Today, kraken-feasters, we’ve got a stupendous guest post from Lucy Whitfield. I actually fear she could usurp me as The Kraken. You can tweet her @katchuri. So go get yourself a leather strap to chew on and enjoy…
Despite my best efforts, my five year old daughter is influenced by gender tags in shops – I tried to interest her in a fab pair of gloves with creepy crawlies as fingers, but because they were in a “boys’” section of the shop she refused point blank to have them because she was a girl, and we ended up with sodding Hello sodding Kitty instead. And the other week she dared to tell me that girls didn’t play football – it was just for boys. I told her that we did not have language like that in this house, threatened to wash her mouth out with soap and water, and prescribed her a strict diet of Bend It Like Beckham.
And before you ask – as many people seem to when I get into this subject – I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with boys in dresses and lipstick (I used to be a goth, for fuck’s sake – that was normal Saturday night behaviour for a load of my mates in my twenties). And that goes for if it was my son as well as anyone else’s.
You see. I’m of a generation where the efforts of the feminists of the 60s and 70s was being felt in the material culture and children’s toys. Lego was unisex. Mechano had stopped automatically referring to children as “he” in instructions. Girls were being encouraged to be astronauts. My parents were liberal, progressive, and believed in letting my reach my full potential in any field I chose – be it science and engineering, sewer management, the boardroom, or ballet.
Sadly, thirty years on, this approach seems to be anything but the flipping norm. My daughter is bombarded with messages, subliminal or otherwise, about what is meant for girls and what is meant for boys, via adverts, labels, her peers, books, and so on. I cringe daily at the sea of pink and blue in the playground. And as I said at the beginning of this post, despite my best efforts to the fucking contrary she’s still of an age where she’ll be influenced.
And it is against a backdrop of this approach to parenting that I spotted possibly the biggest and ugliest affront to my beliefs and values since becoming a parent:
Someone at Sainsbury’s, in some warped twist of logic, has decided that The Gruffalo – a gorgeous children’s book about a clever mouse outwitting some woodland creatures – is only suitable for boys. Yes, that’s right, boys. Their entire Gruffalo clothing range is located in their boys’ clothes section. Girls’ clothes have nothing comparable, and still feature that fucking white cat.
Until this week, I’d have considered The Gruffalo un-genderable – there’s no tanks or fairy wings in it, which shouldn’t really affect things either way even there were, but it’s a horrific tide to fight against – and there’s not even a human in it for classification for fuck’s sake.
I started frothing at the mouth. Not really for the benefit of my own daughter, who receives a daily counteraction of this vile engendering of products from her father and myself, but for the sake of other children. Children whose parents are perhaps not confident enough in their own parenting skills to make a judgement about what is suitable reading matter and will instead take their cues from what shops say. Children who, through the actions of some marketing executive somewhere in the depths of the supermarket who decided to hang a story on one particularly gender just to flog welly boots, might be denied the pleasure of reading one of the national treasures of British children’s literature because it was marked for boys.
It’s the fucking Gruffalo, for crying out loud. It’s got mass appeal. It has always until now been presented as gender-neutral in any marketed products – we have Gruffalo snap sets, pencil cases, writing sets and so on, all given to my daughter as gifts, and they are all to a T white. Why potentially halve your sales of a product by only marketing it to one gender or the other, particularly where there is wide circumstantial evidence that both genders love the book and the characters? And does Julia Donaldson know that her work is being portrayed in this way?
So, like my mate Mark when faced with science and dinosaur kits labelled as “boys’ toys” in Hobbycraft (http://www.yokelnet.co.uk/), I wrote to Sainsbury’s. I asked why they’d taken this decision, and asked them to reconsider where they placed the products and the labels they gave them.
So far, no reply.
So what about your experiences of the, er, genderisation of these characters? Do you agree or want to tell us to piss off? Get stuck into the comments box below…