You go girl! Why so many apps for women are just plain sexist

What kind of apps are women interested in downloading? A quick Google search of “top apps for women” yields some depressingly obvious  results: shopping, cooking, make up, and tracking periods and fertility cycles. While you may think that as a society we’ve moved beyond these gender stereotypes (something that International Women’s Day on 8 March aims to eradicate), many app developers haven’t taken this on board.

In the many articles that list the supposed “top apps for women”, you’d be hard pushed to find anything outside the aforementioned categories.  An article posted on Buzzfeed on the 16 apps that will make women’s lives easier is one of the worst examples of this, leading with period tracking apps before moving on to cooking, couponing and fashion. Even when the article goes as far to recommend an app that isn’t related to fashion and periods (VSCO Cam), it can’t help reverting back to outdated and offensive stereotypes.

“At one point or another we’ve all grown tired of the same old Instagram filters to show off our #ootd or latest nail polish color.”

“SO GLAD SOMEONE MADE THIS LIST. All I care about is beauty products, when I’m bleeding and how to optimize my time in a grocery store.”

Then there is Cosmopolitan magazine, with one of its top suggestions being an app that lets you virtually date Harry Styles from One Direction. What self-respecting woman wouldn’t have that on her phone?

While Business Insider’s 18 apps for modern women article does provide a much more balanced view, it is still weighted towards fashion, cooking, and weight loss apps. This is despite the fact that the article recognizes: “Today’s women are CEOs of tech companies; they are starring in their own TV shows; and they are managing directors at investment banks”

Compare that to the same publication’s list of apps for the modern gentlemen, which includes apps such as Circa that “will save your time and your eyesight by condensing news articles without sacrificing information”. Women wouldn’t be interested in this type of app – tech CEOs of the like of Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and Lisa Su (Advanced Micro Devices) are probably too busy cooking, shopping, and tracking their periods to read the news.

As is often the case, the comments on the Buzzfeed article are both more interesting and relevant than the piece itself. The responses perfectly sum up how wide of the mark this approach to “apps for women” is, while voicing the general dissatisfaction about the way that these stereotypes still permeate society (and the media) today.

“SO GLAD SOMEONE MADE THIS LIST. All I care about is beauty products, when I’m bleeding and how to optimize my time in a grocery store,” remarked one woman.

Most of the apps on these type of lists have a genuine reason to exist and fulfill a purpose, the problem is the implication that these are the only types of apps that women are interested in. These lists also omit many of the basic apps that everyone should have on their phones, such as anti virus suites, productivity apps, music streaming etc.

However, there are apps out there clearly aimed at the female demographic, which are questionable at best. The current trend for airbrushing selfies so you look nothing like yourself is leading the way. Don’t worry girls, if you look a bit “fat” in your selfie, you can shed those pounds with SkinnyCam. But if you like to take a  (virtual) beating in real life to help you lose those extra pounds and stop you looking like a heifer, then there is always Hey Fattie (catchy name). Fancy berating your ex boyfriends? Then Lulu is the one for you. But we wouldn’t want to omit mention of all the wonderfully sexist apps for men. Why not check out iAmAMan, which allows you to track the menstrual cycles of your many girlfriends or Fit or Not, which lets you rate a woman’s cleavage?

Redressing this balance, there are some excellent apps that help protect women’s safety, as well as help women diagnosed with breast cancer, offer protection against domestic violence, and promote women’s humans rights.

Meanwhile, Mike Lavigne, founder of fertility app Clue, has a distinctly refreshing take on designing apps for women. In an interview with Fast Company, he discussed why app creators need to rethink their approach when designing products for women.

He said: “Ultimately, the vast majority of women-focused apps out there are flat-out embarrassing. They’re embarrassing because they reinforce an offensive, out-dated stereotype of femininity… It’s time we designers stop pandering to cultural norms, start disassembling our stereotypes, and get in touch with how people – who have a huge amount of variability – actually feel about themselves.”

Well said Lavigne, and let’s hope we see a lot more of this kind of approach and attitude in the future. And if you’re wondering what to do this weekend, why not check out some International Women’s Day events in your area.

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Follow me on Twitter: @karenmccandless

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