I don't even have a driver's licence, but a few weeks back I showed up at a General Motors conference at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex. I'm fascinated by the automotive biz's ferocious branding, in much the same way that I like to fixate on the question "How many times can they revolutionize the toothbrush?" But it wasn't cars that wound up capturing my interest that day. It was gender. I listened to a talk called Women On Wheels given by Joanne Thomas Yaccato. Women, she said, control 80 per cent of consumer dollars spent in this country.
But, she continued, in a research study of the extent to which Canadian women's needs are met by 22 industry sectors, including grocery stores, cosmetics companies, banks, clothing manufacturers and airlines, all of them failed.
She went on to say that a large number of women feel they are "not taken seriously" by retailers, citing advertising as an example. "How many of you have ever had an orgasm in a public washroom?" she asked. I started to raise my hand. "While washing your hair?" I hesitated.
In a public washroom or while washing my hair? Or in a public washroom and while washing my hair? I figured out, a little after everyone else, that she was referring to those Herbal Essence shampoo commercials. I put my hand down.
"Or danced around the house with a mop?" Oh, give me a break! Am I the only woman who dances around the house with a mop? And what about that Swiffer commercial with the dude dancing with his sweeper?
After the conference, I decide to get Thomas Yaccato, the author of The 80% Minority (get it?), subtitled Reaching The Real World Of Women Consumers, on the phone so I can tell her I have never felt marginalized as a female consumer. "Wait," she tells me. "Just wait. You may not have felt it or sensed it yet, but you will. I was around 30 when all of a sudden the red lights started going off in my brain. You need to have a certain amount of age and experience."
Gah! That is so terrifying. Am I on the brink of beginning to notice injustice everywhere? That could make me real annoying real fast. Her book points out that the first lifejacket for women was only developed in 2002.
Is it because I'm flat-chested that I never noticed the difference?
A lot of what Thomas Yaccato says makes loads of sense (and any business people trying to grab that female market would do well to read her book). Women want more convenient places to do things like breastfeed, and are more concerned about safety, like lighting in parking lots, hotels, airports, etc. One thing men have never understood and probably never will - because they simply have not experienced the constant threat that can manifest itself even at 2 on a sunny afternoon when some asshole catcalls you from a car or an alleyway - is a woman's need to feel safe.
Other topics discussed in the book don't ring quite as true, like the fundamental differences between men and women.
To illustrate this point, Thomas Yaccato tells a story about how, while walking, she and a female friend came across a wounded chipmunk. The critter was dying and thrashing around, but it took them 20 minutes to finally pull themselves together to put it out of its misery. A man, she states, would have done it much quicker.
Well, I've committed a few mercy killings in my time. Once, I was walking through the park with my dog and came across a dying pigeon, so I quickly stomped on it and crushed its head with my shoe.
Then I kept walking, because, well, you know, shit happens. I'd like to think that I'm just one of a number of women who would have done the same without dithering, twittering, crying and hugs.
And that these women can care about looking beautiful without falling prey to all that advertising crap.
I might dance around the house with a mop not because I'm a woman but because it's a fun thing to do, but if I'm offended by commercials depicting women dancing around with mops, I will change the channel and swear never ever to buy that product. Unless, of course, it's on sale.