Hitachi Magic Wand (1968)
Plastic and rubber
12”, 1.2 lbs
The bright white body and electric blue accents of the Hitachi Magic Wand make it seem almost clinical in nature. Its bulky handle and bulbous head are notably not phallic, allowing sexual fulfillment outside the context of male genitalia. The Magic Wand first came on the market in 1968 as a muscle massager, but women across the country quickly popularized it as a vibrator. As the company refused to recognize the device as a vibrator, they did not market it as such. It is available in department stores and pharmacies, which makes it accessible and socially acceptable to purchase. This availability assisted in the Magic Wand’s ascent in popularity, and allowed this symbol of female sexual independence to become a cultural staple.
The Hitachi Magic Wand: What It Is, and More Importantly, What It Definitely Is NOT.
The Magic Wand manufactured by Japanese conglomerate Hitachi is a white plastic appliance with a 9-and-a-half-inch handle, a blue flexible neck, a white rubber head, and a 6-foot power cord (unless you choose the cordless model). The flexibility of the head and neck allows the user to manipulate the tool as they wish, and the cordless model adds an element of freedom and independence to the device. Its clinical-looking handle has a switch that controls two speeds: high speed provides 6,000 vibrations per minute, while low speed provides 5,000 vibrations per second, which is more powerful than most other vibrators on the market and one of the features most commonly cited in positive reviews of the product. The head can host a variety of attachments of various shapes, colors, and sizes. The original attachments are sleek, simple, navy blue, rod-looking hats that go over the head of the device. They come in a pack, one straight and one with a slight curve; all are sold separately from the wand itself. Although the attachments add to the phallic appearance of the vibrator, they are completely unnecessary for its functional use. Maximum time of operation per session is roughly 25 minutes; but many users say it lasts much longer. Hitachi is known for manufacturing durable, high-quality appliances. It manufactures the Magic Wand with the same attention to detail as its other products resulting in a reputation among consumers as higher quality and a more reliable product than similar products created exclusively as vibrators.
According to Hitachi, however, the Magic wand is definitely not a vibrator. Rather, it is strictly a neck massager, and the manufacturer refuses to recognize it as anything but. In terms of media messaging concepts—an idea developed by cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall—Hitachi encoded the object with the specific purpose of a muscle massager and rejected decoding it any other way, especially as a vibrator. It registered the Magic Wand with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the classification of a “physical medicine device” and maintains that classification to this day. While the design clearly invites its use as a vibrator, the FDA’s classification and Hitachi’s marketing of the product as a simple muscle massager for medicinal purposes produced two ironic results. First, because Hitachi marketed it as a common household appliance, many women who would otherwise find buying a sex toy embarrassing felt comfortable buying the Magic Wand and using it as a vibrator. When it was first introduced in 1968 (coincidentally at the height of the women’s liberation movement), the Magic Wand was sold in department stores and other respectable retailers. Even today it is sold in places like The Sharper Image, Walmart, and other socially acceptable places to shop where buying a sex toy is masqueraded as an innocent household item. The normalization of this device as a common appliance provided an acceptable excuse for women to buy it and keep it in their house without the shame generally associated with vibrators. The disguise allowed women to feel comfortable in buying a sex toy, facilitated widespread distribution through mass retailers, and dramatically increased the Magic Wand’s user base.
Second, Hitachi’s encoding of the Magic Wand as a muscle massager and overtly discouraging its use as a vibrator had the opposite effect. By forcibly scripting this item as a neck massager for medicinal purposes and refusing to accept how their customers are using the product, Hitachi seemed to demonize women’s sexuality. Yet female consumers embraced the product as a vibrator and rejected Hitachi’s determined message to the contrary. They decoded the Magic Wand and popularized it as a personal device for sexual satisfaction. Hitachi’s restrictive encoding attempts has the unintended effect of the Magic Wand becoming not only an effective facilitator of women’s sexual independence, but a powerful symbol of female empowerment. By successfully decoding the Magic Wand as a vibrator, women helped the product assume a place in popular culture that celebrated, rather than demonized, female sexuality and independence.
The Magic Wand inadvertently became a tool of female sexual independence and a symbol of their empowerment when they decoded it as a vibrator despite the manufacturers concerted attempts at counter-messaging. Regardless of Hitachi’s intentions for their product, it became popularized as a vibrator. Defeated in its attempts to encode the Magic Wand as a non-vibrator, Hitachi stripped its name from the product in 2012. Now its exclusive U.S. distributer, Vibratex, a manufacturer and distributor of sex toys, markets the product solely under the label of “vibrator.” Although Hitachi still manufactures the product, its conceding defeat in its encoding effort represented a major victory for women in their drive for sexual independence. Although Hitachi never accepted the Magic Wand as a vibrator, the public did, and because the product was so easily accessible at respectable mass retailers, it became a widespread sex tool for women. It gave women power over their orgasm, something that was previously thought only a partner could provide. In heterosexual relationships, the common notion is that women orgasm less than men. At some point that is so normalized that it becomes acceptable. The Magic Wand helped validate the female orgasm and made it something attainable and expected with or without a partner depending entirely on the woman’s choice. Additionally, because women can achieve orgasm on their own, the vibrator as epitomized by the success of the Magic Wand became an instrument and symbol of female independence and empowerment. Moreover, while the Magic Wand is definitely phallic, other effective vibrators are non-phallic and, as such, reinforce the independence symbolism by demonstrating that a penis is not required for female orgasm.
Hitachi made a determined effort to encode its Magic Wand as a non-vibrator. Yet the public successfully decoded the product as a device that provides women with an acceptable, attainable, and independent means to achieve personal sexual gratification. It helped validate women’s sexuality at a time when the women’s liberation movement was gaining traction in society. Hitachi’s marketing of the product as a common household appliance widely available at respectable mass retailers and its failed attempts to encode the product as a simple massager for medicinal use had the unintended yet positive effect of dramatically increasing the Magic Wand’s use as a vibrator and making it an effective instrument and symbol of female freedom and empowerment in popular culture.