PFM. Pen for Men. Introduced in 1959, it was the extension of Sheaffer’s hugely successful Snorkel line of fountain pens. It was a big, fat, phallic creation aimed at catering to the misplaced machismo of men – a tome built by the boys, for the boys. When later versions of the pen were introduced, the name was changed to “Legacy”. Tokenism, perhaps. But at least not as obnoxious and sexist as it was.
Yes, we are talking about a time that is from the distant past. Yes, we are talking of a time when people were not really bothered about being gender sensitive. Yes, we are talking of a time when the very term “politically correct” was not yet coined (the first recorded use of the term in the typical modern sense is by Toni Cade Bambara in the 1970 anthology The Black Woman. The term probably entered modern use in the United Kingdom around 1975). Yes, I am saying that fountain pen advertising has almost always been terribly, dare I say, “offensively” targeted to men, using the odd woman either as a model to attract attention or as a prop.
Still. I am still irked and irritated and what not. As a lifelong user and die-hard lover of fountain pens and as a woman, I am pained by the fact that the industry has always ignored us. When, if at all, it does make pens for us, they are so typically thin, and mostly pink and often with “girly” flowers. How disgusting is that? It is almost as though ornamentation is for the domain of women, while function and technological advancements are for men!
I am too much of a fountain pen lover not to know that there do exist a range of pens that are allegedly targeted typically to women – including the Montblanc Diva, Montblanc Princesse Grace de Monaco, Dupont Liberté, and Waterman Audace series for example, all of which feature subtly curvaceous bodies. What is more, the anomaly has been continuing since ages – take the Lady Sheaffer Skripsert series: cartridge-only, clipless pens, offered in textures that resemble jewellery or fashion textiles with matching purse cases. Preposterous! Why should fountain pens be feminised to address women users? Why can’t fountain pens be designed and marketed as unisex writing implements? Why do you have to make the Pelikan Souverän a frivolous “Pink” to resemble Barbie and Hello Kitty, to attract women?
I am also vehemently opposed to the chauvinistic idea of making pens targeting women, “cute” (ostensibly to fit into the smaller, petite hands of the “weaker” sex) and capable of only taking cartridges. As any fountain pen lover will agree, writing with a fountain pen is a ritual – part of which is inking the pen from a bottle, even if I were to ignore activities like flushing and ink mixing. What makes you wise “guys” think that we women should be denied the pleasure?
Why does the predominantly top line – be that a KOP or a 149 – have to look like they do? Overwhelmingly black, with a cigar / torpedo shape? Why do most such fountain pens, so suspiciously resemble business-men in suits? No, you can’t pass this of as the imaginary ranting of a “silly” woman. If you do, you will be stumped to answer as to why male eyebrows shoot up when I draw out my 149 or my M1000 in business meetings. You see, these pens, categorically represent a certain class, are exaggeratedly representative of hierarchies and are “seen” to be toys for old boys to play with. I have nothing against the cigar shape, or any shape for that matter – it is just the gender bias attached with it that pains me. A clip pen is supposed to be carried in your shirt pocket – show me one pen that is user friendly, in terms of carrying, for a woman? Two hundred years and no clip for a woman? I hope you understand? (No, I am not considering the ring on top allowing women to hang their pens around the neck (read noose) as a pendant in place of a clip.)
And then there are the innuendoes. Go to any pen meet, or hang around long enough in a group and you can see the glint in the eyes of the dirty old men when they talk of “spreading the tines”, or how “wet and juicy” their pen writes, or how the nib is “dipped into the hole / mouth” of the ink bottle, or how it won’t stop “dripping from the tip”, or how they prefer their pens to be “extra fine and flexible, with a slim body”, “soft spot”, “baby’s bottom”, … the list is endless! What is worse by far, is the way they try to shut you up, when you ask them to mind their tongues, pooh-poohing your objections as the wild imagination of a senile spinster. What I detest even more, is the patronising air, with which these knaves deal with us women, somehow giving us the feeling that we should be ever obliged that they have allowed us access into the inner sanctum of a strictly-for-men hobby, and therefore we should not dare ask for more.
Tell me as a fountain pen lover and user – do you feel that my concerns are misplaced? Do you believe that categorizing entire product categories as men’s or women’s products is right? Do you think that it is right to “doll-up” a pen and niche it as a fashion accessory to target it to women? What do you women out there – fountain pen lovers, sellers and those associated with the corporate side of brands think?
Would love to hear your views.
(This piece has been written by a regular reader – someone high up in the Corporate World, a professional, a fountain pen aficionado and a woman, who does not wish to disclose her identity for obvious reasons – Editor)
PS. I am changing a word to which many readers have objected to. My sincere apologies for having inadvertently hurt any sentiments.
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