When “woman” means “short”

Sociological Images has a great post about product design gone wrong due to stereotypes. Lisa writes that Moto Guzzi motorcycles have created a “lady seat” (I kid you not; that’s what they call it).

Lisa points out, quite rightly, that the only characteristic that makes this a “lady seat” is its size:

So really, it’s just a lowered seat for people who are shorter than the imagined person for whom the motorcycle is being built.

This is a use of sex as a shorthand for referencing physical characteristics that (may or may not be) true on average, but are not categorically true.  That is, women may be on average shorter than men, but not all women are short and not all men are tall.  So we have (1) a conflation of women and short stature and (2) an erasure of short men that essentially means that they cannot buy a comfortable motorcycle (unless they’re willing to buy it with a lady seat).

Lisa goes on to point out that we frequently misrepresent physical characteristics of some members of groups to represent the only characteristic of all members of that group.

Perhaps the ideal women’s motorbike would have speed and agility specifically designed for shorter people, but that’s not a “lady bike,” that’s a short person’s bike.

Product designers: beware. Making “lady” hammers or tools doesn’t just mean “make it small.” Nor does it mean “make it pink.” What it means is understanding the deep context in which women use the product. Moto Guzzi could take road trips with women, for example, and discover that being a female rider often means being one of the few women. What design concepts could come out of that? It’s possible that women’s bike features would have provide services women want when on the road. Maybe they want storage for particular items that men don’t carry. And maybe they want to ride in high-heeled boots. Maybe they want nothing special at all, just a men’s bike.

It may be just me, but I’d never buy a “lady seat.”

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2 responses to “When “woman” means “short”

  1. Pingback: Things I Shared Today | Ferg's Blog

  2. Pingback: Ergonomics: When “woman” means … « Real World Design

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