Four years ago, I was living in New Zealand, enjoying my first few months of being a stay-at-home dad.
Like many, I had an interest in the US Presidential race and given the NZ/US time difference I remember watching the presidential debates live in the afternoon – my then baby daughter transfixed by the screen (we didn’t tend to have the TV on during the day).
Four years later and we’re back in the UK. I’m just as keen to watch the debates, only they are now in the very early morning. I record them and watch before my wife and now 4-year-old daughter wake up. Only for the second debate, my daughter woke up early.
When she came downstairs, I turned the TV off. I didn’t turn it off because I thought she might be bored. On the contrary, she would likely be asking me lots of questions about it.
That was the problem.
I would have to discuss issues of sexual assault, objectification, male privilege, and fat shaming. With a 4-year-old. And I would have to explain why a man as reprehensible as Donald Trump is in contention to becoming the most powerful elected leader on the planet.
My wife and I like to engage our daughter in the political process. For example, I have always taken her to vote with me (and we always vote). If this were a ‘normal’ US election, I would happily let her watch and listen to news reports and the like, and answer any questions. But not this time.
It isn’t just the debates. We like to listen to BBC Radio 4 in the mornings. My daughter always requests we turn it to Radio 2 (middle aged before her time), so we usually compromise and I keep listening to Radio 4 for a while. Not anymore, the radio’s on the music filled Radio 2 before she’s in the room.
Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ gaffe seems so quaint now, sexism from a bygone age. Yet it was just four years ago.
The thing I finally noticed about Trump in the last debate is that he acts like a badly behaved toddler. He’s petty, impatient, sees unfairness everywhere, and constantly complains to mum and dad (the moderators) about everything. He also gets frustrated at his inability to win arguments with valid reasoning, so resorts to lies, bluster, and bullying.
In answer to the question posed in the title – I simply can’t explain Donald Trump to my daughter. Or more to the point, I don’t want to just yet. So I’m going to let her sit this one out.
There will be a time to talk to her about men like Trump, and the way they view women. But hopefully it will be in the context of how he failed to become US president. Because if not, that conversation is going to be a whole lot tougher.
Writing this post, I was reminded of these Hillary Clinton campaign ads:
If the toy industry were at all sympathetic to our issues with the false idea that there are girls and boys toys, we wouldn’t have to keep complaining. But is it fair to criticise them?
Recently, kids brand consultant – and father of 2 girls – Steve Reece (@nevetseceer) wrote this piece on it. Let’s just say it lost me at labelling those like myself, who disagree with the concept of girls and boys toys, as ‘bandwagon jumping opportunists’ – and it went downhill from there. I shared it on Twitter, tagging Steve, and he & others responded.
Rarely does anything useful or constructive result from people with entrenched opposing opinions debating online. This was no exception.
As the twitter back & forth ensued, there were many of his points I failed to adequately address or respond to. Other people, notably scholar Elizabeth Sweet, had a more meaningful contribution. Here’s my tweet, followed by a sub-edited version of the ensuing conversation about girls and boys toys.
Carrie Proctor: Does Steve Reece not see that children pick certain toys because they’re taught to do so by society?
Steve Reece: I agree with you…kids choose toys based on societal influence…majority of parents see boys and girls toys still
Carrie Proctor: That’s why we try to get toys for our daughter in bright primary colours. She’ll pick her own favourite one day. 🙂 (Favourited by SR)
Enter Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, a Postdoctoral Scholar whose current research focuses on gender and children’s toys. So far more qualified than me/most in this area.
Dr. Elizabeth Sweet: My research finds that toys are far more gender segregated and stereotyped now than ever before. Simply not true that toys have always been so gender defined nor that they have to be.
My initial tweet also provoked this response from freelance writer Lisa Granshaw.
(ICYMI – Steve’s hashtag reads: Reflecting current reality, not saying it should be that way, just that it is)
Elizabeth Sweet initially responded (before I butted in).
Elizabeth Sweet: Actually, not a reflection of current reality if you look at demographic & attitudinal measures in re: to gender. I would revise this piece I wrote in 2012 to say that gendering today is far more extreme than in ’50s.
Steve Reece: Really…? Difference between what people say hypothetically versus Behaviour measured by what sells…?
Elizabeth Sweet: When you only offer people one choice (e.g. highly gendered toys), is it surprising that they choose it?
Me: (To Steve) Chicken/Egg. They buy what you sell. I’d buy more female Star Wars & superhero toys if sold.
Steve Reece: You may buy, but are there enough like minded to justify tooling etc? Toy companies supply to demand.
Me: How do you know girls won’t buy/play Star Wars/Marvel, when they’re labeled as ‘boys’ brands?
Elizabeth Sweet: Toy companies are actively shaping demand by offering few and narrow choices vs. responding to it.
Steve Reece: Are there no female characters in those films? Male character sell by far most toys…
Me: Black Widow practically airbrushed from most Avengers merchandise; same with Leia and Star Wars. And both clearly defined as ‘boys’ brands by licensees and retailers, therefore excluding girls
Steve Reece: Commercial reality = if paying major license fees toy companies want every product that will sell.
Me: In the meantime, risk averse toy companies are excluding girls. Where’s the child development in that?
Steve Reece: Hard to stay in biz if don’t sell products made…no child development then?
Me: ICYMI – “Opportunist commentators have jumped on this bandwagon to blow their own trumpets, and… advance their own ends.” Nice Steve Reece.
Steve Reece: Demonising toy industry which positively contributes to development of billions of kids globally, for supplying demand. Also nice.
Me: What’s positive for girls who think science sets, doctors kits, or toolboxes are for boys – because they’re not pink? Not just toy industry – clothes, books, magazines, it’s a problem with most things being sold to kids.
Me: (to Steve) I will never buy into your argument that sexism is justified to sell toys. Is racism too? The removal of Gamora from so much Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise is appalling. But you think that’s ok?
And there the conversation ended, and I’m glad it did as there was nowhere new I was able to take it.
If this is the attitude of the toy industry to our concerns with the notion of girls and boys toys then we have a long way to go, no matter what lip service they pay to our issues with their gender categorisation, and screening of licensed characters by gender – such as the aforementioned cases of Princess Leia, Black Widow, and Gamora being absent from a large chunk of movie tie-ins.
The citing of market research and of responding to consumer demand – without acknowledging the industry’s role in skewing those results through their marketing, or creating that demand – is frustrating.
These companies choose to create products for children, which as far as I’m concerned means they have a responsibility to not only make a profit, but – at the very least – to not negatively impact our children’s lives. It’s not much to ask, and the two things are not mutually exclusive.
And frankly, the idea that the likes of Hasbro, Mattel, or Disney might go out of business if they and retailers sorted and labelled toys by type or function instead of gender, is laughable.
But these industry behemoths do need to evolve their offering, for their own sake. Take Barbie, the queen of the pink aisle. Her global sales have significantly dropped in four of the last five quarters, and for an even longer period in the US (about 2 years). Some of Mattel’s initiatives, like the Barbie Project are interesting. Others, like putting her on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, are troubling.
However, if the choice really is as Steve Reece claims, between these companies survival or our children’s positive development, then I’ll happily wave bye bye to Optimus, Mickey, and Barbie.
The toy industry’s ability to generate profit does not supersede our children’s rights to grow up without having profit-motivated limits placed on their imaginations, aspirations, and ambitions. But there is no reason the removal of these limits and the industry’s profits cannot happily co-exist. If anything, it will become necessary for both parties to flourish.
Oh, for another perspective on the issue of girls and boys toys, please read this excellent post from someone who is at the frontline of all this – working at a toy shop! His point is a very perceptive one that has lead me to question how I would shop as a parent in this situation.
Pink is a girls colour. Why do people think it shouldn’t be? Girls love to dress in pink, to play with pink toys, to have pink rooms filled with pink things – it’s just a fact that pink is for girls. They still have plenty of choices – just as long as it’s in pink.
While it’s unlikely that girls do indeed have a predilection for pink, the marketing-industrial complex is very clear: “Pink is for girls”, and they keep churning out their wares targeted at them.
It’s all too easy to have or buy our girls ‘plenty’ of pink things. The big problem is one of smallness – the focus of what these things are remains relatively narrow, and this is potentially limiting our girls imaginations, opportunities, and ambitions. It’s for us as parents, and our children themselves, to set any parameters – not those trying to sell us things.
I completely buy into this line of reasoning. I avidly support the aims of campaigns such as Pink Stinks and Let Toys Be Toys. I like to think I am very studious about not buying pink things for my daughter. I am very clear with family & friends, ‘Please don’t buy her anything pink’ (she still gets pink pressies of course, and we are very grateful for peoples’ generosity!).
Anyway, I’m a total hypocrite, because when I see cool things for my daughter – that also happen to be pink – I’m powerless to resist:
And how can I complain about a pressie tee like this:
And always on the lookout for apparel with cool & confident female role models, this hat ticked all the boxes – well, apart from the non-pink one. And it just went so well with that cardigan…
Tricky eh? So despite all my great intentions, far too often I still ended up dressing my daughter like this – not what I intended at all when the great parenting adventure began.
And she’s not even at pre-school yet. I’m guessing it’s only going to get much worse when peer pressure kicks in – currently her cultural icons include Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Toy Story, and Totoro. I fear it’ll be all Angelina Ballerina and Peppa Pig before too long. So I’m beginning to think I need another front of attack against pink. Or do I?
In my early teens, I happily wore my pink Pringle jumper, or a pink tee under a suit jacket (the Sonny Crockett look). It was the eighties, and that was the style (as much as a teenage geek knows about style). But as the nineties dawned, I felt like a fool for wearing a ‘girls’ colour, and I swore an oath – I really did – to never wear pink again. And I haven’t.
As the years marched on, I pitied those fools who came into work with a pink shirt, or the people with grown up jobs wearing pink ties. I wouldn’t even wear shirts that were red and white patterned – because from a distance, they looked pink.
Pink was a girl’s colour, and I didn’t want to wear a girl’s colour.
Except pink ISN’T a girls colour. That underlines this whole issue. It’s just a colour like any other, and perhaps I need to embrace that rather than always fight it.
I think it’s time for me to break my oath, or make a new one: I need to wear pink.
In fact, I would like all men need to wear pink, and it would be great if parents could dress our sons in pink too. If the all-powerful marketing-industrial complex is going to continue to tell our girls that pink things are the only things for them, we need to subvert that. One way is encouraging our boys – and men – to play and dress pink too.
So I at least need to add pink to my wardrobe. Because pink isn’t a girls’ colour. It’s just a colour like any other. I reckon it might even suit me. Like it does my daughter.