Sacré cerise

I’ve always thought of Jojo Maman Bébé as being quite classy (by which I mean “beyond my means”), so it’s depressing to see that their Christmas toy collection retreads the same old tired gender stereotypes. First, let’s have a look through the blue window:

First page of Jojo Maman Bebe's online 'toys for boys' listings: mostly toy cars, trains, tools etc.

Metro Boulot Jojo

Boys:

  • Natural Train Table
  • Caterpillar Peg Puzzle
  • Caterpillar Wooden Dominos
  • Gruffalo Dominos
  • Paddington Dominos
  • Peppa Pig Dominos
  • E-Racer Le Mans Car Toy
  • E-Truck Yellow Toy
  • E-Off Roader Toy Car
  • London Classic Toy Car Set
  • Monte Carlo Classic Toy Car Set
  • Retro Wooden Toy Car Garage
  • Ever Earth Ramp Racer Toy
  • DIY Trolley
  • Ever Earth Work Bench with Tools
  • Kidcraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set and Table

So the boys get 7 car toys, 2 train toys, 2 DIY toys, and — slightly bafflingly — 5 games/puzzles. Surely dominos are about as gender-neutral as it’s possible for a toy to be? And The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo, Peppa Pig, and Paddington — when did these become “boys'” characters?

And looking through the pink window:

First page of Jojo Maman Bebe's online 'toys for girls' listings: mostly toy cookery, food, and dolls etc.

Jojo Maman Manger

Girls:

  • Retro Toy Kitchen
  • Maxi Toy Cooker
  • Honey Bake Cooker
  • Petite Cuisine
  • Tasty Treats Pretend Food
  • Felt Food Sandwich Set
  • Olivia Rag Doll
  • Ben and Holly Mini Sketchy Fun
  • Ben and Holly Stick on Felts
  • Limited Edition Large Rag Doll Ivy
  • Harriet Rag Doll
  • Magic Mirror Wand
  • Fairy Skipping Rope
  • Red Toy Pram
  • Doll’s Highchair
  • Teatime Cakes Chocolate Gateau

The girls get 7 cooking/food toys, 5 doll/baby toys, a couple of crafty things, a “magic mirror wand” (file under ‘miscellaneous princess nonsense’), and a skipping rope. A Fairy Skipping Rope.

I wondered what “Mini Sketchy Fun” might entail (actually, I thought “sketchy fun” summed up the available options pretty well) so I went to have a look at the Ben and Holly thing, to find that despite being listed under “Girls” it’s actually available in pink and blue (and the blue option seems to be the default even if you click through from ‘Girls’). Does this mean a girl could actually legitimately be bought a blue toy? They’ll be wanting jobs next!

I also wondered whether actually lots of the toys were available in both categories, but as far as I can tell Mini Sketchy Fun is only in the Girls section, and the dominos do really seem to be boys-only (except the Peppa Pig ones — I suppose Peppa is pink, though, because she’s a girl a cartoon pig).

On the whole, though, it seems that girls get to pretend to cook and look after babies; boys get to pretend to drive cars and do DIY. What is this, the 1950s? I guess they do describe a couple of the toys as “Retro” (come to think of it, I had a toy garage like that as a kid), but this is getting silly. I find I’m starting to clutch at straws: the toy pram is red, not pink! One of the dolls is wearing a blue dress! The description of the staggeringly expensive train set does actually say “Great for boys and girls to play together with”!

The really aggravating thing is that on the web (unlike in a physical shop) it would be really easy for all these toys to appear in both the “Boys Toys” and “Girls Toys” [sic] sections; the lazy or unimaginative shoppers could click on the ‘right’ colour and be sure that they were getting the ‘right’ toys, but they’d be choosing from the same range either way. Sadly, though, the laziness and unimaginativeness seem to be on the other side of the counter as well.

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The King’s highway

This is becoming a bit of a hobby-horse for me, so I guess this one’s quite appropriate…

As with the guitars we saw earlier, these hobby-horses remind us that “pink” is the opposite of “natural”:

Hobby-horses available in white-and-brown horse version and pink unicorn version.

Horns a-plenty

The pink ones (pink face, pink mane, pink bridle) aren’t just pink horses, though, they’re unicorns! Because only in fantasyland can girls even pretend to do anything active. Not only that, but check out those shaped eyes and long lashes: they’re sexy* unicorns!

* For “sexy” read “a bit creepy”. See also the way My Little Pony has been given a sexy toy makeover in recent years (though still not quite as bad as Struts, which thankfully seem to have died a death).

Half-baked

OK, at least this time both the boys’ version and the girls’ version say “chef” (not “cook”):

Children's "chef's apron & hat" sets, one in pink with a picture of a white flower, the other in blue with a picture of a red car.

Self-raising flower

It’s the paucity of imagination that wears me down, though: the assumption that for any item there has to be one version “for boys” and one version “for girls”, and that those will be blue and pink respectively. Why do we do this? Why do we even have to have gendered versions of something unisex like an apron? And what do flowers and cars have to do with cooking or kitchens anyway? If you want two different aprons for children, why not have, say, a yellow apron with a picture of three red apples on it, and a white apron with a picture of a big green broccoli floret? Or a blue apron with a picture of a dish and a spoon (with optional cow jumping over the moon!) and a red apron with a picture of a mug of tea?* That way boys and girls have twice as much choice, and your product has twice as many potential customers**!

* I am available for freelance apron-designing work in your area at very reasonable rates.
** Ditto freelance marketing consultancy.

Two colours in my bed

As part of one of the interminable marketing surveys with which I torment myself, I got asked to take a look at kidzdens.co.uk, a new online shop for kids’ bedrooms, and give my feedback. I’m not going to reproduce my feedback here because I can’t remember the precise wording of the rant, but I think you can guess where this is going. Before looking at the details, just look at the overall colours of the “themes” on offer for boys and girls:

'Boys themes' sub-categories page from kidzdens.co.uk

Theme and no variations

'Themes for girls' sub-categories page from Kidzdens.co.uk

Theme and theme and theme until I'm thick

Boys: Aeroplanes; Camouflage; Cars; Dinosaurs; Farmyard; Football; Jungle; Knights, Wizards & Castles; Pirates; Sailing; Space; Trains; Trucks and Diggers; Under the Sea.

Girls: Ballerinas; Butterflies; Cup Cakes; Disney Princess; Fairies; Flowers; Gingham and Polka Dots; Hearts; Horses; Princess; Strawberry Patch.

Needless to say, I didn’t give them very positive feedback. If I was the sort of person who was going to do this sort of “theme” decorating (my daughter’s room will probably be decorated in a theme which I call “hasty magnolia”, which she can then cover with posters), I’d hope I could come up with something more interesting than any of the options on offer here — even the Care Bears wallpaper I coveted as a child was more colourful.

Anyway, here’s an interesting test, unrelated to the colours: if you were asked to make a noise to represent each of the things in those lists above, how many of the boys’ themes could you do that for? What about the girls?

All calm on the home front

From Tesco Living magazine (July-August 2011):

Did you know? Pink is often used in football changing rooms as it’s thought to have a calming effect on players. So try managing your own gang this summer with a few strategically placed pink accessories.

This is… odd. It sounds like they’re referring to Baker-Miller Pink (here, look at a page of it next time you get angry about gender-stereotypical colour-coding), and there may even be some truth in the assertion that football changing rooms are sometimes painted pink.

So on one level it’s not entirely nonsense. But at the same time, the underlying message seems to be “Boys! It’s OK to have pink in the house! Even FOOTBALL PLAYERS (who are very manly) use pink!” And that shouldn’t really need to be said at all. Also, of course, the message isn’t actually aimed at boys, because boys wouldn’t be seen dead reading Tesco Living (OK, to be fair, neither would I… though I may occasionally be seen furtively rifling through it for vouchers) — it’s aimed at Mum, who has to “manage” her “gang” (which you just know is meant to include Dad as well as boy-children), because men and boys are not actually rational beings but crazed beasts who need calming down by means of sneaky pop-psych tranquilizer darts.

Here’s the quote in context so you can judge for yourself who this stuff is aimed at (and enjoy all the calming pink on the page):

Page from Tesco Living magazine - relevant text reproduced in article.

All calm on the home front

Jimmy Olsen’s pinks

Dear Mothercare: SUPERMAN’S COSTUME IS NOT PINK.

Screenshot from mothercare.com showing 'superbaby' babygro in standard Superman colours for boys, and pink-on-pink equivalent for girls,

Get cape. Wear cape. Cry.

Given that Superman doesn’t actually exist, I reckon anybody can pretend to be Superman with as much credibility as anybody else. (Besides, these outfits are aimed at babies. Babies are not going to be flying around saving the world; they’re not even going to be running around going “neowwww” and jumping off tables pretending to be Superman. They’re going to be lying around crying and dribbling, occasionally pooing in their pants. I don’t think even Lex Luthor ever reduced Superman to that state.) However, he’s a well-known fictional character with a clearly-recognisable, iconic costume. Even if for some ridiculous reason you were convinced that girls couldn’t possibly dress as Superman (even to the extent of wearing a Superman babygro, which is hardly an accurate costume to start with) perhaps you could have given the girls a recognisable superheroine costume of their own, like, I dunno, Supergirl? Wonder Woman? Catwoman? She-Ra? I’m not saying any of them are great feminist icons (a Mary Wollstonecraft costume babygro will be available soon from all right-on baby clothes outlets), I know they’re deeply problematic in themselves; but at least they’re actual superhero characters with their own costume and their own story.

A rubbish monochrome pink-on-pink version of Superman’s costume is neither one thing nor the other; it’s a lazy way of making a “girls’ version” of something which is perceived as being “for boys”, and that’s starting from so many flawed assumptions that I don’t know where to start. Babies may seem quite alien in lots of ways, but unlike Superman, girls aren’t actually from a different planet.

Beyond parody

I get catalogues through the post for various different reasons. Some have been sent to me because I’ve asked to be put on a mailing list, or because I’ve bought something from the company before. Some are just random junk mail. And some, like the recent Studio 24 catalogue, seem to have been dropped through a time-machine by some malignant force which is deliberately trying to make me angry.

I started out being mildly annoyed by the all-too-common problem that all the gifts and toys seemed to come in two options: not-pink for boys, pink for girls. Here’s your options for personalised kids’ chairs:

Catalogue pictures of chairs - red with cars etc for boys, pink with fairy princess nonsense for girls.

Who's been sitting in my chair?

For boys: a big red fire engine in a street full of houses! For girls: Cinderella’s pumpkin coach (which has somehow become pink rather than, you know, pumpkin-coloured), pulled by a pink horse. For boys: a racing car! For girls: a vase of flowers. The chairs are shown personalised with boys’ names and girls’ names, just in case you were tempted to think that fire engines or racing cars might be exciting for girls as well.

It’s the same with clocks — boys get another fire engine, girls get a ballerina:

Catalogue pictures of children's clocks: one pink with a cartoon ballerina, one with a red fire engine.

Isn't it time we stopped this nonsense?

It gets sillier. Boys: how about a drum kit? Girls: how about a pink drum kit?

Catalogue images showing 'natural' guitar and pink guitar; red drum kit and pink drum kit.

Sorry to bang on about this...

The main picture, of course, shows a boy playing drums; the pink drum kit is a smaller inset, an afterthought. The message is clear: drum kits are for boys. As for the guitars, we’ve got “natural” for boys, and (unnatural) pink for girls. At the risk of sounding like the Daily Mail, you couldn’t make it up.

But it’s the dressing-up options that are really angrymaking. Are you ready? Here we go:

Catalogue images of dressing-up sets: boys are shown as fireman, cowboy, knight, red indian, pirate; girls are shown as model, ballerina, princess, bride, or belle of the ball.

You couldn't dress it up

Boys: “You can be a fireman, cowboy, knight, red indian, or a pirate!” Girls: “Be a model, ballerina, princess, bride, or belle of the ball!” (I’m not even going to address the “red indian” issue here: it’s off my topic, but all this stuff has clearly fallen through some kind of stereotype timewarp.) Basically, though, boys get five options which are instantly recognisable as active roles and adventurers; girls get… well, OK, ballerinas are pretty active (with the emphasis on “pretty”), but “princess” and “bride” are both roles that have more to do with the men in your life than what you actually do, a “model” exists to be looked at, and a “belle of the ball”… is that even a thing any more? What do you do, apart from stand around looking pretty? The five outfits are pretty much indistinguishable anyway, a mess of pink frills, short skirts (even for the bride), tiaras and glitter. Of course, the boys’ clothes come in a piratical treasure-chest, while the girls’ clothes come in something more like a dowry chest. And am I overanalysing lazily-written copy by noting that boys are given opportunities (“You can be…”) while girls are given orders (“Be…”)?

But wait! It gets worse! Here’s yet more dressing-up ideas so your children have a chance to get used to the assumptions society will make about their potential because of their sex!

Catalogue images of dressing-up clothes. Girls: horse rider, waitress, nurse, ballerina, beautician; boys: businessman, astronaut, postal worker, policeman, pilot. Also: dalmatian/tiger for boys, bunny for girls.

I want to be...

Girls’ costumes: horse rider, waitress, nurse, ballerina, beautician; boys’ costumes: businessman, astronaut, postal worker, policeman, pilot. This is just beyond parody. Girls don’t even get to be a “policewoman”, “businesswoman”, “postwoman”, or… I dunno, “astronautess”? “Lady pilot”? (Yes, I know. We call them “astronauts” and “pilots”.) We’re not even talking about clothes which would have to be fitted differently for boys and girls here: these costumes are loose-fitting tabards which aren’t even sold in different sizes, and let’s face it, by the age that girls start developing hips and breasts, they’re probably not going to want to dress up as ballerinas or astronauts.

Even the animal costumes play to the same old stereotypes, for crying out loud. Boys are shown dressed as a dalmatian (come on, even in The Hundred and One Dalmatians some of the dogs were female) and a TIGER! Grrr! Girls get to be… a bunny. A bunny that’s pink, just like a real bunny isn’t. Do I need to spell it out?

Just one more — and a slightly more subtle one this time:

Catalogue image showing personalised aprons - a girl with pink-edged apron saying 'super cook' , a boy with blue-edged apron saying 'super chef'.

Back to the kitchen

OK, that’s “subtle” like a meat-tenderiser — which presumably our pretty little cupcake cook wouldn’t use, unlike the manly maker of MEATY BURGERS. But it’s the text that really makes me cross. I’d have almost forgiven them the pink-and-blue colour-coding and the pictures if both aprons had said “super chef”; but no, the girl gets demoted to “cook”. Perhaps they actually think that “cook” is to “chef” what “cow” is to “bull” — just the word for the female of the species, rather than a lower-status job? Because at this point I’d rather think they’re that stupid: the alternative is worse.