Thursday, 25 October 2012
Only For Boys
Both Maggie and Alice love the Dear Zoo book. As did all of my kids. You probably know it but if not: it’s a lift-the-flap book that features a different animal on every page. It’s very simple and very charming.
Yesterday I was in Sainsbury’s and was impressed by their range of rather wonderful Dear Zoo kids’ clothes. But when I picked up one of the tops I saw a large label that boldly declared it was for boys. All of the other clothes had the same label.
According to Sainsbury’s then, Dear Zoo is no longer something for all children, something gender neutral – but something that’s only for boys. Zoo animals are now only a boy thing.
This annoyed me not because it was so singularly outrageous but because it was so depressingly familiar. Everywhere you turn these days girls are encouraged to like things that are... well, utterly soppy and dippy. Things like fairies, princesses, cupcakes, celebrities, flowers, pink dresses and babies. Of course, this kind of gender division has always been with us but over the past few years it’s become much worse. It’s almost as if they – marketing twats, toy manufacturers, clothes makers – are determined to turn girls into fucking idiots.
Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to like cool things: robots, monsters, music, space stuff, cars, planes and sport (even though sport, of course, isn’t cool). Not only that, they also get to enjoy things that should be, by any definition, gender neutral. Buses, for instance. Or tractors.
Take a look at the photographs at the bottom. The Next train cushion and the bus light shade are marketed specifically to boys. Why?
I tweeted someone at Sainsbury’s today and asked why they were marketing those Dear Zoo clothes exclusively to boys. Here’s his response:
“The Dear Zoo range was originally introduced for both boys and girls back in 2011 but the girls’ range unfortunately experienced a distinct lack of demand, hence this year’s collection being focused on boys. It doesn’t mean that girls can’t wear Dear Zoo stuff. I hope your little one isn’t put off.”
How did they know that girls weren’t buying the clothes? Because, of course, they had some specifically for boys and some specifically for girls. Why they didn’t just sell them as children’s clothes is beyond me.
Actually, it isn’t beyond me. It’s because marketing twats love to know who/what their demographic is. They love to know this so they can target stuff better. As they see it, they’re not in the business of worrying about what’s culturally or morally suspect – they’re in the business of making money. Which is normally ok, when it comes to adults – because we can, and should, trust them to be a bit more savvy. With kids you have to be more careful.
My response to the Sainsbury bloke’s hope that my “little one isn’t put off” was: “She’s three-years-old. Just starting to read. She sees ‘BOYS’ on a label, she’s put off.”
The thing is, at that age kids are starting to learn about rules and regulations and boundaries. And every parent who doesn’t want a horrible little bastard running around tries hard to get them to understand them. So it’s hardly surprising that when girls see BOYS written on things they regard it as somewhat instructional, somewhat authoritative. And when they constantly see TV ads and programmes that feature little girls dressing up as princesses and swooning over celebrities, they regard that as just the way of the world.
(That makes sense, right? I was going to do a lot more research into this whole issue but a) I just don’t have the time and b) who needs research? I know I’m right.)
The bottom line is: I hate, with a passion, those aspects of our society that demean, belittle and devalue girls. That says that only certain things are for them: that only soppy, stupid things are for them. Worse: that some things definitely aren’t for them. And we wonder why girls aren’t doing science at school.
Without turning into one of those nauseating “Oh, women are so much better than men” men, I’d say this is all the more tragic and depressing because girls, in general, are brighter than boys. (If this were a proper essay or something I’d link to some kind of citation - but as it’s just my blog I’ll go with anecdotal/personal evidence.) Girls, in general, are brighter than boys. It evens out as they get older but when they’re very young, girls make boys seem like halfwits. And what do we do with this? We encourage them to be idiots. Maybe it’s some big patriarchal conspiracy to stop them getting ahead...
(Actually, I have a little theory about why this has got worse in recent years: the increased role of fathers. Or, rather, those fathers who are obsessed with having daughters. It’s like they want to live up to that “dads and their little girls” cliché. You know what I mean. The kind of bloke who treats his daughter like a little princess, who constantly tells her she’s his little princess, who treats her completely differently to the way he would his son. I’m not saying this is the only reason, obviously. Just partly. Maybe. I don’t know. If you're reading this and you're one of those fathers - I don't mean you, obviously.)
I’m not suggesting that there’s no place for fairies and princesses and all that nonsense. Just that it doesn’t have to be all about that. Don’t we have a collective responsibility to say to girls that anything and everything is for them too? Don’t we have a responsibility not to force them into stereotypes? And particularly not to force them into stuff that’s only... well, utterly soppy and dippy? Don’t we want our girls to grow up thinking that they can be anything they want to be, that they’re just as good as boys? That they can be smart and clever and interesting?
Of course we do. We’re not the fucking Taliban.