STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some other news. A company know for making razors for women is also making pens for her. The Bic pens advertise a thin barrel to fit a woman's hand. They come in pastel shades. Not to put too fine a point on it, but NPR's Neda Ulaby found some skepticism.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The first place to go is Amazon UK. The page where you can buy the pen is being visited by thousands of Americans, including Gwen Sharp, and they're completely cracking up over the comments.
GWEN SHARP: Pray thee, sir, what is this pen of which you speak, you know, and what is this magical product?
ULABY: Sharp is a sociologist, and she says women are willing to buy pink razors or female deodorant.
SHARP: But a pen sort of crosses a line that people see as particularly stupid.
ULABY: And people have gone to town pointing that out on Facebook, Jezebel, the Huffington Post. Now, products have been gendered for as long as there have been marketers.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just for Men gel penetrates tough gray and puts it away.
ULABY: But Sharp says that things might be getting extreme.
SHARP: Well, Diet Coke has been feminized. That's the drink for women, so Coke's going to put out the Coke Zero, right? And Dr. Pepper put out the Pepper 10.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just 10 manly calories. It's what guys want.
ULABY: Branding diet soda or shampoo as gender specific might mean something more than just marketers hoping we'll buy two of everything for our bathrooms and refrigerators. Sharp says gender expectations are changing. Think about all those new stay-at-home dads. She says it's worth paying careful attention to messages telling us that men and women are so different, we need completely different pens.
SHARP: The reproduction of those messages are a part of what sociologists call gender policing, right? Reminding us what the rules are.
ULABY: Now, pen people are a special breed. Linda Holmes writes NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, and she says that some people have intense pen preferences. If you're the person coming up with a new marketing strategy...
LINDA HOLMES: You have to find a way to dislodge their pen loyalty, their ink religion, and get them to convert to a different one, and one way to do that is to sort of say, well, you've been writing with regular pens. If you wrote with a lady pen, maybe it would feel much better. You've been writing with non-specific pens.
ULABY: As much as Linda Holmes mocks extreme gender marketing, she admits it's resulted in one good thing, that Diet Coke for dudes.
HOLMES: If it is true that I am supposed to drink the lady-like Diet Coke, then I'm afraid that I'm a traitor, because I do prefer the Coke Zero.
ULABY: If you're wondering whether you might prefer a pen just for women, you're not alone. All that attention pushed Bic for Her with black ink up to one of the best-selling office products on Amazon UK. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Underlining the news, this is NPR News.