herald

Monday 28 July 2014

Why do girls' toys have to be so pink this Christmas?

Christmas morning, 1980. My two brothers and I tentatively open the sitting room door, flanked by our bleary eyed parents. Three pairs of eyes flit about the room in a panic. WHERE IS IT? When we realise it's not there, our hearts plummet like stones in a lake.

Cheerily, my dad announces: "Let's, er, have a look in the kitchen". Cue choirs of angels and a beacon of light: there it is! -- the Millennium Falcon. Older brother jumps on my dad with joy. Younger brother starts crying. I'm just relieved Santa fit that hunk of grey plastic down the chimney.

When it came to Star Wars, my siblings and I played together and it didn't matter that I was a girl, even if I was in charge of the Princess Leia figures.

Sure, I had dolls and buggies, but I loved playing with cars. When I think of the games I played as a child, very few were concerned with the fact that I have a double X chromosome -- it was about being a kid.



Domestic

In 2012, things are very different. Girls are bombarded with fairies and princess. Aisles in toy shops are a glitter wand away from being segregated into pink and blue. Perhaps this makes shopping easier for parents, but it also sends a very clear message: some toys are not for all kids, and the ones for girls are the safe, domestic ones.

Take American computer writer Steve Bowler. Last month his eight-year-old daughter was given a school assignment, asking her to decide which toys were for girls, boys or both. When she included a skipping rope and puzzles as being for both genders, her teacher failed her.

This year, my daughter (4) wants a kitchen for Christmas, which is fine by me. Children, regardless of gender, always like to play at grown-up stuff.

I don't believe that owning a toy kitchen is a sign of the patriarchy trying to say: "Girls! All you're good for is cooking and doing wimmin stuff!" I also know people who have sons that Santa brought kitchens for. While some of them come in shiny, primary colours, a large number of brands are pink. The pinkification of girls' toys drives me and many other mothers crazy. Why the constant pushing of one colour that's meant to imply softness, girliness (weakness?) over everything else? It's there in everything from lunch boxes to duvet covers.

The same year that Santa gifted us the Millennium Falcon, a Lego ad regularly appeared in magazines. It showed a young girl, dressed in neutral colours delightedly holding up something she had built.

There are no Disney princess dresses here -- just a child -- caught up in the magic of doing something that kids love. My son adores Lego but the company has gone down in my estimation



Cheerleader

Boys and girls don't care about the colour of the blocks, but Lego recently introduced separate pink and purple 'girls' Lego'. Their mini figure range has proved hugely popular. Gone are the generic Lego folk, replaced with a whole range of characters. Most of the characters are male, but worse, the roles allotted to female Lego figures makes me grit my teeth. Do the Lego girl figures get to be surgeons, judges or policemen? Like hell they do.

No, girls! Join the line for 'Hollywood Starlet', 'Cheerleader' and 'Nurse'. Even Lego's Wonder Woman is dressed in a skimpy outfit, with curves and lipstick. Forget fighting baddies; make sure your bosom is heaving acceptably. But then indoctrinating young girls with the idea that they must look pretty and wear make-up also starts young.

Hamleys toyshop in Dundrum has a Tantrum 'pamper' bar for young girls. The website urges girls to come in and let Hamleys "make you over".

Sorry, corporate brainwashers, but my four-year-old daughter is beautiful as she is, and doesn't need to be inappropriately sexualised by make-up. In the toy section, they are just as happy to put girls and boys in gender-defining boxes.

"Girls can browse products such as Barbie, Hello Kitty and Sylvanian Families, while boys can get their hands on Scalextrics to remote-control gadgets."

I don't know a girl out there who doesn't love Scalextrics, but thanks, Hamleys and other toy retailers, for putting my daughter, and all girls in their place.

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