Eyewash?

This is a bit of an odd one:

Photo of pink and blue screenwash outside Halfords. The more expensive 'advanced' version is pink.

Car wash, yeah!

Spotted outside Halfords: two types of screen wash. The blue one is the default (£3.49) and the pink one is the ‘advanced’ version (£4.49).

Now, I admit I’m already suspicious of Halfords because of their hideously gender-stereotyped kids’ bikes, so maybe I’m reading too much into this, but… when there are two versions of a product, one pink and one blue, everybody knows that the pink one is for girls and the blue one is for boys. Which would mean that the ‘advanced’ screen wash is being targeted at women. And I’d bet, ooh, at least £4.49 that the two screen washes are basically identical but Halfords are hoping to be able to push women towards the advanced one, because (they assume) women don’t know anything about cars and will be more easily persuaded that they need the ‘better’ stuff.

Am I thinking outside the glovebox here? Or just running on empty?

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Hard to handle

“Introducing the new Brighton range of furniture from Asda. Within the range you’ll find cabinets, chests of drawers, dressing table and wardrobes – all with ‘his and hers’ handles.”

Picture of 'his and hers handles' (football and pink heart) for chests of drawers from Asda.

Pull the other one

The new 4 Drawer Beech effect Chest of Drawers can be customised to suit your child; if he’s a budding footballer you can change the standard handle to a football or if she’s a little sweetheart, you can change it to the adorable heart handle and as they grow older you can change the handle back to the generic grey pull.”

I never thought I’d see a situation where “the generic grey pull” would sound like the best of the available options.

Someday my pinks will come

The blame for the ‘pink princess’ thing can be laid fairly squarely at the door of Disney: back in 1999 they realised there was a way that they could sell more tat to little girls, and the seemingly bottomless Disney Princess franchise was born, peddling a wide range of pink plastic stuff with which to accessorise your clothes, your room, your life.

Not all the Disney Princesses actually wear pink:

The complete lineup of Disney Princesses

Princessant

From left to right: Snow White, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel, and Mulan (who seems to be wearing pink and blue).

Yep, you read that right: more are wearing blue than are wearing pink. Not that you’d know it to look at the Princess merchandise: a Google Images search for Disney Princess toys or Disney Princess accessories is as pink as Barbara Cartland’s bedroom (though one blue Princess bedroom design does sneak in from this page, on which we’re told “While your daughter has a toy, film, books and accessories … nothing will compete to design the ultimate Disney princess bedroom for her to be his upside down quite a bit in.” I think — I hope — it loses in translation.)

But back to the Princesses. Here’s Sleeping Beauty, blending into the background:

Sleeping Beauty and the Prince as they appear in the modern Disney Princess range.

Princess Monochrome

Your child can look like this for just £25 thanks to the Disney Store:

Sleeping Beauty dress from the Disney Store.

A handbag?

“Extend their fancy dress options with this gorgeous Sleeping Beauty gown. They can wear Aurora’s classic pink dress in velour and satin with organza details, costume gems and a hooped skirt.” I’m not sure how it’s extending their fancy dress options — I’d say it’s doing more or less the opposite, to be honest — and I’m fairly sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t have a handbag; but let’s just have a look at that “classic pink dress”. Here’s Sleeping Beauty in an official Disney postcard from 1970:

A 1970 postcard from Disney's Sleeping Beauty, showing Aurora and the witch.

Colour wheel

The colour she’s wearing will come as no surprise to those of you who read my earlier post full of princesses. Here’s a Sleeping Beauty poster, also from 1970:

A poster of Disney's Sleeping Beauty from 1970.

Fairytale pastels

Not only is she wearing blue, but the prince is wearing pink. You could still get away with this as late as 1981, on this Sleeping Beauty book cover:

A 1981 book of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Purple reign

But if you look back at the modern version, the colours have been reversed.

Disney do something similar with Mulan: she wears a variety of clothes in the film; the classic image of her shows her wearing green and blue:

Classic picture of Disney's Mulan, wearing blue and green

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow…

She’s often seen on horseback:

Cover art for an adaptation of Disney's Mulan, showing Mulan on horseback wearing green and blue

Pony girl

She wears armour, for crying out loud:

Disney's Mulan in grey-green armour.

Battle dress

but the costume Disney sell is primarily hot pink (admittedly with some equally lurid electric blue):

Screenshot from Disney Store of girl wearing Mulan costume in hot pink & blue, carrying balloons.

China girl?

And why the balloons? A toy bow and arrows would surely be more appropriate.

Amidst all this pinkification of Disney’s princesses, though, I derive a crumb of hope from the fact that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is allowed to a) wear blue, and b) be old (even rarer than non-pink among Disney heroines) even in the more recent two straight-to-video sequels:

The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, an old lady in a blue cloak with a pink bow and pink detail inside the sleeves.

Bibbidi-bobbidi-blue

Maybe there is still a chance for her to wave her magic wand and restore the colour balance so the rainbow will come smiling through.

The pig issue

As well as buying proper shoes for my daughter, I’ve also been looking for wellies. She loves Peppa Pig at the moment, so when I saw that Mothercare had Peppa Pig wellies I was quite excited:

Photo of blue "Peppa Pig" wellies, featuring George Pig and the text "George loves mud!"

This little piggy had puddles…

“Splash! George loves mud!” George is jumping in a muddy puddle! How perfect for a toddler who likes Peppa Pig and wants to jump in muddy puddles! But wait, it’s Peppa Pig who’s the star of the show, not her little brother George. Why can’t I get wellies with Peppa on? Answer: because these are boys’ wellies, and George is a boy pig, so the boys’ wellies have to have George on them. You couldn’t put a girl pig on a boot for boys, could you?

Now, I reckon you’ve already correctly guessed what colour the girls’ equivalent of these wellies might be. But it’s not just the colour:

Photo of blue "Peppa Pig" wellies, featuring Peppa Pig and lots of little hearts.

… this little piggy had none.

Despite all the little hearts all over these wellies, we don’t get to find out what Peppa loves. No puddle-jumping, no text: she’s denied action, denied a voice. This despite the fact that all the books and DVDs agree that Peppa loves jumping in muddy puddles:

Picture from a Peppa Pig book, showing Peppa's favourite thing: jumping in a muddy puddle

Muddying the waters

A bit of googling suggests that you can get not-entirely-pink Peppa Pig wellies with text on, which look like a closer analogy to the “George loves mud” wellies (though I didn’t see them at Mothercare):

Sky-blue wellies with pink hearts featuring Peppa Pig in a tutu and the text "Peppa loves to dance!"

These boots were made for … dancing?

Yes, the Peppa in the books and cartoons also loves ballet … but she doesn’t wear wellies to do it. Though to be honest, ballet-dancing in wellies would probably be easier than buying clothes aimed at girls that encourage and celebrate messy outdoor activity rather than posing prettily in pink.

Knights in white satin

I’ll say one thing in favour of the recent tide of tacky royalism and rain-soaked bunting: at least the Union Jack isn’t pink. So if I wanted to join in with the flag-waving fun and get my little girl a Union Jack tshirt, say, at least it wouldn’t be… oh, wait:

Screenshot of top three results in Google Images search for "girls' Union Jack tshirt", showing pinkified Union Jacks

Union Jill

Ho hum. OK, so I’ve seen one or two refreshing changes, such as an uncharacteristically non-sexist advert from Pampers:

Pampers advert for Union Jack nappies

21-bum salute

That child’s wearing pink… but in an active pose!

Pampers advert for Union Jack nappies - "made for active little princes and princesses"

Activate the Queen

Active princes and princesses? You mean princesses can be active too? Fantastic! Well, it’s a start, anyway.

Sadly this was a bit of an outlier, as most of the Jubilee tat aimed at kids seemed to be just another excuse to sell the ‘pink princess’ dream (or should that be nightmare?) to little girls. Here’s a classic from Vertbaudet:

Screenshot of Vertbaudet email advert showing Jubilee fancy dress outfits: 'knight' and 'princess'

Fancy that


“Choice of very playful fancy dress outfits”! Unfortunately the choice was made for you before you were even born: male or female. “They are great for capturing your childs’ [sic] imagination,” apparently: great for reinforcing gender roles, more like. The knight is in classic Crusader colours; the Princess, of course, is in pink. Because that’s what Princesses wear. Princesses like Kate Middleton:

Kate Middleton & Prince William - Kate wearing her iconic blue dress

Princess #1!

No, wait. Princesses like… Princess Beatrice:

Princess Beatrice, wearing a turquoise skirt suit and flying-saucer hat

Princess #2!

Ah. Princess Eugenie?

Princess Eugenie wearing a royal blue jacket and matching fascinator

Princess #3!

Hmm. Let’s go back a bit… ah yes, the people’s fairytale princess, Princess Di:

Princess Diana wearing a sky-blue full-length off-the-shoulder satin dress

Princess #4!

Well, this is embarrassing. Perhaps we need a more mature princess… Princess Margaret?

Princess Margaret wearing a dark blue ballgown

Princess #5!

Or maybe we need to travel a bit further afield… Princess Maxima of the Netherlands?

Princess Maxima of the Netherlands wearing black trousers and a royal blue satin shirt

Princess #6!

She’s not a crown princess, though. Perhaps Swedish Crown Princess Victoria can save the day for Pink Princesses:

Swedish Crown Princess Victoria, wearing a pale blue dress and matching scarf and sash

Princess #7!

OK… I give up. Happy Diamond Jubilee, everybody!

The Queen wearing a sky-blue suit and matching hat

THE QUEEN!

Food for thought

These kids’ lunch bags (spotted in Poundland a few weeks ago) nearly made me lose my lunch:

Photo of pink and blue lunchbags for kids, with blue showing 'cheeky monkey' and pink showing 'greedy piggy'

Blue legs good, pink legs bad

Yes, the blue one says “cheeky monkey” and the pink one says “greedy piggy”. Assuming that girls will tend to go for the pink one and boys will tend to go for the blue one (because they know that’s the socially “correct” choice), girls have no option but to be told every time they eat lunch that they are “greedy”. And we wonder why girls as young as 3 are already developing issues around eating.

In order to brainwash girls with these negative messages about food and body-image as soon as they’re old enough to understand them, though, we’ve got to make sure that they’re conditioned to go for the pink stuff long before that, so that the message doesn’t accidentally indoctrinate too many boys. Fortunately there’s plenty of baby-feeding paraphernalia to help here:

Photo of pink/purple and blue/green baby feeding spoons, bottles, dummies, etc.

Taste the rainbow

This range from Hey Baby! (available in lots of Poundlands, 99p stores, etc) which includes plates, bottles, bowls, dummies, sippy cups and more, includes what seem to be used fairly widely as sort of secondary gendered colours (purple for girls, green for boys) bundled with the primary pink-and-blue as appropriate so that you don’t get confused and accidentally buy a purple bowl for a boy. In the same display, we’re reminded which company has been responsible for a lot of the ‘pinkification’ of the kids’ stuff market:

Photo of Disney Mickey/Minnie Mouse bibs in pink and blue

Taking the Mickey

Remember, you’re not a real girl unless you’ve got a bow in your hair and eyelashes so long that they’d probably get covered in food if you ate the way most babies do. Everything about the iconography of Mickey and Minnie there annoys me: the clothes, the typeface, and the fact that Mickey seems to be thinking (this impression is reinforced by the clouds behind him looking like thought bubbles), whereas Minnie is clearly looking coquettish (and she gets hearts instead of thoughts). Mickey Mouse never used to be that blue, of course: he originally appeared in red shorts and yellow shoes. It’s a literally cartoonish example, but it’s worth remembering that in the pink-and-blue dichotomy it’s not just the girls whose options are limited.

A change of gear

Thanks to the Pink Stinks Twitter feed I was alerted to a great blog post about Raleigh bikes. I too have fond memories of Raleigh bikes and I was horrified to see how gender-stereotyped they’ve become.

For what it’s worth, my current (grown-up!) bike is a Raleigh Volatile: it’s what you might think of as a “girl’s bike” (that is, it has a step-through frame), but it’s not pink. It’s turquoise, with yellow and black writing. OK, it’s actually currently mud-coloured, with added mud, but that’s because I cycle in all weathers and I’m lazy about cleaning it. I prefer a step-through frame not so much because I wear skirts (my chainguard has long since fallen off so I tend to avoid skirts or flappy trousers when cycling anyway) but just because it makes it generally easier to get on and off the bike (particularly as I have a basket on the back, so the running-and-jumping-and-swinging-a-leg-over mount is more or less impossible).

But I digress. After reading the Raleigh post, I decided to have a look at some other sites for children’s bikes, to see how widespread the problem was. I started with Halfords; while I wouldn’t start with them for buying a bike, they’re big and fairly popular.

First thing I noticed is that on the website there’s no way to look at kids’ bikes without selecting “boys” or “girls”. The next thing I noticed was the names; admittedly they’re not Halfords’ fault (though they do decide which brands to stock and how to classify them), but good grief, they’re like some kind of crazy parody of masculinity and femininity. I’ve included every brand in the list rather than just selecting the ones that support my point (trust me, I don’t need to do that!):

Boys: Trax, Apollo Stinger, Apollo Firechief, Apollo Force, Apollo Urchin, Apollo Moonman, Thomas and Friends, Apollo Gradient, Apollo Stunt King, Raleigh Micro X, Ben 10 Alien Force, Marvel Heroes, Raleigh GI, Raleigh Striker, Hood V4, Disney Cars, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, Apollo Switch, Apollo Ace, Spiderman, Apollo Spider, Apollo Spektor, Raleigh Mini X, Hood Alley, Carrera Blast, Apollo Stomp, Apollo Sandstorm, Diamondback, Apollo Crank, Apollo Ridge, Triumph Daytona, Triumph Dakota, Carrera Detonate, Max DJ20 Boys Dirt Jump Bike, Raleigh Zero, Diamondback Octane, MAX Hornet, Raleigh Chopper, Raleigh Velocity.

Girls: Trax, Apollo Honeybee, Apollo Sweetpea, High School Musical, Apollo Sparkle, Apollo Sweetie, Angelina Ballerina, Apollo Daisychain, Ben & Holly, Raleigh Molly, Apollo Popstar, Disney Princess, Hello Kitty, Moxie Girlz, Apollo Ivory, Raleigh Me to You, Raleigh Micro Miss, Apollo Star, Apollo Kinx, Apollo Charm Cruiser, Disney Minnie Mouse, Apollo Moonstone, Diamondback Senorita, Raleigh Mini Miss, Carrera Luna, Apollo Vivid, Apollo Oceana, Apollo Pure, Apollo Tropic, Apollo Krypt, Apollo Craze, Triumph Roma, Triumph Milano, Raleigh Diva, Raleigh AT10.

So far, so depressing. But it gets worse; spot the subtle differences in what looks like boilerplate text:


BOYS BIKES AT HALFORDS

The range of boys bikes available at Halfords.com is second to none. With such a great range of designs and sizes in our collection, there’s bound to be a bike to delight any young lad, whatever type of cycling they’re into.

If you’re buying a first bike for your child, we have some great small bikes featuring popular characters from your children’s favourite movies, cartoons and TV shows.

But if your kid enjoys exploring or doing tricks, then take a look at our top-of-the-range boys mountain bikes and BMX bikes from brands like Vibe, Apollo, Raleigh and Trax.

Boys bicycles, like all kids bikes, can be reserved and collected in-store. Here they can be built by a bike technician free of charge (excludes Trax bikes) – so you can have peace of mind that your boys bike is safe and comfy to ride.


GIRLS BIKES AT HALFORDS

We have a fabulous range of girls bikes available at Halfords.com, with a huge variety of designs and sizes to choose from. Our kids bikes feature loads of funky colours and popular characters, so you’re sure to find one that your little girl will love.
From balance bikes for beginners, up to girls mountain bikes for the more adventurous, our range includes everything a young girl could need to get into cycling.

We’ve even got a great collection of kids bike accessories that match our girls bikes – ideal for budding fashionistas. We’ll fit these free of charge if you buy them at the same time as your bike.

If you’re unsure which type of bike to choose, you can use our kids bikes buyer’s guide, or pop in and chat to our store staff. Girls bicycles can be reserved and collected in-store or delivered to your home if you want to hide it away as a present.


Boys are expected to be “exploring or doing tricks”. For girls, on the other hand, they emphasise “balance bikes for beginners”, and only the “more adventurous” girls get to try a mountain bike (tricks or stunts are totally off the agenda).

Boys are expected to be already “into” cycling (“whatever type of cycling they’re into”), whereas girls will need more persuasion (“our range includes everything a young girl could need to get into cycling” [my emphasis]).

Boys get “top-of-the-range” bikes which can be “built by a bike technician”. Girls get “accessories” which are “ideal for budding fashionistas”.

And finally, only the text about girls’ bikes includes this last paragraph: “If you’re unsure which type of bike to choose, you can use our kids bikes buyer’s guide, or pop in and chat to our store staff. Girls bicycles can be reserved and collected in-store or delivered to your home if you want to hide it away as a present.” Are girls expected to be more unsure? Is it assumed that it’ll be the girls’ mothers (who are doubtless assumed to be less technical) who will be buying girls’ bikes, whereas boys’ bikes will be bought by their dads? Is it just coincidence that the text for girls’ bikes emphasises shopping (“buyer’s guide”), chatting (“chat to our store staff”), secrets and gifts (“if you want to hide it away as a present”) rather than the sort of physical activity that you might expect to associate with kids’ bikes?

Of course, it’s not just Halfords. A quick look around suggests that the problem is fairly widespread. Here’s another example, this time from Cycle Centre — check out the brand names again, and note the tassels and doll-carriers on most of the pink bikes:

Screenshot from cyclecentreuk.co.uk showing kids' bikes with girls' all pink.

Different spokes for different folks

I looked round a few more sites but I was soon weary of seeing the same thing over and over again. Fortunately, before I began to despair, I stumbled across Islabikes. As I said in the previous post, it’s important to acknowledge that some people are getting it right; Islabikes is definitely one of those! Their bikes are designed for children, and their mission statement doesn’t mention “boys” or “girls” (or even “mums” or “dads”) once. Instead it just talks about kids, “cycling families”, and bikes, including sensible statements like this:

All bikes have child specific frame geometry and a full set of proportional components, including brakes that can be operated safely with small hands. Gear ratios are carefully selected to suit the age of the child. Each bike can be customised at the point of purchase with tyres that exactly suit the intended use – you can also have a set of full mudguards and a carrier. This way each bike can be used for mountain biking and cyclo cross, as a track racing machine at your local track league, for going to school, touring holidays or days out exploring with the family.

This focuses on the fun activities for which you — whatever your gender — might want to use your bike, rather than the image you might want to project while you’re doing it. The pictures show happy, active, mop-haired children who could easily be girls or boys. The bikes (just “bikes”, not “boys’ bikes” and “girls’ bikes”!) are mostly available in red, blue and purple. Some of the helmets are available in pink (which is fine — pink is just a colour), but they have the same brand name (“Rascal”, “Flume”) whatever colour they come in. The site sensibly acknowledges that the look of the helmet does matter to kids (“kids will not wear something they consider uncool. The childish designs on many kid’s helmets go out of favour at around 5 years old and children then prefer something more adult looking”) but they don’t try to tell you what sort of helmet your child will or should prefer; instead they focus on the safety aspects of the helmets, the design and fit.

Amid the sea of gender-stereotyped nonsense it’s refreshing to see something so cheerfully sensible, unstereotyped, unpatronizing, and focused on quality. When my daughter starts asking for her own bike, I may well be (to quote Halfords) “unsure of which bike to choose”, but I know where I’m more likely to go for advice.