March 12, 2010

Gender traditionalism leaves so little for girls

The other day I posted about Disney’s worries that fairytale princesses are unappealing to boys. Another reminder came today that they are also unappealing to girls.

Viv Groskop writes in the Guardian about trying to take her 3-year-old daughter on a feminist journey:
Despite my best efforts, my three-year-old daughter Vera hasn’t exactly been celebrating her girlhood of late. In fact, influenced by her six-year-old brother, she can frequently be heard muttering, “Girls are boring. I want to do boys’ things.” I can see her point. Her brother’s life is full of Star Wars, pirates, football and other action-packed phenomena. Vera gets Hello Kitty. She clearly finds this unsatisfying, and the situation is coming to a head. “I am not a girl, Mummy, I am a boy,” she told me recently. “My name is Peter.”

While I don’t think the idea of taking a toddler on a three hour walking tour of London’s East End focusing on areas important to feminism is the ideal solution (I’m an adult feminist and I think I would view the idea with trepidation), I think it is important to recognise the problem.

Toys are becoming more segregated, not less so. An acquaintance of mine reported a trip recently to a popular chain store where ‘boys costumes’ includes doctors outfits and ‘girls costumes’ included nurses outfits. This in 2010, not 1950. My recent purchase of a mini fridge for my office came with a large label declaring it to be a ‘man’s gift’. I’m sure a full sized fridge would be a woman’s gift – after all, who is it who spends all their time in the kitchen.

Marketing is often not ambitious, it doesn’t aim to challenge preconceptions, it plays to cliches and stereotypes. Is it any wonder the little girls flock to the pink fairy wings and the boys to the blue footballs when every message projected at children is that this is what they should like. I think it’s harder to avoid gender segregation in toys now than it was when I was a child in the 1980s.

I don’t know what we do about it. I don’t have a daughter to dress as a pirate and play light sabres with. But those of you who do, please go out and get a tricorne hat and a light up sword today.


  1. Does that apply to me? I have three daughters. Must I buy 3 tricorne hats and three light sabers? Oo-Arr, the Force is strong in this one.

    Comment by Mary Hoffman — March 12, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  2. If that means I get a tricorne hat and a lightsabre, then yes. Yes, it does.

    Comment by Rhiannon Lassiter — March 15, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

  3. I do agree with you, Rhiannon, about the cynical and unimaginative marketing that is aimed at children. It’s in toys, books, clothes, you name it… I have both a daughter and a son, and I do try to steer both of them away from the stereotypical choices. However, it has to be said that, although I have tried to bring them up in the same vein, they are very different to each other. While they are both into imaginative play, Son loves conflict of any kind, whereas Daughter just wants everyone to be friends! While Son will have a toy gun over my dead body, he makes them out of lego, bits of wood, or anything he can find. Daughter has families of imaginary animals that she tends lovingly. Nature or nurture? Go figure…!

    Comment by Claire Lomas — April 8, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

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