Even words are waging a gender war

So how does one determine the sex of any object, I wondered. Would the word ‘table’ (supposedly classified male in many languages, including German) still be considered masculine if it was painted pink?
Last Updated : 25 May 2024, 22:16 IST
Last Updated : 25 May 2024, 22:16 IST

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I once got into a crazy argument over genders. Not at a social gathering with fellow feminists, but at my apartment’s new Bollywood dance class.

Introducing myself, I began with my somewhat dodgy Hindi. “Meri naam Indu hai”. I was immediately corrected by a chorus of voices. “Mera naam Indu hai”. Because the word ‘naam’ was apparently masculine. (This, despite me being quite feminine in appearance, with a distinctly female name). My next sentence left me further muddled: “Mera bhasha Tamil hai…” Again they chorused, “No no! Meri bhasha Tamil hai!” Because ‘bhasha’ (language) was apparently feminine!

As if there weren’t enough gender wars going on around us, I got caught in a new one — arguing with my north Indian dance mates, over why my prettily nail polished ‘payr’ or feet that I danced with were considered masculine. Or the macho motor-gaadi that our dance master rode to our classes, was labelled feminine.

My own mother tongue Tamil like other southern languages, is rather gender-neutral in these matters. So we tend to call a spade a spade (or mannvetti, a genderless object we refer to as ‘it’). But in Hindi, Gujarati, or Marathi, a spade (kudaal) is definitely a guy.

So how does one determine the sex of any object I wondered. Would the word ‘table’ (supposedly classified male in many languages, including German) still be considered masculine if it was painted pink? Or what about ‘chair’ or kursi, classified female in dictionaries — would she undergo a sex change, painted blue?

Colour conscious

Silly jokes aside, I recently concluded this reasoning is not silly at all, but rather savvy — as a number of clever marketers have discovered. To increase sales of a product — be it just a deodorant, cello tape, or even a laptop — the trick to double sales lies in the colouring: package half of them pink and half of them blue — and hey... femininely inclined women are going to rush and buy the pink ones in greater quantities; macho he-men are going to fill shopping carts with the blue things.

Tool-kit makers hit the nail on the head with an ingenious idea: give bright pink handles for hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, and make women enter a male preserve, the hardware store.

Perfect for fiercely independent women who don’t need a man to hang up a picture, or fix a leaky tap. Then there’s the razor, with its distinct male lineage... women are going to feel so much sexier buying this object if the handles and packaging are in a shade of rose.

Pink tax?

But that’s not all. Clever companies are actually making extra profits out of women shoppers — with a concept called the ‘pink tax’— a premium added to women’s products. The humble lip balm, if packed in dark blue, costs Rs 165 for men. The exact same lip balm, put into a fancy pink stick, costs Rs 250 for women! Same goes for roll-on deos: less than 100 bucks in the blue pack for guys, Rs 115 in pink for gals.

Good God, what on earth will I find next, categorised as male and female, I wondered … Well, God and Earth. Consider these chants and songs I’ve believed in since my childhood: “Our Father who art in heaven” and “Let Earth receive her King!”

He Said/She Said is a monthly column on gender issues — funny side up.

Published 25 May 2024, 22:16 IST

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