Here’s something I witnessed a few years ago. Alice was young, about three years old. We were out for the day with two of Sarah’s best friends. One has a girl who is Sarah’s god-daughter, the other has two sons. We went to a local industrial museum, complete with a railway marshalling yard, with train tracks criss-crossing over each other. Alice and her god-sister were skipping from one railway sleeper to the other. One of the boys was copying them, skipping along. His mother saw this and shouted “Oh darling, you don’t want to do that. That’s what the girls are doing.”
It took every fibre of my being not to respond with “What the fuck…?”. She’s a great mum, no question. But let’s divide the kids up before they can barely talk, and pit their genders against each other, yeah? The benefits will be nothing if not good!!
Alice is now in year two of primary school, and things are changing. This is the first year where there is significant divide between the genders. The boys are more – and there’s no other way to put this – boy-y. Not ‘boyish’, because that implies that they are being cute manchilds. They’re not. They’re pushing and shoving each other more, they’re running in a pack, yelling that sort of war-cry/machine gun imitation noise that sounds like “ER-RR-EEEER-RER-ER-EEEER!!” and they’re shouting about who is dominant above all others. In all probability, they’re finding joy in smells.
The girls are more girly. Except they’re not. Some of them are already in control of how they look and what they wear, it’s true, and I worry that some of them are already feeling the prod of society’s expectations of beauty. But some of them aren’t. Alice, as an obvious example, told me the other day that she doesn’t like the colour pink, and that she’s not the only one. Rather pleasingly, she is not alone in her class in being a bit of a geek. Lots of the girls are very keen on the new Star Wars films, and have the toys and costumes to prove it. Many of them have a keen interest in Harry Potter, and Alice has finished the existent Marvel films, and is not the only girl in her class looking forward to Captain America: Civil War.
This brings me to the question: What the fuck are toy companies doing, promoting pink fluffy toys for girls, when a fair proportion of the girls in Alice’s class aren’t that bothered by them, and actively shun them? If Alice’s class is boringly typical of all year 2 classes in primary schools throughout the UK, then there are a lot of girls being ignored by toy manufacturers. On top of that, they are being targeted with toys that are pink, fluffy, and encourage a lifestyle of shopping, gossip, beauty, and being painfully on-trend at all costs.
There are lots of toy ranges that are objectionable in this regard, but my candidate for the worst offender is the Nerf Rebelle range, partially because there is absolutely no need to dress it up in the way they have. You may be familiar with Nerf guns: High-velocity pellet-firing projectile weapons, designed to encourage your child to learn about guerrilla warfare tactics, and the potential for early-onset blindness – and I’m generally all right with them as toys go. I had guns as a kid, and played with them enthusiastically, and while I’m a little more wary of them these days (I’m not completely convinced that realistic-looking toy guns are of a benefit), I don’t really see any problem with neutral brightly-coloured toys with pump-action secondary grenades.
I do have a big problem with toys that are marketed originally to boys as aggressive weapons for harum-scarum fun, and then get sprayed pink with flowery decals, and repackaged purely for girls. Why not just market ONE RANGE OF TOYS that can be gender neutral? Are the guns any different? Are they for any purpose other than shooting at someone else? If they’re not, then why are they marketed with grotesque blurb like this?:
Reveal the beauty of strength and power in fast-paced adventures that show off your courageous spirit. Unleash your inner warrior in fun competitions and daring battles. Feel the rush of having fun playing with Nerf Rebelle bows, blasters, and soakers for girls!
Carry this stylish bag on all your spy missions, and you’ll be ready for the unexpected. The Nerf Rebelle Secrets and Spies Secret Shot is really a 4-shot blaster! Keep it closed as you go about your spy activities, and your opponents will never know that you are prepared for immediate action. The blaster is cleverly designed to look like a fashionable bag, but it quickly converts to a blaster with the press of a diamond-shaped button!
Here’s why I think it’s bullshit of the first order:
1. They’re still guns. Is spraying them pink with flowery bullshit really going to suddenly cause girls to go nuts for them?
2. Why the need to emphasize the ‘stylish’ aspect? It’s a fucking gun. Unless you’re a drug lord, and can afford two hand-engraved Desert Eagles so that you can brap off some competitor’s head, I don’t think ‘stylish’ has any place on a weapon. Ammunition storage, multiple firing options, sharp edges, lightness, reliability, quick reloads, yes.
3. Bright pink is rubbish camouflage. If you’re in the middle of re-enacting The Hunger Games (because let’s face it, that’s what a lot of the advertising imagery is going for), the last thing you would need to give away your position in thick undergrowth, is a bright white-and-pink sparkly weapon. In a stylish bag.
By the way, The Hunger Games – particularly in the first book, and at moments throughout the series – rather brilliantly satirised the pointless need for feminine presentation in the media, especially when it is only for the benefit of a tiny, isolated, elite minority. In the reality of the arena (and life, I suppose), practicality becomes more of a pressing issue.
Although I feel obliged to point out that when Sarah watched The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she was so inspired by the opening scenes and Katniss’s crochet’d scarf/bodywarmer thing that she knitted her own, and it looks fabulous.
If you are the kind of person who has been brought up to believe that you need a stylish accessory bag to hold your pink gun in, then we need to start questioning how we as a society have been conditioned to think. How the actual fuck can a weapon be an aspirational, fashionable thing? (unless, drug lord)
Nerf aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Lego can be just as bad. Lego used to be famous for being a true non-gender-specific toy. I know that girls will play with the Lego Friends range, which to my mind is vile. Just look at this advert here ……..
Jesus wept, all that fucking giggling. Also – and I checked this with the school-run-mums the other day – Lego Friends offer the only houses to build/play with in the entire Lego range. And they’re pink.
This is just the sort of thing that conditions women (and men, for that matter) into believing that what women want is capitalism and shallow ephemera. Shoe-shopping. Coffees that aren’t really coffees. Strip-malls. Aspirational, hollow nonsense. This is encouraging young girls to ape Sex & the City before they’ve even had a chance to question if those values are really the sort of thing they should be looking up to. This is social conditioning based on gender lines. And it’s pretty horrid to witness. Personally, I would favour a view that challenges such things. And if you have 10 minutes to spare, I recommend this, because it explains everything I feel about this subject better than I could myself:
Any Lego based on gender lines is a nonsense. I know from painful accidentally-stepping-on-a-Lego-model-of-Captain-America experience that little girls are also into Marvel Superheroes Lego, or Star Wars Lego. And my little girl is not freakish or abnormal. She’s a young girl who likes what she likes – particularly heroes and heroines, good stories, hissable villains, romantic entanglements, and excitement; and no advertiser has any right to pigeonhole her and her friends into being pink, or giggly, or obsessed with shopping, or to play with princesses, ponies, or dolls that are pink and flowery.
For Alice’s recent birthday, I bought her an Iron Man costume. She loves it, and is probably going to wear it to destruction in just a few short months. When I bought it, it was in the ‘boys’ section of clothing, and the label says ‘boys aged 4-6’.
Will it fit a smallish seven-year-old?, I asked the shop assistant.
“It’ll fit most boys of that age, because it’s quite stretchy, but he will probably grow out of it quite quickly. Probably best to get him the size up from that.”
It’s for my daughter.
“Oh. Oh, I don’t know then.”
She gave me a very odd look. I gave her a bit of an odd look back in response. I honestly didn’t intend to make any sort of point, but I was slightly flustered by shopping in a city-centre during the lunchtime rush. I may have glared defiantly at her. People tend to get upset when I glare at them (I have a natural resting-bastard face).
Having gender-specific roles does not make anything better for anyone. Inequality only creates limitations, for boys as well as girls. We know that the long-held, traditional view is that boys want to be firemen, or soldiers, or superheroes, and that girls want to be nurses, and ballet dancers, and mummies, is a festering midden pile. We know that holding views of such stereotypes is harmful and degrading to both genders. Why the flipping heck are we putting up with this for just one moment longer?
There are lots of blogs that I know share this viewpoint, written by both Dads and Mums. One of my favourites that deserves a special mention is Man vs Pink. And the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is something every parent should get behind. Of course, if you want your children to grow up to conform to gender stereotypes, then by all means do what you like. I’m not going to be like you.