Playgroups: A Survival Guide for Dads

1606500_221899861326530_1473350858_o“Do you all spend the whole time cackling about shoes and celebrities?”

That was an actual question I asked my wife about our antenatal group. Like most men, I hadn’t really spent much time around large groups of women, and when I had they were usually drinking lots of Pinot Grigio or watching Mamma Mia. Or both.

Well, they DIDN’T chat endlessly about Women’s Mag stuff, and they accepted me as a stay-at-home dad without batting an eyelid, comfortable to talk of cracked nipples and weaning strategies alongside the kind of stuff we all used to converse about a lot more before becoming parents.

Playgroups are an extension of these gatherings. However, when you’re the only man walking into a roomful of women & kids who know each other but not you, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Don’t be.

You will be told how brave you are for going to a playgroup with lots of mums. Don’t believe this for a second. You’re not being brave at all. You’re just a dad taking his child to a playgroup. Treat it as the most normal thing any parent would do, because it is. If you approach it this way others will too.

So dads – whether you’re at-home full-time or on temporary leave – don’t be shy and get out there. Here’s a few pointers to help you on your way.

1. Smile
No one wants to hang out with grumpy Graham in the corner. If you look like you don’t want to be there, you also look like you don’t want to talk to anyone – so they won’t bother. Smile, and people will smile back.

2. Children are a great conversation opener
“How old is your child?”, “How long have they been walking?”, “What a cool outfit”, etc. It’s very easy to start a conversation with women at a playgroup, by simply sharing facts & compliments about each other’s children. This also works in bars.

3. Be the engaged parent you are
To many, it’s still a novelty (even weird) to see a dad enjoying spending time with their child. In all likelihood, the mothers you want to know will recognise the same level of engagement that their partner has, or even wish they were more like you (no, really). Either way, they’ll like you all the more for it.

4. Offer to help out
Whether picking up a dropped toy, tidying up at the end of the session, or helping to run an actual group (as I do), helping out is a great way to endear yourself by showing again what an engaged parent you are.

5. Remember peoples names
I’m terrible at this, and it does really help to build a connection by demonstrating you’re interested in them enough to recall their name. Here’s a good playgroup hack: If you’ve forgotten, ask the child’s name, DO remember this, then look down the sign in book/sheet for that name and cross reference the parent’s name.

6. Bake something
Possibly sexist (sorry), but mums at one group still mention the batch of Anzac biscuits I brought to a group once. I didn’t even bake them – my wife did. It was the first time a lot of mothers actually talked to me, and they have done ever since.

7. You will think your singing voice sounds worse then everyone else’s. Probably because it is…
Most groups end with a sing-song. Your voice is (probably) lower than the mums & kids, so your singing will stand out. Don’t worry. This isn’t choir practice. If they do notice you, it’ll be for enthusiastically singing with your child, because it makes them happy. Which is cool.

8. Not all groups of mothers are a clique…
Don’t be intimidated. Just because there’s a group of women talking intently to each other in the corner, it doesn’t mean they’re an exclusionary clique. Stop basing your idea of female social structures on Mean Girls and Heathers.

9. …but mother cliques do exist.
Just like Mean Girls and Heathers, there are still exclusionary cliques around. If you encounter one, just walk on by. Don’t even assume it’s because you’re a dad – there are plenty of mothers who also feel excluded by these packs too. Be thankful – there are far more interesting people for you to get to know.

10. If you don’t like it, move along
It took me a few groups before I found ones I liked. Remember, it’s ok not to like them. Some groups were too religious, some classes too scripted, some full of mothers that just wouldn’t talk to me. Wherever you are, there are probably a bunch of groups to choose from, so shop around. Don’t be swayed by other people’s opinion – even your partner’s. Just because they found a group or class brilliant, doesn’t mean you have to. Find what works for you and your child.

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When a four year old girl thinks science toys are only for boys, something is very wrong

Photo by @LegoAcademics

Some friends recently had an upsetting family trip to the Natural History Museum.

They have a bright, bold, and delightful daughter called Zoe – she amused me no end when inventively used our toys to enthusiastically stage a river raid on Noah’s Ark by Spider-Man & Hulk to rescue the animals from the clutches of supervillains Annihilus & Joker. Sitting cosily inside the marketing category of ‘Girl’ is seemingly not for her.

So at the museum shop, it was a shock to her parents when then four year old Zoe, after carefully inspecting the general science toys on display, sighed and lamented how they were only for boys.

Zoe’s mother was so upset about this that she wanted to cry. This is definitely not the way they wanted to bring their daughter up, and in fact they thought they were doing well by giving her trucks and other non-traditional girls toys. Their only conclusion was that this message must have come from outside the home.

It indicates the scale of the problem with gendered marketing. As parents, we do what we can to instil our children with positive & empowering messages and influences, to encourage them to discover what will engage & inspire them. But gendered marketing is so threaded into our everyday life – shops, TV, movies, magazines, and peers – that its effects will probably permeate through whatever defences we put up.

People like myself and others can rail against this. We may even convince the occasional retailer or manufacturer to change the way they define their products. One thing some companies are doing is introducing ‘girl’ versions of toys. You know the sort of thing, tool boxes, toy crossbows, and even science kits, that instead of being ‘normal’ colours, are pink. Some people (usually toy industry people) hail these as an ingenious development. But to me it simply reinforces the ‘pink is for girls’ mentality. They may play with the ‘perfume factory science kit’, but what happens when girls see an item that isn’t pink? They may assume it’s for boys and ignore it. What do boys take away from this? That only pink things are for girls, but this also excludes them from the likes of baby dolls and kitchen sets.

While we have this mentality, there will be countless stories where a girl decides a career isn’t for her because it’s not presented as such, or a boy may think being home with children is for mothers only. Children may privately carry on in this way of thinking their entire lives, perhaps even perpetuating it when they become adults. Who knows, maybe they’ll move into toy & children’s clothes marketing.

I actively encourage my daughter to play with toys that are not in the ‘pink aisle’, and to also wear clothes from the boy’s section too. But it’s easy for me to be an idealist. My daughter is not even three. As she gets older, and seeks out her own media, the marketeers will be able to reach her directly. The peer group pressure upon her to conform to the identity portrayed in these messages will also grow.

The retailers and manufacturers in question claim they are only feeding demand, but if as a consequence our children can grow up with the belief that science – and any tech or engineering role – is only for boys, something is very wrong. At least Zoe’s parents became aware of the the issue, and have managed to turn it around with her, by getting her a dress-up labcoat, science kits, and they even had a female chemical engineer telling Zoe how cool her job is! Many children will not be this lucky.

I hope the colour palette of childhood in retail evolves. That pink and pastels stop being the exclusive domain of our girls. That the whole spectrum is opened up for all. That brands I love such as Lego, Star Wars, and Marvel & DC stop positioning themselves as a girl free zone, and domestic & nursery toys are made to appeal to boys too. Luckily, there are entrepreneurial companies spotting the gap in the market for something beyond pink and blue.

This week saw #WearYourSuperheroes Day, created by a girl in the US in support of her sister who was teased for her love of superheroes. Whenever my daughter runs around the playground in her beloved superhero cape, I know (because they tell us) many boys and girls notice and have their already formed assumptions challenged.

oona capeI dearly hope my daughter’s love of all kinds of colours, toys, and interests continues, that she doesn’t get directed down the pink aisle – and that we inspire others to join her too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An earlier version of this post appeared here.

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The obligatory ‘first day of preschool’ post

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My daughter and I in happier times…

Well, that was emotional.

I took my daughter to preschool earlier this morning. We’ve been explaining to her what it is for a while. How it’s like playgroup but without daddies & mummies. That a few of her friends will be there. And how daddy will take her, play for a little bit, go away for a bit, and then come back to take her home. She seemed ok with it. All went as expected. Especially the ‘go away bit’ unfortunately.

10 mins after arriving, I gently backed away as she was occupied at the play-doh table, one of her favourite activities.

I watched from the kitchen. She was happily for a while, but then I could see it developing. The play-doh squishing slowed. Her head began to glance around. The lower lip began to quiver. Then the tears began to flow. Not sad tears, but utterly inconsolable distraught tears, with the barely discernible cries of “Daddy! I want my daddy!”.

I exchanged looks with her key worker, who indicated I should hang back while she tried to placate my daughter with a story. But it was to no avail, so she brought my daughter over to me.

My daughter held me tighter than she ever has, repeating over and over through the stream of tears “Daddy! I love my daddy!”. It was a scene reminiscent of the ending of ‘The Railway Children’.

Except, in this case the ‘Daddy’ (me) then abandoned said daughter when she was distracted by the outdoor play, as it was decided this was for the best in helping her adjust, but they would call me if she got too upset and couldn’t be calmed down.

So here I am at home, with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich for emotional comfort, staring at the phone hoping it doesn’t ring.

The 2 1/2 hour preschool session, that I thought wouldn’t be long enough to get much done, now seems to be lasting an eternity.

 

(An expanded version of this has been published at the The Huffington Post)

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LEGO Fusion: A new brick in the gender divide

LEGO’s new Fusion line may meld real & digital worlds, but it still divides our boys & girls.

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A LEGO ‘Universal Building Set’ ad from 1982, depicting a boy and girl playing together with the same LEGO. Crazy.

I had high hopes when I was alerted to ‘LEGO Fusion’. It was the word ‘fusion’, the combining of two distinct entities into one, that piqued my interest.

LEGO have rightly had a lot of flack for creating and marketing their product separately to boys and girls in recent years, especially given their history of previously being a universal toy. So would this new fusion line finally reunify the divided markets and be aimed at both?

The word fusion also brings to mind various scientific processes and ideas, most notably nuclear fusion. Could this be a line linked specifically to STEM fields, in which female inclusion and engagement remains an ongoing issue.

Don’t be silly.

Turns out the ‘fusion’ aspect is the connection of physical building with virtual construction, in the form of smartphone & tablet apps and associated physical sets. The virtual aspect appears to be inspired partly by The Sims and Civilisation - but mostly by Minecraft, the open world virtual brick building phenomenon. LEGO have stated that they wish they had invented Minecraft. In fact, it was created by a games designer from the Danish toymaker’s Nordic neighbour Sweden. Minecraft also has a large number of female enthusiasts (though evidence suggests they may often not admit to being female, given how women are often treated in online & gaming circles – but that’s another issue!).

So LEGO Fusion may not be the revolutionary science based line I imagined (I actually have no idea what that could be, but I was waiting to be dazzled), but still – it’s an innovation for the company to move its core product – bricks – into virtual space. Good for them. And it’s a concept clearly able to be enjoyed by boys and girls.

But then I saw this promotional video for it. It effectively conveys the blending of virtual and actual space, focusing on a child exploring the worlds that the line consists of.

First there’s Town Master, where you get to be a town planner/ruler. That’s followed by Battle Towers, a virtual war space where your constructed ‘Battle Tower’ has to fend off an enemy invasion. Then there’s Create & Race, where you build cars and race them. As ideas, they all look and sound pretty cool. But, there’s something important missing from the marketing hyperbole. Girls.

And then it happens.

Two girls are shown playing on the other side of the table from the boy. What are they doing – planning a town? Creating a battle tower? Engineering their own race car?

Nope.

The girls have their own app and set, within the gender ghetto of the LEGO Friends line. And what do the girls get to create in their fusion space? Their line is called Resort Designer, and they have to create… a dream beach resort.

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In LEGO Fusion, boys build towns and engineer machines, while girls get to build… a resort

So rather than fusion, we have division & limitation. Physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski memorably responded on Twitter to the LEGO Fusion ad with “Ick”.

Dr. Czerski continued “Obviously, all girls are interested in is holiday resorts, while boys get on with building our cities.”

The whole reason advertising exists is that it works. If it can persuade us to part with our cash for a product, then it stands to reason that the reality it depicts is also convincing.

There’s nothing stopping you – or I – from countering these messages ourselves to our kids, but we’ll never be able to fend them off entirely. The seed will be planted, that will potentially grow into deep rooted conviction that may see a girl choosing very early on in life not to embark on a life in science, technology, engineering or manufacturing, and may lead to an adult male choosing not employ a woman in one of these fields, because from childhood, without even realising it, they have learned that these areas are inherently male.

I don’t think LEGO is evil, that it is trying to socially engineer a world where women are directed to a pastel coloured inconsequential cul-de-sac while the men take care of the important stuff. They’re just trying to sell their plastic bricks. But doing it by entrenching gender segregation, and limiting the life choices of our girls, is simply wrong. I can’t say it plainer than that.

Imagine, if instead of gender, LEGO based their marketing around race. Imagine if the Fusion ads showed white people (as they do) playing with the Town, Racing, and Battle lines – and then depicted stereotyped minorities in and using sets based on sports, hospitality, or a factory? Imagine if they produced market research that showed that this was what the minorities in question wanted. That they were just supplying demand. It would rightly be labelled as racism.

Oh god, I do hope I haven’t given them a new marketing angle to try out…

Back in the real world, my daughter will continue to play with her hand-me-down LEGO, that hails from the time when it was a universal toy. And maybe when LEGO pulls back on the gender based madness, we’ll hand over some real money for new LEGO.

As long as it remains backwards compatible with the concept of universal building.

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The sold out, universally acclaimed, LEGO Ideas Research Institute. Hopefully not the last you’ll see of it.

One set I would have parted cash with was their much heralded Female Scientist set.

In a bad month of gender news for LEGO, they also revealed that this set, which I didn’t even get a chance to buy, is in fact a limited edition.

Currently sold out, while LEGO have said they are going to release more stock, there is no indication that this means they will actually manufacture any more.

If you – like me – think this obviously popular set should be mass produced, then please sign this petition created by Melissa Atkins Wardy (Author of “Redefining Girly”, owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Apparently, a new LEGO design must achieve sales of £106,000 to break even. At £15.99 a pop, this set needs to sell about 6,600 units – so the petition needs to reach at least that figure to show there’s a viable market for it (though the fact it achieved 10,000 public votes to get made in the first place should be enough!).

So please sign and share!

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What’s the opposite of a Troll? I reckon it’s an Emily…

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The ways in which strangers comment and connect online usually gets a bad rap. Perhaps because it’s so easy to take on another identity – or remain anonymous – in order to be vile to another person. A ‘troll’ used to be a goat eating creature that lived under a bridge in the minds of children. Sadly that monster has been usurped by an all too human counterpart.

But what of the wonderful instances of selfless acts of generosity and human kindness that also occur online? Well, here’s one for you.

"#WeWant Leia" by Yakface.com

I recently blogged about the Disney Store’s lack of Princess Leia products, and their absense of interest making any. As the dad of a Star Wars loving daughter, I hoped for some meaningful response from Disney, and there was a muted assurance that they will produce Leia merchandise in the future.

But the post also elicited this response from a lady called Emily:

“I don’t know if it would interest you, but I have a Leia doll and several of the Episode 1 Amidala dolls (all still in boxes because that’s how I was). It’s not the iconic Leia w/ buns, but they’re just sitting in storage and I’d be happy to dust them off and send them to you to share with your daughter. I may have some action figures but I think I gave those away already.”

Well yes, of course I was interested, so I followed up with Emily via email. The back and forth conversation basically went like this.

Me: I’m certainly interested, but how much do you want for them?

Emily:   Oh I don’t need anything in return. I know how it was growing up a girl in a Star Wars world, so I’ll gladly share what I have

Wow, that’s really generous. But hang on, there’s a problem – it’s not like I can just pop round and pick them up. We don’t live very near each other. In fact, we’re very far from each other. Emily lives in the US and we live in the UK. She replied:

Emily: I have no problem sending them across the ocean – they’re just collecting dust in storage right now and I’m happy to send them off to a better home.

Once again, wow.

Special international delivery

True to her word, some days later, we had a large package arrive in the post from America, which contained three boxed 12″ Queen Amidala dolls, a boxed 12″ Princess Leia doll, and a bonus item of a large Queen Amidala towel. It also came with the following handwritten note from Emily:

 

Simon,

I hope your daughter enjoys these dolls. I’m happy to share my love of Star Wars with your daughter and your family. Hopefully these will help fill the gap until some new official merchandise surfaces.

I only have one Leia doll, but Amidala/Padmé was marketed a fair bit, with her many dresses and hairstyles. Like many overzealous fans, I snapped up what I could, but already being in high school, I never played with them – just had them on a shelf in my Star Wars covered room until another interest came along and they got put into storage for 10 or so years. Now they can leave their boxes for some proper playtime.

Enjoy! And may the force be with you, always!

Sincerely,

Emily

Emily then signed off with these delightful Princess Leia illustrations.

Emily's Leia doodles

So it was with great relish – and Emily’s permission – that my daughter and I finally liberated these toys from the packaging they had been in for the best part of the past 15 years. It would be a sight to horrify many a Star Wars collector, but delight anyone who gains any happiness from the pure joy of a child.

My daugher loves these dolls. She is already swapping shoes and outfits between them. Ceremonial Leia looks pretty good wearing Padme’s large brown boots. ‘Royal Elegance Queen Amidala’s red shoes are a popular interchangeable item as well. There’s also some toddler hairstyling and tea parties happening.

“You never forget kids like Emily”

In 1999, the year that The Phantom Menace was out and Emily purchased all these dolls, another eagerly anticipated movie was released. Eerily, it features a young lady called Emily who parted company with her childhood playthings.

In Toy Story 2 we are introduced to Jessie, a once beloved doll who has been abandoned at a roadside when her ‘Emily’ outgrew her. In reality, perfectly normal behaviour, but in the story it was a source of great sadness and emotional trauma for Jessie, who mournfully states: “You never forget kids like Emily…but they forget you.”

Well, this real life Emily didn’t forget about her toys. They may not have been played with, but they were bought out of love (of Star Wars), and passed on for the same reason.

According to Buzz Lightyear “(a toy’s) life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid”. Well thanks to their Emily these toys will be well loved by our kid. They are out of their boxes and never going back in!

The Emilys of the real world should be celebrated. She reached out to a father and daughter she has never met, with whom she had only had the briefest of online interaction with, and made the great effort to not just simply give us these toys she purchased, but to ship them across the world to us at her expense.

It also reminded me of the end of Toy Story 3, when…***SPOILERS*** …Andy hands over his childhood toys to the little girl family friend.

IMG_1855That brought a tear to my eye, and I have to admit, this did too.

So thank you Emily. As well as giving us these awesome dolls, you have also given me renewed optimism about the world I am raising my daughter in.

And Disney take note. There IS a girls market for Star Wars, and there always has been.

(Oh, while I immensely appreciate Emily’s generosity in giving these dolls to my daughter, at my insistence we have reimbursed Emily for the shipping. She also has a big credit in the favour bank)

 

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How Darth Vader defends my daughter’s right to be a girl

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‘Don’t take no sith from anyone’

It’s fancy dress week at my daughter’s preschool, because Halloween. So what should she go as? The question I should have asked my daughter was “What fancy dress would you like to wear?”. However, what we actually asked was “Would you like to wear your Darth Vader costume?” I just couldn’t let this opportunity to enlighten her peers slip by.

A local mum recently made a good point to me that I had never considered. Many of the children my two year old daughter goes to preschool with will be at the same primary school, in the same year, maybe even the same class. They may continue to be her closest peers until adulthood. The same goes for lots of the children we see at playgroup, at the local park, soft play, the library, or even just the high street. What these children think, how they perceive the world, how they treat my daughter, will have a massively influential impact on the woman she becomes.

Part of my approach to parenting is to constantly refer back to my memories of growing up, and use that to positively inform my approach. The fantastical worlds of comic books and Star Wars loom large in my childhood (and adulthood too). They fired my imagination, but perhaps more importantly provided both escapism and inspiration to make sense of the world in the darkest times of my youth.

I want my daughter to have access to all of this too. Luckily, superheroes and Star Wars are still very much in vogue.

It’s also fair to say that I’m not a fan of Disney Princesses, and pinkification in general. So as well as simply sharing my enthusiasm for Star Wars with my daughter (she has all my old toys), this is also about me offering her an alternative to girly girl culture before she heads into the school system, and peer group pressure becomes a driving force in her development.

So far, my daughter really enjoys this stuff. So do all the little girls who come over for playdates – they always love to play with our Star Wars and superhero toys.

However, it is very clear that to the likes of Hasbro and Disney (who own Marvel and Star Wars) these brands are just for boys. That’s another battle being fought by myself and others, but in the meantime, here in the trenches, our kids are forming opinions on what is and isn’t for boys or girls, based on the way these brands are marketed.

As she grows older, I worry my daughter might be singled out for displaying an interest in this geek stuff, simply because she’s a girl. I don’t want her to be perceived as ‘weird’ because she’s a geek. Perhaps even teased, ostracised, or bullied.

This mentality starts young. One time, a little boy saw me with my daughter, looked unsure, then asked me: “Is she a boy or a girl?”. When I confirmed ‘she’ was in fact a girl, he countered “Then why is she wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt?”. “Because she likes Spider-Man.” I replied. The boy’s older sister then chimed in, “Yeah, girls can like Spider-Man too y’know!”. The boy went away with a new concept to contemplate, while hopefully this exchange supported his sister’s seemingly healthy outlook on gender.

It also exists in adults who should know better. A friend who recently became a dad asked me ‘Why are you trying to make your daughter into a boy?’. Grasping for a calm answer, I replied ‘I’m not. There’s nothing inherently male about any of this stuff. I think whatever she wears are girl’s clothes, her toys are girl’s toy, her books are girl’s books. Because she’s a girl.’ After mulling it for a moment, he agreed with me. This had never occurred to him before, but now it makes sense.

My daughter & I get so many positive comments from parents when we’re out and about. I often then hear telling their son or daughter how cool my daughter looks. Perhaps we are influencing some parents too.

I am confident I am doing right by my daughter, that these things are a positive influence on her developing personality. But in order for her to not be socially excluded because of it, I also need her peers and their parents to accept girls can be just as engaged with these things as boys.

So I feel that each time she runs around with a cape, carries her cuddly Spidey to the playground, wears her beloved Batgirl dress yet again, or goes out dressed as Darth Vader, she is doing her part to challenge (some) people’s idea of what it is to be a girl.

My hope is that by the time she gets to school, and her attire will switch from geek chic to school uniform, her fellow pupils will be so used to the idea that girls can like this stuff too, that it won’t be weird at all.

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A Dispatch From The Gender Frontline (I Went to Some Toy Shops)

Needing to kill an hour or so, I took a stroll around the Westfield London shopping centre this week. I naturally gravitated towards the toy shops, and I decided to amuse myself by indulging in a spot of gendered toys mystery shopping.

The first shop I went into was The Entertainer. They are a large independent toy retailer, and I have a particular soft spot for them as they began with one shop in my home town neighbour of Amersham, Bucks. But sentimentality aside, I had no idea what they were like as a toy shop these days.

I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the way they categorise their toys – eg. ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Arts & Creative’, ‘Cars, trains, and planes’ etc – not by gender. This seemed like such progressive (and logical) way to sort toys, that doesn’t exclude on the basis of gender – at least in how product is grouped. Bravo Entertainer!

The Entertainer toy shop

The Entertainer toy shop

What I didn’t realise (until I tweeted about it) was that this came about because of a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys (we were living outside of UK when this happened). So bravo to them too. :)

I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back to shop here, another branch, or online.

 

I was expecting the worst with the next shop I visited. I have written about the divisive way LEGO creates and markets its product before. The beloved Universal toy of my youth is no more. I have resigned myself to not buying any new LEGO, that in all likelihood my daughter will be playing with our ample hand-me-down supply throughout her childhood. So I went to the LEGO shop all prepared for their gendered marketing tricks.

But then I spotted this.

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Yes!

The female scientists minifigure set, that I had in my own little way campaigned so furiously for, that had finally been released only to be sold out everywhere… It was back! I stopped looking around the store, grabbed the set, and headed straight for the counter.

As I paid, I asked the staff about it. They told me they had only been delivered a small number of sets in the original release, and everyone in the company was surprised how popular it had been. The staff were keen to point out that they now have a much healthier stock of it. So if you’re thinking of buying some LEGO for your child (or you!), then I would strongly suggest that you get this one. I’m intending on saving it until Christmas day. Hopefully I can resist the urge to put it together it until then.

IMG_4021That’s all I can say about the LEGO shop. They could have had an entire wall of pink Friends sets, with a sparkling sign proclaiming ‘LEGO FOR GIRLS’, and I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how chuffed I was to finally have this awesome set in my hands.

 

 

So it had been a really positive experience so far. My final stop was The Disney Store, which I entered with trepidation. I love Star Wars & Marvel (both acquired by Disney) as much as I do not love princess culture (pretty much created by Disney).

IMG_4015Given that Disney & gendered marketing to kids go together like the Empire & the Death Star, I tend to browse Disney’s virtual and actual aisles with frustration. This occasion was no exception.

Starting with Marvel, there was nothing in the store featuring a female character. No Black Widow in the Avengers line, no Gamora or Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff, no additional female superheroes, nothing. *sigh

On to Star Wars.

There’s large section of the store devoted to movie merchandise, primarily the original trilogy. The lack of Leia merchandise was an early issue on this blog, so I was keen to see if things had improved at all. At first glance, it hadn’t. There was a prominent display featuring Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a Stormtrooper – but no Princess Leia.

IMG_4040I scanned the large selection of Star Wars stuff here, and eventually found a Leia. In fact I found a couple. They were each part of different play-sets figures. One set was Jabba’s palace, which of course means one thing – Slave Leia.

An eagle eyed fan on Twitter also spotted a Torryn Farr figure. Who is she? The blink and you’ll miss her Rebel Comms officer from The Empire Strikes Back. She may not be the most active character in the trilogy (she sits in a chair and relays orders), but I guess at least she’s a female Star Wars character figure.

That’s not all the Star Wars gear the shop has now though. There’s a big display of merchandise from the brand new TV show Star Wars Rebels. It’s early days for the show, but it has TWO major female characters that are prominently featured in the artwork of the toy display. So I was curious about what the the product would be like.

Product? What product?

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That’s right. There was nothing, nothing, featuring either of the female characters of Sabine or Hera. Not an action figure, not a t-shirt, nothing. I asked a member of staff about this. She looked surprised, had a glance at the section, and then kind of shrugged “No, there’s nothing with any of the women”.

What’s a girl gotta do to get into the Star Wars line at the Disney Store? It seems even a pink skinny waisted Boba Fett with a boob plate can’t break the gendered marketing glass ceiling far, far away…

So in this flagship Disney Store, in one of the premier shopping centres in Britain, there were just three items including any female characters in the whole of their Marvel & Star Wars sections – nothing in Marvel, and Star Wars had a classic Princess Leia (as part of a set), Slave girl Leia (as part of a set), and an individual figure of a rebel who says “Stand by ion control…Fire!” and nothing else.

Apparently, Sabine & Hera will be included in the second wave of Star Wars Rebels figures being released by licensee Hasbro. Staff also told me “We’re going to get Princess Leia stuff soon. But they keep saying that”. They had no idea about female Marvel characters.

I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not planning on going back. I left the shop more frustrated than ever about the fact that The House Of Mouse now own Marvel & Star Wars.

I reflected that my previous positive toyshop experiences were both due to the willingness of brands/retailers to engage with feedback, listen to those seeking change, and take a good look at their offering. My negative experience was from a business that refuses to engage at all, seemingly convinced of its inherent right to marginalise women & girls, and from brands it didn’t even create, but acquired.

In conclusion: The Entertainer good, The Disney Store not good, and the LEGO shop? Well, they had me at female scientist minifigure set and was the only shop I spent money in.

So while this may have been an unscientific survey, in the end it was all about science.

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Watch Emma Watson Explain Why She’s a Feminist

Man Vs Pink:

If any guy reading this hasn’t seen Emma Watson’s speech yet – or at least read the text – then I implore you to do so. We need you to add your voice to drown out the dickheads who think that ‘feminism’ is a trigger for misogyny and abuse of our women and girls.

Originally posted on TIME:

British actress Emma Watson called on men and boys around the globe to join the movement for gender equality during a moving speech given in her role as U.N. Women global goodwill ambassador.

“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too — reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves,” she said at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Saturday.

The 24-year-old actress, who gained worldwide fame for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie franchise, was speaking as part of the HeForShe global solidarity movement to promote women’s rights and equality between the sexes.

See full video of her speech below.

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One Thing Kim Kardashian Is Really Doing Right with Baby North’s Clothing

Man Vs Pink:

Could gender neutral kids clothing be going mainstream?

Originally posted on TIME:

One of my goals for this summer was to organize the hundreds of family photos we’ve snapped since our oldest son was born 11 years ago. Our youngest son, C.J., is seven and has loved to help me sort through the photos – but he slows my progress to a crawl with endless questions about his baby pictures.

“Why did you make me wear a football jersey?”

“Who put me in a sweater with a train on it?”

“Why did you always dress me like a boy?”

“Because we thought you would be a boy who liked boy clothes and boy toys,” I reply matter-of-factly.

I’m not Kim Kardashian. I didn’t dress my babies and toddlers in gender-neutral clothing. Check out North West’s hipster mini wardrobe. Notice the black tank tops, the black and white stripped pants and the complete lack of anything pink. I wish I were more…

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