It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means that the over-commercialisation of what should be primarily a religious and family-oriented holiday is in full-swing.
What we need is a bit more peace on earth and mercy mild, a bit less of the ubiquitous “must-have” lists.
For parents, navigating the relentless onslaught of toys – what your child wants, where you can get it, whether you can afford it – is made all the more unpleasant by the increasingly gendered toy market (yes, that means you, Lego – since when is ‘Girls’ a category alongside ‘Vehicles’, ‘Books’ and ‘Robotics’? ).
This year, as a special pre-yultide gift to me, Sweden’s Toys ‘R’ Us has published a gender-neutral Christmas toy catalogue. This has caused quite a furore abroad but, for the life of me, I cannot work out why people feel so insecure in their own sense of gender and threatened by this catalogue . Take a look and decide for yourself.
The catalogue, created by TOP-TOY, which runs dozens of Toys ‘R’ Us stores across northern Europe, shows a boy taking a doll’s temperature (below), a girl shooting a Nerf machine gun(above), and boys and girls together using a play kitchen, a small ironing board, and a doll’s changing table. What on earth is the fuss about? It’s not as if TOP-TOY has given little girls penises.
Toys R Us
In the above photo, we see a little boy taking a doll’s temperature. While more women than men are now becoming doctors, surely healthcare is not the exclusive realm of the fairer sex?
Photo: Toys R Us
All sorts of women shoot for sport. Just ask the Queen, Sarah Palin, Mrs Moneypenny, or Annie Oakley.
And if a toy catalogue can help children to get the message early on that it takes two to have a family, all the better. Men can cook, clean and change nappies. Plenty of them do – and not just our blond friends to the north.
Thomas Pascoe slams the Swedish Toys ‘R’ Us for its bid to be “gender-neutral”, saying that for all of Sweden’s drive for equality by law, the reality is less than equal. He cites the fact that women still earn less than men in Sweden. Fair point.
But where Mr Pascoe believes this is a sign that women should return to their “social role as mothers” (I’m pretty sure that never went away, Mr Pascoe, unless Swedish men are now giving birth… in which case, I hate being pregnant – it’s uncomfortable ! nothing fits! no-one takes you seriously as a worker or human being – and am moving to Sweden immediately), I believe continued inequality is a sign that things like the purposefully egalitarian effort in the Toys ‘R’ Us catalogue are still needed.
If you actually look into why TOP-TOY pursued an egalitarian agenda in its Christmas catalogue, you learn that they simply wanted to reflect the way children actually play. In a statement on the company’s website, Thomas Meng, the company’s retail marketing director, says : “We want our catalogues to reflect the way that boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them. If both girls and boys in Sweden like to play with a toy kitchen, then we want to reflect this pattern.”
This follows a 2008 complaint lodged by a group of 12-year-olds with the country’s advertising ombudsman about the “outdated gender roles” in a Toys ‘R’ Us catalogue, according to The Local, Sweden’s English-language newspaper.
As far as I can tell, the bottom line here is that some Swedish children got what they wanted, and TOP-TOY has got a lot of free publicity, which I’m quite happy to add to, as I think their mission is really without guile; they are, as they say, responding to the market.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with showing girls playing with dolls, or boys with cars.
I had a whole arsenal of dolls as a child and, if she shows an interest, my daughter will, too. Dolls – even Barbies – are a great vehicle for creative play for children. But I spent most of my time as a child making clothes for my dolls, as I was a keen sewer and was more interested in creating things than pretending I was a baby’s mother. I created Marie Antoinette-style outfits for the Barbies, whose figures came in top corseted form, though I would rather prefer that my daughter play with dolls exhibiting a more realistic body type – like this Lottie doll .
Dolls are fine. Tea sets are fine. Cars are fine. Water pistols are fine. Go with what your child wants.
Our obsession with gender association is pathetic. My daughter wears a lot of blue. She wears an olive-coloured jacket with a fur collar, the inside label of which clearly reads: John Lewis boy (she runs outside a lot. I wasn’t about to buy a bubble-gum pink wool frock coat). She also has a very pink stuffed pig that serves as a constant sidekick between the hours of 6pm and 7am, and shows a precocious interest in shoes. She’s young, confident, chooses what she likes, and is, thus far, seemingly oblivious to gender distinction. Long may it continue.
My child, had she the words, would be begging Father Christmas for a scooter . She tries to steal them from older children regularly at the park. She’s 16 months old. Things with wheels are at the top of her agenda. But do you know what? I’m so tired of this gender obsession that I think I may just avoid blue and pink altogether, and buy her one in a sleek, minimalist black scooter. That would be very Batman.
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