?Based Pricing and Differentiation of Personal Care Products” by Stephanie Gonzalez Guittar, Liz Grauerholz, Erin N. Kidder, Shameika D. Daye, and Megan McLaughlin (2021) show businesses charge women consumers more than men consumers for fundamentally the same products. This phenomenon of products marketed towards women being more expensive is known as the pink tax. The authors examined personal care products, lotions, deodorants/antiperspirants, and shaving gels/creams to see whether the pink tax applies to all products or not. The paper concludes that the pink tax, in fact, applies to these hygiene products with certain exceptions. Comparing the price per ounce, these authors determined the actual differences in prices. Several factors, such as the product being a designer or luxury brand, all-natural, or multi-purpose, that are beyond gender-based marketing should be taken into consideration when comparing the prices of men’s and women’s products.

Nonetheless, this article shows that these factors only contribute to the price variance in half the products in the study. For instance, when calculated, a certain brand of lotion costs more for women than men regardless of the perfume added to the product5. Gender-based pricing depends on the quality and composition of the product. For certain products like shampoo, gender is not considered in pricing because there are few differences in the product itself. I assumed gender-based price disparities to be prevalent, but the study disproves my hypothesis. However, contradictory to the media depiction of women’s products being always more expensive, women paying more than men for products is not consistently the case. According to this study, companies that sell men’s and women’s products differentiate the package design based on gender without using phrases such as “for women” or “for men.” This is essential to note as the survey I am using for the paper will consist of advertisements that do not explicitly state the gender it is for. From the results, I will be able to identify whether or not teenagers can identify such marketing strategies. The manufacturers instead use references that are usually connected to femininity. For example, the product named “Ariana Grande’s Sweet Like Candy Body Mist” is indirectly marketed to women.

Certain products are more expensive for a certain gender due to gender stereotypes. Because gender stereotypes are connected to social obligations, it leads to a certain gender feeling the need to have or such those products. For instance, women pay more for deodorants and men pay more for shaving creams because of the enforced obligation to adhere to gender stereotypes. While deodorants are attributed to feminine qualities like cleanliness, shaving cream is perceived as a more masculine care product.

“A Study of Gender Advertisements. A Statistical Measuring of the Prevalence of Genders’ Patterns in the Images of Print Advertisements” by Nicoletta Signoretti (2017) categorizes advertisements that exemplify gender stereotypes into six groups, analyzing each element of the image. Comparing advertising pictures from 1970 to advertisements produced in 2006, the authors study the changes in relation to the time period it was created. By organizing advertisements from both periods side by side, the author concludes that the strongest gender stereotypes remain no matter the change in society over time. For example, stereotypes of women include size in which women are represented as smaller or physically lower than men to signify men’s masculinity which is shown in both the advertisements from 1970 and 20066. This phenomenon exemplifies that significant stereotypes are still engraved in society and are hard to efface completely.

On the other hand, the prevailing changes in patterns according to the time periods are noticeable as well. The more modern stereotypes of 2006 have less of a difference between femininity and masculinity. Modern interpretations of gender roles have shaped recent trends of feminine men and women in careers that developed over time. The switch of stereotypes has been a noticeable change in advertisement tendencies since 1970. For example, Versace, a fashion company, released a magazine cover with “a man who seems very feminine”6. In other words, while classic stereotypes still remain in the 21st century, the highly feminine stereotypes of women in 1976 got modernized.

One of the most crucial purposes of advertisements for these companies is the subliminal messages about stereotypes behind them as they can be applied to everyday life. The influence of these advertisements on people is crucial to note as it changes their behavior toward a particular gender. I will keep in mind these tendencies when analyzing survey responses to notice how Gen Z perceives advertisements that are either highly feminine or masculine and to see if certain engraved stereotypes might provide a rationale for their answers. Ultimately, without being able to decode these indirect messages, society will not be able to be free of gender stereotypes.

“Gender-based stereotyping and cost discrepancies for razors” by Michelle J. Chang (2021) is specific to gender-based price discrepancies and marketing of razors as it analyzes 3 main e-commerce retailers to get their statistics. The study proves that women’s razors were more expensive than men’s when factors like scents are considered. Companies justify price differences by stating the more special traits the product has, the more common for women’s products, hence the price production costs.

However, the company’s justifications would only be the case if men’s razors did not have other special features that apply to production costs. The authors show that men’s razors have other masculine factors such as trimmers or edging blades for sharper cuts that affect the price. In other words, the cost difference between men’s and women’s razors cannot be justified by feminine products having more features.

The colors of razors and packaging are influenced by traditional gender stereotypes where women’s razors were pastel and men’s were darker.  By stating “for women” or “for men” on the packaging, the companies exclude minority groups such as nonbinary people. This discriminatory marketing is another aspect that needs more attention in addition to stereotypes and gender-based price disparities. This leaves me wondering whether products for women in minority groups experience even worse price disparities. These stereotypes affect the packaging as companies could include more designs to adhere to such stereotypes, leading to higher production costs.

Product and Image Selection

Consumerism is consistently being monitored and measured by corporations, networks, and media outlets to properly collect capital information and spread consumer interest items. These outlets were the ideal section to gather the specific brand that I would focus on during my survey. According to a study by Zippia: The Career Expert titled “The 10 Largest Razor Blade Brands in the United States,” I was able to narrow down my search to the most identified women’s razor blade brand in the region. From this article, the Venus brand by Gillette was singled out as the only brand dedicated to women. The other brands that made the top 10 list either mentioned that the brand served both genders and had no mention of which consumer was targeted for sales. Since Procter and Gamble made the list twice under Gillette razors, the number 3 spot as its own brand and the number 6 spot specific for women as Gillette Venus, it would be most impartial to compare products within the same company. Products from both brands are equal in image, structure, component, and functionality.

Online searches for products at online retailers showed specific images of the items we were targeting. I included two types of razors that are on the market: simple disposable razors and a more premium product that only requires the blades to be replaced. The razors in question are specifically divided by color, wording, and design. However, the products themselves deliver the same purpose with the exact same number of blades and additional attachments included in the packaging. The difference in price was also recorded. During the collection of this information, the women’s premium razor was priced at an additional $1.32 more than the men’s razor.

Furthermore, through searching magazines for razor advertisements targeting women as consumers, we were able to select two that contrasted each other in perspective. One image showed comradery among women while the other portrayed an individual woman as a standard of beauty in society. The adverts and images selected were the most eye-catching in terms of dramatic gender stereotypes based on colors, atmosphere, and emotional reactions. In an initiative to contrast the advertisement singling out one model next to the alternative advertisement with several models, I wanted to record how the number of models present in the advert would influence how the respondents perceive stereotypes. Choosing these advertisements with both similarities and differences allows me to clearly extract how certain elements that are different may emerge as contrasting opinions (or if they are the same despite the difference) and if these images added a gender stereotype.

In addition to Gillette razors, I also included an off-brand razor that contains a contrasting appearance and a more streamlined premium metal (non-gender) color scheme.

Methodology

Data was gathered by giving a survey to 31 male and female teenagers located in my community in Seoul, South Korea. The survey asks about the participants’ initial reactions to a combination of six different types of media connected to razors depicting gender stereotypes. Images were printed on A4 size printer paper, and the commercials were shown on a laptop with speakers for sound. The survey surrounded the brand Gillette razor product images, magazine advertisements, and videos.

Figure 1 | Image 1: Gillette simple women’s razors (top left) Gillette men’s razors (top right).
Image 2: Venus Razor for Women (bottom left) and Gillette Razor for Men (bottom right). Product images contain identical blade counts with additional replacement cartridges.

During the survey, two images of razors were shown to the students. They were laid side by side with their packaging as seen in Figure 1. From these two images, we asked the students to explain which razor grasps their attention more and explain the physical features that do so. A follow-up question of which razor they think is the more expensive purchase. Following this, the type of images was changed to magazine advertisements in Figure 2. One advertisement has one model, and the other has several models embracing each other. Both of these are set on a beach with the ocean visible in the background. The students were asked to describe the advertisements in 3 words each, which aspects of the adverts indicate that they are for razors, and which ad grabs their attention more with an explanation of their reasoning. The video commercials consist of a storyline and music. One question was asked post each video. How did the commercial advertisement for men portray razors for men, and how did the commercial advertisement portray razors for women? My goal was to ask unbiased questions to encourage the respondents to answer honestly without influence.

Figure 2 | Magazine Advertisements. Gillette Venus for Women.

A survey allows the respondents to express opinions without being pressured or encouraged by a specific viewpoint. This survey adds information about stereotypes in advertisements for men’s and women’s razors and about the price teenagers expect to pay for those razors. Although it requires time to gather the respondents’ answers, it is a worthwhile process for honest and personal data.  The survey collects teenagers’ readings of these razor advertisements. With teenagers being the future of consumer purchases, their perception of stereotypes in advertisements offers insight into how companies producing personal care products may appeal to future market consumers.

Prior to the seven product questions, the respondents were asked preliminary questions to further categorize them for the study. The respondents’ age and self-designated personality traits (introverted vs extroverted), and exposure to international settings are prerequisites of the survey as they are factors that may play in the respondents’ opinions. For an accurate collection of qualitative data, the questions were open-ended to not add any preconceived opinions. This left room for the respondents to highlight areas that may not have been previously seen by the surveyor. Overall, the survey mainly aims to collect people’s initial reactions to the media by asking for their first impressions. Moreover, I administered the survey by interviewing all the respondents in a one-on-one setting in a classroom. By primarily recording the student responses followed by combining the responses comprehensively, I was able to collect the data and classify them into categories.

All the participants chosen are from Korean culture. They attend an international school in South Korea or have been exposed to an international setting through boarding school in the United States. The participants are from a similar socioeconomic background, more specifically, families in the middle to upper-class status. The ages vary from 15~17 and are gender-balanced with 13 boys and 18 girls. This group of participants was chosen as they were the most accessible group of people that have diversity in my community. These connections are half-American, half-Korean, or full-Korean. However, the respondents’ exposure to diverse environments during their upbringing, whether from a different school or country, could influence their answers to the survey questions.

I will find similarities between the respondents’ answers to create categories. Then, in a table, I categorized the overlapping responses in one group, another overlapping idea in another, and so on and so forth. By doing this, I will be able to see the prevalence of a certain response and whether the participants’ answers are in congruence with my hypothesis. It also allows me to find any unexpected results that could influence my conclusions. In other words, this can allow me to find differences in perspectives despite having a similar background. By assessing the relationship between the responses, I will be able to understand how teenagers perceive razors as luxury products or as inexpensive.

The two main limitations were that people took different amounts of time and the respondents consisted of 18 girls and 13 boys. While some students took more time to observe and look at the pictures without time constraints, some were required to finish in a certain time due to their schedules. The time respondents took ranged from 6 to 20 minutes. If everyone was given equal amounts of time, the results may be altered as having more time contributes to the depth of their answer. The respondents who did not constantly check the time were more likely to give detailed responses and rationale for their opinions. Another practical limitation of the survey was the ratio of boys’ and girls’ responses. Having more responses from girls may skew results as girls or boys can tend to lean towards a certain answer due to their gender orientation.

Results

There were 31 total participants (n=31), including approximately 58% of girl participants and the other 42% of boys. Of the girls, about 83% (15 girls) identified that the Venus razor positioned on the bottom left of the side-by-side visual would cost more. This also shows that 48% of total survey participants identified the one supposedly targeted at women was expected to be more expensive. The other three women said that they would have similar prices considering it was for the same type of product (razors).

Out of the total sample size, 29% (9 survey participants) stated that the last question, which they later found out was targeted towards men, was the ad that showed a razor as a “tool” or “object”. Of those 9 survey participants, 6 of them identified as boys. The other 22 survey participants made reference (while answering the last question) that one ad was targeted toward women and their reasoning often referenced that the ad was framing the razor as a way to achieve ulterior means, such as an intimate relationship.

These results show that these advertisements from 2017-2022 use gendered imagery and stereotypes.

Analysis

The first advertisement included women standing on a beach in their bathing attire showing off their legs with a unified emotion of happiness. While this advertisement focused more on the simplicity spectrum of advertisements, its goal was to portray that happiness is attainable when a woman is confident with her legs, but only if you read closely into the ad. The use of these specialized razors could be the key to unlocking that confidence that is so commonly sought. Because there were fewer elements of the advertisement itself, the reactions of the test subjects were simple as well. They utilized adjectives including words such as “plain” “joy” and “organic” which seemed to be the overriding consensus regarding the respondents’ first impressions. On the other hand, the second advertisement showcased a model in a racier outfit exuberating confidence as she is standing in a power pose replicating a goddess image. This advert had a stronger response from the subjects as they attributed the image with adjectives such as “Beautiful”, “confident” and “feminine”. These adjectives attributed to the model’s bold or confident attitude that wasn’t as noticeable in the responses regarding the first advertisement. The two ads, however, did have the similarity of having some visual and color-related adjectives.

Figure 3 |The focus of the two women’s razor advertisements by the number of responses associated with the focus.

Luxury brands tend to have products that are simpler in aesthetic which is why several girls referred to the advertisement as clean or even organic (especially since organic products can be more expensive). Additionally, the attention to detail of luxury products may cause the girls’ responses to include adjectives like detailed or intricate since luxury goods are expected to be of higher quality, considering the price.

For the men’s razor responses, the characteristics of the adjectives that they used were straightforward and can be inferred that several of them were simply not intrigued by the advertisement images. The qualities that were attributed to men’s razors were more focused on how razors are a necessity, especially since society places a stronger emphasis on being cleanly shaven in professional settings. Because it is understood that men use it much more during the week to shave their face, razors are seen as tools that are needed in their life. Compared to women’s razors, on the other hand, is considered less than a necessity but more of an instrument that could enhance the quality of life since the view use is less evident in a social setting, such as physical beauty or even relationships as many participants responded.

This can be tied back to stereotypes regarding women and how they are more attentive to their physical appearances in a social setting. In public, women are expected to care or spend more time on their looks, which can be the rationale for why women’s razors are characterized that way. In the views of companies, it would be more profitable to set the razors’ price points higher than men’s since it is understood that women would be more invested in spending money on hygiene and beauty products.

When comparing the results more closely, it is apparent that the color choice of the razor made a drastic difference in the participants’ idea of price point. When they were asked to give a price range for the razor that was shown in the images, there was a trend that showed the more dynamic the color the razor contained, the higher the price was inferred. The participants were shown photos specifically of razors from online retailers without any background or special effects. Based on these images, they were given a price point category (Cheap, Average, Above Average, Pricy, and Expensive) to place the razor in. The chart above indicates that the color and material had significant effects on their opinions. With relation to the color of the razor, all razors were similar in model and appearance. The blue razor had the highest results with 22 people saying it was considered in the cheap category. Whereas the exact same razor but in the color, pink gained 26 people to label it as average. When color along with design was taken into consideration, the razors with more visual features such as the blue with neon colors and the sheen purple scored more participants to place them in the higher price categories. Finally, the most expensive razor was inevitably the metal razor that seems luminous based on its material. This is the only razor that was placed in the most expensive category.

Figure 4 | The correlation between men’s and women’s color and razor price.
Figure 5 | A purple shampoo bottle from the company OGX,

The color purple frames the razors to be more feminine as many other products for women contain purple as their main color scheme. A prominent feminine product with purple color is hair product bottles. Shampoo brands including Redken, OGX, and Shu Uemura all have purple bottles for their hair products, highlighting that such color is a prevalent choice to exude femininity. Apart from the feminine color of pink, it was surprising how many connected the color purple to femininity, especially since the other prevailing trait of the advertisement was boldness. The gentleness attributed to femininity seems to be quite contrasting with being bold. Purple can come off as a stronger, deeper color than the conventional womanly color of pink, which can serve as a rationale for why many characterized this advertisement as “purple”.

Additionally, the image exudes confidence through the model’s physical stance. The way the model is laying her head slightly backward and opening her arms wide out shows her boldness. Even the color schemes of the advertisement contribute to this because they use very vibrant colors like deep blue and purple. The connection between razors and hair removal and going to the beach in bathing suits leaves them in a vulnerable position, which razors help to overcome. The vibrant color is associated with quality or getting more, which is also shown in comparing men’s and women’s razors as a participant mentioned how the men’s look more expensive because of their vibrant, highlighted colors. This comes to show that the color scheme plays a major role in the image customers get of the product. Whether it’d be for women or men, the participants pointed out the color aspect which denotes the importance of the visual aspect of advertisements, especially for hygiene products. Another response similar to confidence would be “positive”. The overarching connotations these characteristics have are traits that people want to possess and take strides to achieve. The idea is that buying this razor will help you feel more confident and happier like the model, which draws customers in. This tendency is shown through other commercials by Gillette. This advertisement shows women who are confident with their bodies after shaving as can be inferred from their facial expressions or body gestures. In other words, it depicts traits that people want to possess. It can be concluded that buying this razor helps one feel more confident and happier.

Figure 6 | Picture from the video razor advertisement from the company Venus.

Discussion

The information derived from the survey results and analysis can drive the next steps of connecting it to concrete actions. The teenagers’ responses to the survey questions highlight the modern perspective on gender stereotypes that may differ from how Millennials view them. With their awareness of being politically correct in this society, they were still drawn to place the razors shown in specific gender geared categories. Despite the mindset of the liberal new generation, gender stereotypes are still apparent in corporate advertisements forcing a perspective to be attained by the everyday household. These adverts distributed and incorporated into every nook and cranny that is available for ad space allude to the price fluctuation, especially with the stereotypical view pertaining to women. In terms of teenage consumers, this signifies their awareness of the stereotypes as they view advertisements in a critical, objective manner, which could be reflected in their consumer habits. By realizing the marketing strategies and business tendencies to portray hygiene products in a forced-to-comply manner, the consumers of Gen Z have the ability to be more attentive to the products they are purchasing. They may be more willing to break the mold and disrupt the price trends for products as they attempt to infuse political correctness into their daily spending. It is high time that the pink tax is reevaluated and put to rest as products no matter the gender is used in the same way. Only then will the consumer be able to justifiably decide whether or not it is truly worth its price.

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