Byte Me, Retail Boy


Put a computer in the home, and women are nearly as likely as men to go online. But despite their surging Internet savvy, millions of women won’t buy a computer unless a man helps choose it, buy it and set it up.
-Cox News Service wire, Aug. 4

On behalf of the 2.9 billion other women on Earth (hey, the study I just quoted lumps us all together, so why can’t I?), I’d like to explain. Chicks, see, like to shop. It’s a communal ritual/event that ranks right up there with that first training bra and first period as a female rite of passage. It’s the…

OK, ladies, the coast is clear: I knew the menstrual talk would scare off the guys. Let’s cut the crap. If you’re anything like me (and the survey says you are, you double-X chromosome carrier you), you hate buying computers because the law doesn’t allow you to kill male clerks in computer stores.

Screw the false modesty-I can wipe the floor with pretty much anyone working the floor in the average computer megastore. And I’m a novice compared with many of the women I’ve met in the industry. In fact, I’ll bet that many of those very women belong to the American Electronics Association, the organization that commissioned this study.

However, none of this matters when you or I walk though the showroom door, sister. According to the Cox article, spot surveys of computer-store clerks claim that only about one computer customer in 10 is a woman. That’s not true. About five in 10 potential customers are women. However, four out of five of us can’t get the clerks’ attention. I’ve never felt so invisible in my life as I did the last time I tried to buy a notebook at CompUSA. I had $2,500 in cash burning a hole in my pocket and so help me God I couldn’t get the time of day.

It’s not just CompUSA. I have been ignored in stores smaller than my living room. I have been told I don’t know what I’m talking about in other joints (the topic was digital cameras, and I was right: They do exist). I have walked into another store looking for a cell phone and fumed as the clerk directed his attention solely to my male companion. I have walked out of stores where the help was determined to sell me a coaxial cable for my printer. I…wait, I think the guys are back: CRAMPS! MIDOL! FEMININE HYGEINE ADS DURING PRIMETIME!

As for choosing computers, industry hype triggers female consumers’ BS detectors. To read some computer magazines, you’d think every new chip tweak was the Second Coming. Yeah, right. It’s the male of the species who goes gaga for latest-and-greatest gadgets. It’s the female who examines the gadget, compares the price of this gadget to the price of other gadgets, asks whether she needs the gadget today or if it can wait until her next paycheck, asks whether there will be a better or cheaper gadget available soon and ponders which major priority will have to take a back seat to the gadget. And then we go gaga.

The Cox article quoted some frail young thing as asking male passers-by for advice, but I think I speak for everyone who’s taken a boy on a shopping trip when I say that their function is strictly wailing-wall stuff. (Honey, does this skirt make my butt look fat? Honey, inkjet or laser?) It’s the socially acceptable alternative to talking to yourself in the aisles. But I digress.

As for setup, the smell of fresh cardboard and Styrofoam unleashes a hormone in the human male that causes him to go bats for a chance to play with it first. (This is closely related, by the way, to the hormone that causes some boyz to hop on new discussion-group threads with the F1RST M3SS4G3 D00DZ! post, which is in turn related to the urge to write their names in the snow with…but I digress again.) Once they get that first thing out of their system, it’s all fine. Might as well take advantage; we can catch up on the sleep we’ll lose when the modem’s hooked up.

As long as we’re clear, ladies. It’s bad enough that legislators have used the Net’s perceived danger to womenfolk as erstwhile
justification for bad laws, and it’s bad enough that fictional chicas like Lara Croft are more prominent female tech icons than any of the thousands of brilliant tech women who really exist. But when some harebrained study comes out and says we don’t even know how to shop properly, it’s time to draw the line.

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