by James Haro
The other day I bought women’s razors.
More on that in a bit. First I want to get a bit off my chest. Most importantly, I want to congratulate Boston Court on all the successes of their production of Tennessee William’s “Camino Real.” I’m really really disappointed that I cannot attend. Boy, do I wish I had the time and money to fly to Pasadena and back on a whim. However, I’m in Philadelphia falling behind in many things, as many people tend to do before spring arrives (I just say that to make myself feel better). At the moment, aside from all my school work, I am just coming off of my role as Doc Gibbs in Drexel University’s production of “Our Town.” Hence, I’m a week late in writing my regular weekly post. Finally, I’ve found some time, somehow. So here we go, back to my purchase.
They were pink, in a pack of five, with thin white moisture strips. The packaging, as you see, has a big white daisy on it. I was in my university’s bookstore and I was in the market for razors. Like most college students I’m on a tight budget. My options were not vast by any means. I could have very easily grabbed the cheap blue men’s Gillette razors that were in a three-pack with no moisture strip and cost only about 50 cents less. This would have saved me the potentially awkward price scan by the person at the counter. However, I wasn’t feeling particularly keen on following social norms that day and opted to maximize my purchasing power. I grabbed the pink razors, along with a stick of deodorant, and took them to the counter feeling like I had made a wise budgetary decision. But, I knew what I had coming, a bit of prejudice, perhaps a giggle. The girl about my age behind the counter thought maybe I picked up the wrong pack on accident. I assured her that those were the razors I wanted. She shot me a bit of a confused and humored glare. “Just because they’re pink doesn’t mean they won’t work.” That’s what I said. We then had a discussion where she admitted to me that she buys men’s razors all the time, and men’s deodorant on occasion because she likes the smell.
Men’s this, women’s that. Blue bottles, pink boxes. Fire, flowers. Venus, Mars. What am I getting at? The idea of packaging a product. And what is packaging? It’s merely a suggestion. It’s not a command, it’s only a suggestion.
Let’s bring this back to the theatre world.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of being closely associated with the Women’s Project, an amazing non-profit Off-Broadway theatre company. WP is the nation’s oldest and largest company dedicated to producing and promoting theater created by women. The WP Lab works to foster and develop the work of female playwrights, directors and producers. A great organization with an important mission. I’ve never been disappointed by a single thing they’ve put on their stage.
I’ve worked with WP in various capacities on six productions, interned for them once, and perhaps this sounds strange to you. After all, it is the Women’s Project, and I, undeniably, am a male. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was sitting in the lobby before a showing of their current production “Apple Cove” (now playing through March 6th for those of you who have friends in NY). A young gentleman of about 17 made a funny observation. When he walked in and saw the placard with the names and faces of the cast, he said, “Oh, there are guys in this show?” (There are in fact three males and two females in the talented cast, one of which includes TV’s Allison Mack)
Is this a problem of packaging for the uninitiated? For someone who knows nothing of the organization and only the name “Women’s Project,” is it justifiable to believe only women will be involved in the production? I don’t believe it is a huge hurdle for the organization, but as my anecdote demonstrates, it can be. Of course its not the name of the organization that is the problem, rather the way in which our society has more or less trained us through commercialization to stay within our gender marketing groups which may deter us from doing what may be in our best interest. For something like men and women packaged razors it’s easy to figure that they serve the same function about as well as the other. Just as well, an organization named “Women’s Project” can do just as much for a male audience as a female one. I think this is something we need to be aware of as theatre makers and consumers. How often do we potentially deter audiences by packaging our art a certain way? Obviously these decisions need to be made in order to bring certain audiences in. If we market too generically then its possible no one will come.
A challenge I make to anyone reading this then. Try to examine how often you find yourself buying those things that are packaged specifically for you in terms of your gender, age, religion, culture, race, etc. This is not something we do often, simply because we buy the things we need or want or seem interesting to us but we don’t always think about why. Chances are if you already do this, you could do so more. Then try and defy the packaging. Go to a movie that seems to be targeting different ethnicities, see a piece of theater marketed toward women. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn something. For those who are in marketing, even marginally, try to think not only of who you are trying to get to buy your product but also who you might be leaving out or pushing away. And for all of you, if it makes more economical sense to buy pink razors instead of blue ones, by the pink ones.