His and Hers Gear: The Gendered Marketing of Outdoors Goods

I’ve been working on a long-form piece about the outdoors industry and its relationship with marketing and business, and came across a few interesting articles that sparked another concern. Is the marketing of outdoors goods, separated for males and females, i.e, a pink backpack versus a navy one, continuing to foster the mental gender gap in outdoors recreation?


Sexism in Media

When I previously cited an article by Gina Begin on The Outdoors Women’s Alliance, it was apparent that female climbers feel the pangs of only the “sexiest” back muscles of women grace the covers of magazines. And they’re not even doing very hard routes most of the time, which is frustrating too. Outdoors climbing magazine aren’t the only place where this happens. The New York Post just published an article about how pissed off all the professional women in the LPGA were about some tan leggy woman in tight white who’s marrying a male golfer being on the cover of Golf Digest. Ready for a bigger shock? There has never been a professional female golfer on the cover. Never.(http://nypost.com/2014/04/04/paulina-gretzkys-sexy-golf-digest-shoot-angers-lpga-pros/).

Don’t even get me started on the choice to use the word “Ladies” in the Professional Golf Association title rather than Women’s. I don’t know, women just has a more respectful tone to it for me. But I digress.

Clearly, media really likes sexy women- and that’s probably not going to change too soon without much more of a revolution; especially considering the major switch from print to online. Print magazines probably have to pull out the big guns (ahem, bosoms) to sell copies.

Sexism on the Shelves

But this issue of separate arenas for male and female athletes, for male and female outdoors enthusiasts, comes down to the very products and their qualities. I’m not griping necessarily about the different facets that cater to the different male and female forms, obviously- men aren’t going to buy sports bras but we ladies sure as hell need them. But I do not need a pink backpack to climb a mountain, and no it does not have to have flowers on it.

Here’s a snippet from Adrienne Wadewitz and Peter James who wrote about this subject for Pacific Standard:

“One of the reasons for that is because these activities are advertised to women as an escape from their stressful lives, not as a sport meant to challenge their physical ability. Outdoors equipment marketed toward women, then, consistently focuses on comfort and style, in contrast to men’s marketing. Moreover, much of the gear that is produced for women assumes less of a desire to do activities that are as physically demanding as men—the gear is often less hardy and more decorative. The assumptions behind these marketing strategies reinforce stereotypical ideas of gender: that women are physically weak, that women are fascinated by fashion, that there is one specific female body type, and that women are ‘soft.'”http://www.psmag.com/environment/women-relax-men-mountaineer-backpacks-reveal-gendered-marketing-outdoor-sports-70861/)

Take this advertisement by Nike:

Courtesy of Nike, Women’s Marathon.

Though this advertisement could be a kind of “race yourself”, “be fierce” ad, it doesn’t really go that way for me. What I’m reminded of is a woman checking herself out in a passing window to see how she looks, and the tagline doesn’t help to take this impression away for me: “There’s nothing you can’t see yourself doing.” That’s inspirational and all well and good, but it shouldn’t necessarily be about the image of what it is you’re doing…it should be actually doing it. I’d be more impressed with a woman staring straight ahead, determined to finish the race. I used to run races and always smile to the camera, hoping for a good picture, but I’ve stopped doing that because I feel like it’s disingenuous and I’d rather get a picture of what I really look like running–intensity and all.


Me in my recent Charlottesville Half Marathon with a rather “real” face on.

But what Pacific Standard also points out is that these products, marketed for women, sometimes either are of worse quality (because women aren’t assumed to need something as durable as men), or the gender gap is entirely ridiculous and unnecessary sounding. Like why do you need a men’s or a woman’s sleeping pad?? Just sell by height! That’s how people purchase them anyway.

A Hard Look:

If you go to The North Face homepage right now, you’ll be greeted first by a bunch of muscular men representing their new “Mountain Fitness” regimen, click the Women’s tab, find the new fleeces for Spring, and see one measly jacket out of five that doesn’t have pink or purple in the thumbnail. And the one that’s not pink has a pink option, of course.

If you click on the Women’s Pitaya Swirl Jacket, the description reads ” Merging the comfort of a fleece with the wind resistance of a nylon ripstop exterior, this light jacket prepares you for blustery spring days or cool alpine summer nights.” To me, that sounds a lot more like a woman kicking back in a lawn chair and gazing at the moon rather than doing some serious hiking.

Conversely, the Men’s Kilowatt 1/4 Zip is described as “Execute workouts that are hard on your body and tough on your gear with reliable coverage of this ultra-durable quarter-zip pullover.” I don’t see anything about cool and blustery there, and “ultra-durable” definitely doesn’t come up in the women’s coat description.

This kind of thing is happening everywhere; The Pacific Standard article cites a Mountain Hardware example.

The counterexample I see, that treats women like the fierce athletes they are, might be Baltimore’s own Under Armour. One of the items in Under Armour’s women’s camo line: “Women’s EVO HeatGear Camo Tank” which is described as ” a lightweight base layer than not only keeps you cool, it keeps you hidden until you’re ready to strike.” Sure, Under Armour has some pink options, but this kind of thing is more in the right direction.

Advertisement courtesy of Under Armour


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