August 28, 2012 2 Comments
It isn’t often that Bic, that colossus that bestrides the ball-pen market, gets the spirit of the times radically wrong, but I think they managed it here rather well!
It’s good to see sarcasm used so effectively as a cutting-edged weapon. I think Bic may quietly withdraw “Bic For Her” quite soon.
In casting an eye back over historical periods, it’s generally regarded as essential to avoid the anachronistic temptation to apply one’s modern beliefs and biases to yesteryear. On the other hand, that’s no fun so we’ll just ignore that principle for the moment.
The earliest commonly-produced “Pen For Her” was the chatelaine, and it was probably the least objectionable of the pens produced especially for women. Edwardian women’s wear for the middle and upper classes didn’t have pockets, so a pen that hung around the neck was practical. Of course many were decorative, though at that period many men’s pens were too, so it can’t be said that women were singled out as being especially attracted to pretty baubles, in that time at least. In fact, in recognising that the head of a medium or large household was a manager who ran the house with a pen rather than a skillet or a mop (we have people for that, dear), it may even have gone so far as to suggest that some women, at least, were not empty-headed ornaments, but were capable and competent within their carefully delineated sphere. Most, though not all, chatelaine pens were not tiny. They were slender as were all pens in that time, but as people were making the transition from the dip pen to the fountain pen, they were used to writing with slender instruments. As eyedropper-fillers they held a good charge of ink. Chatelaine pens, it could be said, didn’t demean their user or label them in a derogatory way.
Things were about to change…
Take, as one example among many, the Lady Duofold of the late 1920s and 1930s. It’s the same size as the Duofold Junior, which was intended as a school pen. Is this intended to imply, perhaps, that the average woman has hands like those of a school child? A little observation would have shown that this is not so, but never mind. What’s the effect of shortening a pen? It holds less ink. Are we to understand that unlike her businessman mate who needed a big pen to write reams every day, the little woman only wrote the odd shopping list or note to her giggly friends and didn’t need a pen with much capacity?
By contrast, we might discuss the gender message of the Pen For Men or the Waterman Man Pen but we won’t because that inevitably gets phallic and rude, and this is a family blog.
The last hugely successful pen made mostly for women was the Conway Stewart Dinkie 550, sold between 1952 and 1962. Though I believe you could buy one on its own, these were usually sold in a presentation case with a matching pencil. They were usually bought as presents, and the fact that they were not all that well appreciated by their (usually female) recipients is illustrated by the perfect, unused condition that they appear in on eBay today in their hundreds. I have small hands and I can’t write with a Dinkie 550. It’s just too small and fiddly. Dinkies are, in fact, delicate, beautiful and useless, and perhaps that’s what the ladies of the fifties took their beaus to be saying about them, as they slung the pretty presentation case in the drawer, never to be looked at again.
Get the message, Bic. We women don’t want to go down that road again.