Men's Chocolate Pocky, 2.89-ounce box (North American Food Dist. Co.); Kleenex for Men tissues, 100-sheet box (Kimbery-Clark, Ltd.)

When Gillette recently came out with its triple-bladed Mach3 razor, they announced that there would soon be a women's version. But my girlfriend didn't feel like waiting -- she bought herself a men's Mach3 and has been using it on her legs for the past few months. But she still had a bunch of blade cartridges left for the women's razor she'd been using, so now I shave with that razor when I spend the night over at her place.

The point, of course, is that despite what the friendly folks at Gillette and Schick would have us believe, there's no real difference between men's and women's razors except the shape and color of the handles. But if the two product lines are redundant, at least the business logic behind them is understandable -- it's not hard to envision the marketing meeting during which a cigar-chomping Gillette executive must have said, "Y'know, I think we can make big inroads with the broads if we start making some razors in fruity colors, and maybe toss in some soft curves to make 'em look more, uh, feminine," or words to that effect.

Not all gender-targeted products are as easy to fathom, however. Consider, for example, Men's Chocolate Pocky, an Asian product that recently came to my attention. Why would pocky, the familiar Japanese pretzel snack, come in a sex-specific version? The packaging offers little help in this regard -- most of the copy is in Japanese, and the only English note on the box simply says that Men's Pocky is "for the intelligent connoisseur who enjoys the finer points in life." As for the product itself, it tastes pretty much the same as any other pocky I've tried, and it certainly doesn't look very masculine -- the long, thin sticks are too skinny to even be considered phallic.

Just as puzzling are Kleenex for Men tissues, a British product that my UK pal Leslie recently sent to me from across the pond. This time, thankfully, the packaging text is in English, but it's no more illuminating than the pocky notes. A blurb on the front panel, for example, says the tissues are "Bonded for Extra Strength," but any manliness factor that this might provide is effectively quashed by another blurb, which says, "Now Even Softer." Similarly, a note on the back panel says that Kleenex for Men provide "Mansize Strength, Mansize Softness, Mansize Reliability," but doesn't explain what these attributes really mean or how the product differs from conventional Kleenex. Moreover, there's no explanation of why men would need a special tissue of their own in the first place -- are our noses really so much bigger or runnier than women's?

Leslie has her own theory about this, suggesting that Kleenex for Men might actually be subliminally targeted at a rather specific male activity that often entails using tissues but has nothing to do with noses -- in short, the onanism market. An interesting idea, and one that leads us back to Japan, where tissue packages routinely feature erotic graphics and phone-sex advertising. But I'm telling you right now, I don't even wanna think about how the pocky might fit into this.

(North American Food Dist. Co., W. Sacramento, CA 05691; Kimberly-Clark Ltd., Freepost, 1 Tower View, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent ME19 4HA, UK)