Girls vs Gimps

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…

This entry was posted in Culture, Parenting, Public and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Girls vs Gimps

  1. notsupermum says:

    The Gruffalo is only for boys? How utterly ridiculous, and very sad that children are being taught this sort of insidious sexism.

    • The Kraken says:

      Agreed. Sainbury’s had to work hard to inject sexism into the Gruffalo but, fuck knows, they managed it somehow.

  2. Lucy says:

    Dear Lucy

    Thanks for your email asking what the reasoning was behind our current marketing of the Gruffalo clothing and accessories exclusively to boys.

    We want to ensure that you receive great service from us and I’ve passed your query on to the relevant department so they can look in to this matter further. We will be back in touch with you as soon as we have an answer to your query.

    We’re grateful to you for taking the time to contact us and we appreciate your patience.

    Kind regards

    Lorraine Douglas | Customer Manager

    Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd | 33 Holborn, London | EC1N 2HT
    customer.service@sainsburys.co.uk | 0800 636 262
    twitter.com/sainsburys | facebook.com/sainsburys

  3. Kim says:

    When my daughter was about six or seven, she was really into Doctor Who. We had the same problem – all the Doctor Who t-shirts and other merchandising were in the boys’ section of Next (the main place near us to stock Doctor Who stuff). Luckily she wasn’t bothered by this and wore them anyway. But it does seem madness, as if the retailer is deliberately cutting its potential income in half. And The Gruffalo is even less gendered than Doctor Who, I’d have thought.

    • The Kraken says:

      Quite. Some people argue that product placement in stores is just a logistics problem, that there’s no need to put the same products in two different parts of a store, for example. But fuck that. What about just having a small part of entire kids’ clothing areas dedicated to these branded items (Gruffalo, Dr Who, Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse). They’d all be in one place, they’d be easy to find and they wouldn’t discriminate one way or the other. Surely that is even easier than the way it is currently done?

  4. Naomi Cunningham says:

    (This, for the avoidance of doubt, is not legal advice addressed to anyone in particular. Just some thoughts released into the wild in case they’re of interest to anyone.)

    It is common for toy shops to be divided into clearly demarcated sections in which ‘boys’ toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’ are separately laid out for sale. Some parents and children object to this as tending to stereotype children and limit their options. It has occurred to me to wonder whether this segregated marketing to boys and girls might be said to be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

    Relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010

    The mechanism of the Equality Act is fairly complicated. Chapter 1 defines the ‘protected characteristics’ on the basis of which certain kinds of discrimination are prohibited in certain circumstances by later provisions of the Act. One of the protected characteristics is sex. Here I refer to sex only – although of course the effective parts of the Act prohibit discrimination on various other grounds too.

    Chapter 2 defines various kinds of prohibited conduct. For these purposes, the relevant ones are direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and (possibly) harassment. Direct discrimination is less favourable treatment because of a person’s sex. Indirect discrimination is application of a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which puts women (or for these purposes girls) at a particular disadvantage compared to men (or for these purposes boys), unless the person or body applying the PCP can show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Harassment is unwanted conduct related to sex which has the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.

    Chapter 3 prohibits discrimination, as defined, by service-providers. A service-provider is a person ‘concerned with the provision of a service to the public.’ A service for these purposes, by section 31, includes the provision of goods or facilities.

    Those who provide services (including selling goods) are prohibited from discriminating on grounds of sex as to the terms on which they provide those services. I think it could very sensibly be argued that a little girl who wants to spend her pocket-money on rocket toys or construction kits isn’t getting access to the service provided by the toyshop as a little boy who has the same wish, if she has to march boldly into the blue section of the shop heavily branded as being for boys in order to do so. She is likely to feel ill-at-ease, and she may well risk teasing by her more conventionally-minded peers. I think a claim could be argued alternative as direct and indirect discrimination, and possibly also harassment.

    I can’t say such a claim would be bound to win – but I imagine it would attract a great deal of attention as part of a campaign; and it certainly doesn’t seem to me to be obviously hopeless. I take comfort from this thought experiment: imagine a toyshop divided into two sections marked ‘black kids’ and ‘white kids’ – marketing sports equipment and drum kits to the black children, chess sets and science kits to the white children. I don’t think the shop would get very far by arguing that a black child who wanted a science kit was perfectly free to go into the ‘white’ section and buy it.

    • The Kraken says:

      Fuckadoodledo! Thank you ever so much for your comments Naomi. That’s very kind and generous and helpful. I love the distinction you made between black and white kids too. That really does help to crystallise things doesn’t it? I am convinced that there is room here for a campaign of some sort, anything to tackle, at least, the very clear distinction between boys and girls toys even if store layouts do not change. You know the sort of thing, signs that say ‘girls’ or ‘boys’. That alone would be a step in the right direction. I’m going to put my brain to your thoughts properly when I have a mo without a certain Kraken Junior and look at whether there really is anything we can do.

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