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