In the last year, several of our friends have been blessed with happy, healthy and much yearned-for babies, and all of those babies have (so far!) been girls. This, of course, is wonderful – if there’s anything I love on an equal par with reading and writing, it’s children. It also means that I have been in several shops over the past while seeking out presents, both for these new little people and their exhausted, and quite possibly terrified, mamas and papas, and something very aggravating has struck me about toyshops, and how they’re laid out, and how toys are marketed.
The last time we went toy shopping, there were aisles which were, floor-to-ceiling, pink. Every single toy in these aisles was intended for girls – dolls, doll accoutrements, model kitchens with pictures of little girls on the box, model ironing boards, even a toy cleaning cart, the ‘sparkly-hooved unicorn princesses’ that so irritate my character Emmeline in my current writing project – in fact, everything you could imagine in a toy, except it was all pink. Even the shelving, and even the floor covering, and even the plinky-plonky music – aaargh! It just sounded pink. I hated it.
Turning a corner into another aisle, we were smacked across the head with something equally frustrating. Into a world of tractors and model cars and space-rockets and Meccano sets and Star Wars-themed memorabilia and guns and warships and soldiers and action figures we did tread… and it was all blue. There were things like lightning bolts painted on the floor, and instead of the disgusting treacly music down the ‘girls” aisle, here we had lite-rock, a few fuzzy guitars and a bit of a beat. Now, this appeals to me, but I can’t imagine rock music (even the diluted kind) appealing to the average small girl, who isn’t usually encouraged to listen to anything that isn’t sung by a gerbil on helium and which doesn’t involve the words ‘love’, ‘play’, ‘good’, ‘friend’, and ‘behave-yourself-you-pesky-female-child!’
Naturally speaking, all the signage and advertisements and whatnot down this aisle featured well-scrubbed, cheeky little boys who were all gorgeous and wonderful – but. But, they were being encouraged to go outdoors and get dirty, or pretend to be soldiers or heroes or astronauts or aliens or cowboys or whatever, whereas the girls – well. They could aspire to be cleaners. Or, you know, professional ironers. Whatever their toys were designed to illustrate, one thing was clear – it had to be done through the colour pink.
Then, the other day, we got a catalogue through the door, one of these ‘buy from the comfort of your own home’ types. I flicked idly through it, wondering if there was anything worth having, and my eyes fell on the toy section. I shall give you but one example of what I saw, lest the sheer effort involved in writing about it makes my blood pressure spike.
On one page, there was a blazing advertisement. The perfect present for your little ones this Christmas! it yelled, so I – naturally – looked. The present was a dressing-up box, which I thought was promising; my brother and I had played dress-up as kids, and always had great fun. Then, I noticed that the catalogue trumpeted the fact that it boasted a dressing-up box for boys, and one for girls, with five costumes in each. Are you ready for this?
The girls’ costumes: Actress. Model. Singer. Fairy. Princess.
The boys’ costumes: Superhero. Airline Pilot. Astronaut. Cowboy. Scientist.
This is what I wanted to do to that catalogue, at that particular point:
The girls’ costumes were all pretty much exactly the same, except the Fairy costume came with a wand, and the Princess costume had a longer skirt and a sort-of fabric tiara. The boys’ costumes were not only all different, and all interesting and cool, but they were all inspirational, and encouraging, and positive, and exciting. The girls’ costumes screamed this at me: You are nothing if you are not pretty and cannot wear a dress correctly! The boys’ costumes screamed: You can do anything you want, in this world or in any other!
Why do toy manufacturers, marketers, perhaps even some parents, insist on limiting the world for our children?
I was not a girl who liked pink. I liked books, and I liked being outdoors, and I liked stories about adventure and space travel and science fiction. I had a few dolls, but I left them on shelves, mainly, where I could look at them; a couple were treasured possessions, because of who had given them to me, more so than the fact that they were dolls, per se. Something tells me that this ‘pinkification’ of girls’ toys was bad enough in my childhood, but it seems endemic now. Of course there are girls who love pink, and who genuinely adore playing with toy kitchens and toy ironing boards and the rest of it (the only time I played with a toy kitchen, it belonged to a family friend and my brother and I ended up pretending to throw boiling water over one another, but that’s not really relevant, is it?) and girls who love pink should be encouraged to love pink. Of course they should. Little boys who love pink, incidentally, should also be encouraged instead of laughed at. What if a little boy wanted to dress up as a princess, or as a fairy? His options are as limited as a little girl who wants to dress up as a firefighter, and there’s no logical reason for any of it.
But what about the little girls who don’t love pink, and who have no choice? Why aren’t they being given proper chances to play with whatever they wish?
On this ill-fated toy shopping trip, then, we finally went in search of Lego. The grand unisex toy, surely? Well. We found excellent Lego at the end of the ‘boys” aisle – you could build whole streets, train stations, houses, spaceships, battleships, the whole lot. Brilliant, I thought. Finally, a present that isn’t directly marketed at boys, and which isn’t pink. But then, we turned a corner, and we were met with – yes, you’ve guessed it. A huge wall of pink and purple Lego – ‘Lego for Girls!’ – featuring things like coffee shops and beauty parlours and places you can hang out with friends, no doubt giggling about boys and hair extensions and nail polish. What fun.
I despaired. Lego, the best toy in the world, one that could – I thought, in my naiveté – be enjoyed by girls and boys alike and in exactly the same way, had caved to pinkification. It was a depressing state of affairs.
Then, yesterday, I came across this:
I’m not going to say anything about it. If you haven’t seen it already, then you’re in for a treat. If you have seen it already, then watch it again. It will, I guarantee it, make you smile.
Fight the pink! And have a happy Thursday.