Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gendered Marketing in Religion

The rise in both gendered marketing and the outcry against it has largely been secular.  Soap, deodorant, shampoo, yogurt, shaving razors, pens, earplugs - these are just a handful of items that have been needlessly gendered solely to bump up sales.  Men's products are in dark packaging with hard lines and a sense of adventure, whether through sports or references to battle or problem-solving.  Women's products, which tend to be more expensive, are in pink or purple packaging with soft lines and a sense of delicacy.  While women have been purchasing more of the men's products largely because they are cheaper, men very rarely purchase the women's products partly because they're more expensive and partly because they're emasculating.

     Gendered marketing has spilled over into religious products, namely teen Bibles and rosaries.  Faith & Family Reviews posted a brief review of the "faiTHGirLz! Bible" and the "NIV Boys Bible" commending the gendered marketing.  The "faiTHGirLz!" Bible has a "dream girl" section.  Faith & Family Reviews compliments the boy's Bible's "manly" appeal to boys by having a cover resembling metal.  The girl's Bible has sections focusing on difficult emotions, the boy's Bible has sections focusing on strength.
     Other Bibles marketed to teen girls are also pink with flowers, birds, and repeatedly the phrase "faith, hope, and love" (1, 2, 3, 4).  These four, as well as the one reviewed by Faith & Family Reviews, all have profiles of women in the Bible - a topic that usually goes unnoticed outside of Eve and the Virgin Mary. also offers dozens of similar Bibles for teen girls.
     The same Bibles marketed to teen boys bear darker covers and bold but simple graphics.  Their descriptions are more focused on action in "the real world" rather than on personal development (1, 2, 3, 4).  None of them mention women of the Bible - perhaps the creators of these gendered Bibles assume boys don't need to know about them?'s Bibles for teen boys resemble footballs and soccer balls, bear army camouflage, and repeatedly declare "man up."
     These Bibles prioritize very differently for boys and girls.  Where's the adventure for girls?  Where's the emotional depth for boys?  Why apply such commercialism to Bibles, especially the sports references?  And how could anyone stand to read Galatians 3:28 in a gendered Bible?

And this gendered marketing in religion extends to Catholic rosaries as well.  Men's rosaries almost always have larger, matte beads - black, blue, brown, dark red - with thick dark wire.  Descriptors often include "strength," "durability," "heroic," and "powerful" (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Catholic online shops offer dozens of men's rosaries that all look remarkably the same (1, 2, 3).
     Women's rosaries, on the other hand, come in a wide variety of colors and flourishes (1, 2).  Pearls and svaroski crystals are very common.  Men's single-decade rosary bracelets are shown on the wrists of models with no other part of the body visible (1), while women's rosaries are often pictured with cleavage, shoulders, necks, hair, and lips (1).  Descriptors are almost exclusively focused on the beauty of women's rosaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
    While there is certainly nothing wrong with having personalized rosaries, the gendered division goes against the very universality of both the rosary itself and of Catholicism.  Do men and women really pray the rosary so differently that they require such different styles with explicitly different priorities?

Gendered marketing extends beyond Christianity.  Jewelry and apparel for Pagan men and women is similarly divided.  Pagan women's jewelry tends to be smaller, more delicate, more graceful, and more colorful (1, 2) black velvet chokers are very common.  Pagan men's jewelry is thicker, darker, bolder (1, 2).  Additionally, Pagan apparel is very distinctively gendered.  Men's clothing tends to be baggier, covers more, and has large bold designs (1, 2) most of these are black, grey, or white t-shirts.  Pagan women's clothing has a much wider variety that involves more colors, shows more skin, and bears more delicate or "cute" designs (1, 2).  While all of these statements could be made about men and women's apparel/jewelry in general, gendered marketing seems contradictory and perhaps even hypocritical in a community that so often complains of "patriarchy" in Christian practices.

What does gendered marketing say about contemporary religion?  In terms of Matthew 22:21, is the commercialism of these gendered Bibles and rosaries Caesar's or God's?  What does it mean when Pagans critique the complementarianism of Christianity but then duplicate the same themselves?