Steve Wisbauer—Getty Images
By Brad Tuttle
June 9, 2016

Last summer, Target decided to stop separating toys into different sections for boys and girls. The thinking seems to be that kids are perfectly capable of figuring out what they want to play with, no gender-based signage required.

According to many of the world’s biggest product manufacturers and their marketing teams, however, the same cannot be said of grownups—who are constantly, puzzlingly pitched items as sex-specific even though there’s nothing inherently male or female about them. On the surface, products like men’s (or women’s) bread seem like complete nonsense. Can’t we all just break bread—the same kind—together?

Beneath the surface, well, most of these products still seem pretty much like highly mockable nonsense. At the very least, they seem wholly unnecessary. Does the world really need beef jerky or pens made just for women?

Yet marketing experts would say that gender-specific pitches not only validate overlooked niche audiences, they also help people navigate today’s confusing, overcrowded marketplace. What’s weird isn’t the idea of men’s bread or Legos for girls, the branding expert Harry Beckwith explained in one interview. “What is weird is us,” he said. “And marketers just play to our weirdness. Sometimes, the results look silly because, again like us, marketers are silly, too. Plus there’s a huge market for bad taste and even one for hideous, you-must-be-kidding taste.”

That’s a good way of describing some of these inexplicably gender-specific products.

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