"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

Whose Idea of Bliss?

If you haven’t heard the news, HTC has tapped deep into the female psyche to develop a phone geared toward women: the HTC Bliss, due in September 2011. The host of a CNETtv show casually describes the Bliss in their story lead-in as “the first phone for women” [1]. Silly me, I’ve had a mobile phone for years, never realizing that I was transgressing gender norms by doing so.

Upon hearing news of the Bliss a few months ago, I was immediately reminded of an experience I had while preparing to move into my first apartment. Recognizing that I would need some basic household tools, I added a tool kit to my shopping list. When out and about, I was dismayed to find special tool kits developed for, and directed at, women. The tools were smaller and more expensive than those included in your run-of-the-mill tool kit. And they were pink.

Pink tool kit

The "Little Pink Tool Kit', available at Amazon.com

But wait, you might ask, might not smaller tools, crafted for the feeble limbs and tiny appendages of women, be appropriate? Look. We aren’t talking about a jackhammer here. If there is anyone out there who can’t heft the weight of a standard household hammer, they are unlikely to be undertaking furniture-repair or even picture-hanging. And the pink? This was not breast-cancer-awareness pink. This was shortly after the pink ribbon began to be used and long before it became a prominent symbol in cause marketing. Nor was it something I call, “eff you! pink.” You know, the pink that you might wear despite the fact that you reject oppressive gender norms, but you also recognize that pink is a nice color. No, this was Barbie pink. And of course the real rub was these tools were more expensive than the standard set. Oh yes, this was patronizing pink.

To be fair, the Bliss is not being released in pink. So I guess we should applaud HTC for that. It is being released in green, both pale (alternatively described as “seafoam”) and forest. Molly McHugh over at Digital Trends notes that the color was selected because it is supposed to be calming. In truth, the calming color of the handset, and its accompanying calming wallpaper, could come in handy if I were to turn it on and find that it comes pre-loaded with applications that perpetuate stereotypes of women as calorie-counting, shopping maniacs.

And is it just me, or is it fairly naive to want to hang a charm on your purse (assuming you have a purse) that blinks to advertise that inside this bag is one fancy ladyphone? Or am I just paranoid?

To add insult to injury, the phone’s technical specs, from all reports, are fairly middle of the road. The assumption is that I will settle for mediocre specs in exchange for not having to find and install my own calorie-counting app? Puhleeze.

HTC, if you want to make a real female friendly phone, consider adding a feature that emits an electrical buzzing sound when it detects gender stereotypes in play. But be sure that it is fast and sleek, with a high quality display and intuitive interface. That’s my idea of [phone-related] bliss.

If you are noticing that my tone in this post is more snarky than usual, you’re not wrong. It has been almost twenty years since I encountered that first pink tool set. A search for “pink tools” on Amazon returns over 39.000 hits and the suggestion for “sparkly tools” as a related search. As available smartphone options continue to expand, and high-speed connections grow into ubiquity, the only thing that will have changed is that companies will find new things to slap a coat of pink paint on and market to women. That is, unless of course, we refuse to buy them.

Notes:

  1. To be fair, the hosts of the show seem fairly skeptical about the Bliss. One of the hosts even declared that if a women were savvy enough to be looking at an Android phone, it will be because she wants specs and performance. We will go with the generous reading and assume that he meant savvy in comparison to other tech consumers, and not in comparison to other female consumers. Of course, it didn’t seem to occur to the three male hosts of the show to invite in a woman to ask her opinion. Given that the weekly podcast episode is entitled “An Android Phone for the Fairer Sex,” one might have expected some participation from women other than one chat room comment read aloud, or that more than five minutes of the hour-long show might be devoted to the topic.

Further Reading About the HTC Bliss:

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