March 14, 2013

Lots of men get together and make really cool tablet for ladies that’s pink and stuff


The ePad Femme

The newest author on the Melville House list, Mary MacLane, would well understand the limitations of the ePad Femme, a tablet designed for women by the Saudi company Eurostar Group. Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the device chiefly confronts the challenge females apparently face when trying to download apps — dousing the solution in pink.

Mani Nair, the Associate Vice President for Marketing at Eurostar, told The Jerusalem Post, “The tablet comes pre-loaded with applications so you can just turn it on and log into cooking recipes or yoga.” Another pre-loaded application called ‘Women’s Assistant’ spouts weight-loss tips. Things a woman won’t find at her fingertips? Apps for reading books, and/or apps for writing more than grocery lists.

But such stereotype-born tech products abound far west of Saudi Arabia. Writing for the BBC, Belinda Parmar describes the “pink it, shrink it” strategy most tech companies — all male-dominated — employ when they design for women: “A common ‘for-the-ladies’ strategy is to take last year’s product, re-release it at a slightly lower-price point, slightly smaller and clad in pink plastic. This … approach represents typically shallow thinking about gender and usually only appeals to younger (lower income) women.”

Did I mention Eurostar’s lady-tablet features pink aplenty?

Parmar says “tech companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment. … Any chief executive with half an ounce of sense should be putting their blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that the make-up of their company mirrors the make-up of their market.” But instead, within the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, more women than men graduate from university but comprise only 20% of the workforce. No wonder only 7,000 ePad Femme tablets have sold.

Barred from driving or traveling unaccompanied by male relatives, Saudi women spend hours online, acquiring adroit computer skills. Feminist blogger Eman Al Nafjan dismisses the gadget, “Whoever made this tablet doesn’t understand us very well. We are home all the time, and we are extremely tech-savvy.”

The assumptions about what women can do, should do, and want to do imbedded within the ePad Femme recall the assumptions that feminist author Mary MacLane lived with — or rather, lived against. In 1902 MacLane published a manifesto-like memoir, a wild song of herself: I Await the Devil’s Coming.

“I have no particular thing to occupy me,” the teenager wrote. “I do a little housework, and on the whole I am rather fond of it—some parts of it. I dislike dusting chairs, but I have no aversion to scrubbing floors. Indeed, I have gained much of my strength and gracefulness of body from scrubbing the kitchen floors—to say nothing of some fine points of philosophy. It brings a certain energy to one’s body and one’s brain.”

Replace “scrubbing floors” with “yoga,” and an updated version of that passage appears. MacLane ultimately found her existence confined and unsatisfying. As she put it,

“Often my mind chants a fervent litany of its own that runs somewhat like this:

From women and men who dispense odors of musk; from little boys with long curls; from the kind of people who call a woman’s figure her ‘shape: Kind Devil, deliver me …

From red note-paper; from a rhinestone-studded comb in my hair; from weddings: Kind Devil, deliver me …”

I can imagine how some Saudi women might chime in — “From the pink ePad Femme with its ice cream operating system and shopping apps: Kind Devil, deliver me.”

Abigail Grace Murdy is a former Melville House intern.