Screw the Gender Binary in 'Man/Woman'

It’s almost like assigning genders to colors is meaningless...

by Chris Priestman
Apr 7 2017, 2:00pm

Why is blue for boys while pink is for girls? The way this is coded into us from birth gives the impression that it's been that way for time immemorial. But, mate, it really hasn't.

Blue for boys and pink for girls only properly kicked in after World War Two. Marketers figured out that the pressure we feel from society to fit into a gender could be used to convince us we needed to buy a certain product. The message goes something like: 'Oh, you're a girl, you need this pink bag to make sure people know.' And with that the dollars rolled in.

You only need to look back to the Victorian era to discover a time when the genders we associate with those colors was flipped. Generally, pink was considered more fiery and confident and therefore for Victorian boys. Blue was calmer and daintier and better suited to Victorian girls. It's almost like assigning genders to colors is meaningless...

You'll want to bear all this in mind while playing MAN/WOMAN, a game by Shelly Alon, which he made for the One Game A Month Challenge. Alon's professor at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Mareike Ottrand, gave him the task of creating a game on the topic of "Gender." What Alon delivered was an interactive deconstruction of the entire concept.

The game starts out with the screen split in two. The left side is blue and says "MAN" and offers a how-to guide on how to be a man at just a click away. The same goes for the right side but instead of being blue it is pink and has the word "WOMAN" strapped in bold lettering across it.

All Man/Woman screens courtesy of Shelly Alon.

If you click the links on either side you'll get short sentences in return. Each one is a stereotype associated with the gender on that side of the screen. The first ones read "Men are strong" and "Women are pretty." After that the game gives you multiple sentences to choose from. Some are more gender stereotypes while other sentences work against them such as "Talk about your feelings" on the man side.

What Alon does from here is to use the rigid layout of the game's screen to demonstrate how these genders and their stereotypes are both superficial and restrictive. The more you click on the anti-stereotype sentences the more the words "MAN" and "WOMAN" break apart, the letters running away from each other. At one point, a "W", an "O", and a "?" join the "MAN" on the left side to confuse the equilibrium.

As you get further away from the hard division of those two genders, the blue and pink backgrounds fade away and eventually unite across the screen under the color purple. MAN/WOMAN is a simple idea but one with a message that goes far beyond the deceptively few resources it uses to deliver it.