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Some people are feminine – get over it

10 September 2013

10 September 2013

In the latest victory against sexism, Toys ‘R’ Us is to stop labelling its products as being for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ after pressure from campaigners, joining such shops as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots, Harrods and Hamleys .

In its report the Huffington Post quoted a woman who sells engineering toys aimed at girls, who hopes to show it’s not just a ‘niche’ but rather they can ‘prove convention wrong’ by making it more mass market.

But what is wrong with being a niche market? One of the wonderful benefits of free-market capitalism is that it allows niches to flourish, so that people who once would have been forced into uncomfortable roles can instead find a place for themselves in the world.

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Plenty of girls do like engineering, plenty are tomboys in their tastes, but they’re quite a small minority, and so the big money goes with Princess Pink’s Fluffy Fairy Castle of Fluffiness.

If campaigners argued that it was somehow wrong for girls to be so feminine then it would at least be coherent; but the rationale here is that stereotyping girls’ and boys’ toys undermines females who want to choose more traditional masculine roles. Yet the evidence suggests that stereotype threat play a very small part in deterring women from male-dominated subjects, and that girls and boys typically like different things because their brains are typically different.

Whenever you have one group of people who believe one thing for ideological reasons, and another who believe something else because their business model depends on it, I tend to trust the latter. Who do you think knows more about the minds of girls and boys — the academics who’ve spent years discussing gender feminism, or people who sell toys?

But why, then, have toys in recent years become so hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine? We’ve simply become richer, and the market has expanded and diversified.

And the people who sell things have also become much better at understanding what consumers want, market research has become more of a science, and the internet and data mining have allowed a much clearer idea of the demography of consumer desire. (No one understands you better than your search engine, a window into the soul’s darkest recesses.)

Capitalists have no ideology, for better or worse (usually better), but occasionally now the reality of the market — which shows human difference in a way that upsets egalitarian liberals – means that they have to pay tribute to the priestly caste, in this case by making a sacrifice to the gods of diversity. It’s been an occupational hazard of shopkeepers since ancient times, but astute as they are, these shops will simply find different ways to target their customers. You can’t buck the market, because you can’t buck human nature.


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Show comments
  • Varcity

    Who can forget dools especially Barbie. I just wish that I could play with dolls forever.

  • Tricksy7

    “Whenever you have one group of people who believe one thing for ideological reasons, and another who believe something else because their business model depends on it, I tend to trust the latter”
    Really?
    Whenever you have a group of concerned parents tired of seeing their children forced-fed ridiculous ideas about how they should behave, and another who’s moral base is profit. I tend to trust the former.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Force fed? Oh dear. I bet you force feed your own children lots of ideas about how they should behave for ideological and moral reasons. Your comment reeks of it.

    • generic_screen_name

      It’s all good until mommy, daddy or some school counselor convince the child they’re really a girl trapped in a boys body or vice versa, based on what a child chooses to play with and then the parents and school begin to treat the child as such. Affirmative action is at play in schools just as much as the workforce, each school needs a quota of transgendered, gay, and lesbian children. We’ve seen plenty of cases of this over the past few years and they’re increasing. Society itself is suffering from Munchausen by proxy.

  • Fergus Pickering

    I had a doll and a teddy but according to my mother I used to goto bed with my clockwork railway engine. I remember it, and LNWR tank engine and a real goodie.

  • Fraga123
  • http://www.angryharry.com/ Angry Harry
  • Sue Ward

    As a child of the 70s I used to dress Sindy in clothes stolen from my brother’s Action Man. With a piece of black and white cloth wound round her head and an AK47 she was a freedom fighter against Barbie (not Klaus) who I had fetchingly biro tattooed with swastikas as well as cutting off all her hair. I am sure that says an awful lot about me!

    • Mr Grumpy

      Indeed, and it says that if kids really want to reject the stereotypes they will – thank goodness.

      • Sue Ward

        I think, as a parent, it is harder now. I hated pink as a girl and my mum hated dressing me in blue dresses but finding them wasn’t hard. Now when you shop for little girls, everything is pink. I still detest pink to this day!

        • Mr Grumpy

          I’m with you on that one and I’m sure I speak for Mrs G!

        • Colonel Mustard

          No, it’s not harder. There are just more intolerant idiots like the “Let Toys be Toys’ brigade who want to regulate everything.

  • Dan Grover

    I think it’s a little more nuanced than you’re suggesting, Ed. Is anyone actually against the idea of girls playing with barbies and boys playing with tanks? I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. What they DO have a problem with – and I agree with them – is the idea of adverts telling them that they SHOULD play with tanks if they’re a boy and barbies if they’re a girl. If you take away the gender-focus of advertising, it may well be the case that the boys still all choose tanks and the girls still all choose barbies, and that’s fine – but when did we get the idea that “successful sales techniques” are the same as “natural social order”? I don’t doubt that the people that sell toys know a lot about how childrens’ minds work, and they leverage that to sell toys, not to help fuel a society where kids can choose what toys they want without feeling like their choices are somehow wrong or weird and therefore best avoided.

    This is especially true for adverts aimed at children – we all agree that children don’t have well developed rational faculties, otherwise we’d let them drink, gamble, drive and join the army. They need to be protected from such things until they’re able to make up their own mind. This is just as true with advertising, and the problem isn’t really with what parents choose to buy them, it’s about what they want in the first place. It’s all well and good saying “well, we offered little Susie a Tank and she didn’t want it!” when she’s spent her formative years being repeatedly told that Tanks are for boys and if you’re a girl you must therefore like Barbies.

    Edit: In short, it’s silly to assume that the “differences” we see are some natural state when the people evoking them have been drilled with a specific message since they were kids. If it were the government doing it – say, if they were telling boys they should play with barbies and girls they should play with tanks in TV adverts – you’d all be up in arms saying that “this isn’t natural, the kids are being brain washed” – just because they are private companies doing it doesn’t mean the techniques are any less effective.

    • Sue Ward

      Excellent comment Dan. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    • Mr Grumpy

      You tell kids what they should do and they want to do it. Who knew parenting was so easy?

      • Dan Grover

        Who said anything about parenting? In fact, I specifically said it *wasn’t* about parenting.

        • Mr Grumpy

          So it only works that way for evil capitalists? Pity.

          • Dan Grover

            Yikes, are you really claiming advertising doesn’t work? And advertising to kids, no less? If you think I’m a pinko commie, you’re very much mistaken. My post history on here alone is a testament to my thorough belief in the free market. And this *is* the free market in action.

            • Mr Grumpy

              Depends what you mean by “work”. And I’m responding to your comment, not your tribal affiliation.

              • Dan Grover

                With all due respect, given your original comment had nothing to do with my actual post, I’m not sure you *are* responding to my comments.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  Your comment implied a “blank slate” view of children’s minds and my response was aimed at teasing out whether you held that view consistently. The follow-up suggests to me that you don’t.

                • Dan Grover

                  As in, for parents? Well, it’s not that simple, is it? I think children’s minds are basically a blank slate, yes – but the idea that, therefore, parents must be able to impress upon them anything they want is laughable. Adverts can’t do that, either. There are too many variables for that to be the case, obviously, and children (or, rather, teenagers) are apt to rebel against authority at times, and that includes their parents. They even rebel against TV adverts sometimes, which is why you get people that dislike Apple simply because they are popular and their adverts pretentious. But the issue we’re talking about here is instilled in the mind at a very early age. Indeed, the older kids get, the less toys that are aimed at them bother with gender differentiation. You don’t get specific mobile phones or tablets for boys and another for girls, except for very rare examples. If a parent tells their kids “Don’t do crack, it’ll ruin your life”, then they probably won’t – unless they have loads of other people telling them “Hey, you should try crack, it’s great and I can sell it to you.” But how many kids have an “alternate” view on gendered toys to offer a differing view on what toys are for them and what toys are for the other gender? When a girl sees countless barbie adverts which exclusively have girls on, or kiddies bike adverts where the pretty pink bikes with baskets always have girls riding them and the cool black ones with T-Rex’s on them have boys riding them – when a little girl sees these adverts 20 times a day in their formative years, who is there telling them – 20 times a day – that “hey, you can have the T-Rex bike too!”? That alternative *rarely* (though not never) exists.

                  I think I’m consistent in my views, but the situations aren’t consistent.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  “I think children’s minds are basically a blank slate, yes”
                  Little point continuing the argument, then. Except to say that Mrs G would have picked the T Rex bike no matter what the adverts showed. Now where did that come from?

                • Dan Grover

                  Maybe she really likes T-Rex’s. I specifically said “Adverts can’t [impress anything they like], either”. I said it’s complicated and there are lots of variables – the difference, though, is that advertising ones are contrasted far less frequently than many others. That doesn’t mean everyone is in thrall to advertising, but young kids are far fewer means to make up their own choices than adults.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …and thankfully, Minister, they’ll have you to make up their minds for them, if we’re lucky.

                  Now, if we can just get those pesky parent out of the way…

                • Mr Grumpy

                  As complicated as pre-Copernican cosmology.

                • Dan Grover

                  So it’s simple? Do you think that Mrs G was predisposed towards T-Rex’s, then?

                • Mr Grumpy

                  I don’t think the process of her becoming a unique human being began at birth. Do you think there’s no causal connection between her liking for T Rex’s and her almost total lack of interest in pink dresses?

                • Dan Grover

                  I think that, quite quickly, people begin to grow identities and identifying with a certain thing – like Dinosaurs – may mean that they’re less likely to identify with other things – like pink. What informs both these identities *and* what one identity may preclude is the complex and vast bit, with a million and one different influences, from television to music to advertising to parenting to schooling and their friends, like some cosmic dialectic. So there may well be a connection between her liking T-Rex’s and not liking pink, but that doesn’t mean it was somehow pre-determined in the womb (or earlier!) If advertising didn’t have an effect, it’s unlikely it would exist, after all, and it seems unlikely that such a thing could encourage a person into buying *something* but not a specific product. So I think the best that can be said for gendered advertising is that they’re following trends rather than creating them, which is OK but it does rather suggest that if they *don’t* do this, as Toys R Us have opted to do, nothing will change anyway. And I won’t lose any sleep if that’s the case! I just don’t want them reinforcing things.

                  I agree, it’s been fun!

                • Mr Grumpy

                  No time for any more. Enjoyed the exchange of views, have a pleasant evening.

                • terregles2

                  Think toys for little girls are being replaced by boy bands. Hordes of little girls some as young as 6 squealing around a One Direction pop up store has become the norm. It is a very lucrative market. One Direction phenomenal success, nothing to do with advertising of course. It is their raw and unique talent.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, it is about parenting. These are not your children, lad. Your authoritarian skirt is showing.

          • Dan Grover

            It’s authoritarian to support the choices of private companies? I think you’ll find that’s the free market in action, lad.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Yes, of course, comrade.

              Wink wink.

              😉

    • Colonel Mustard

      “They need to be protected from such things until they’re able to make up their own mind.”

      Ah. And that is different from telling them what they should play with, eh? Could you point me to one of these adverts that say girls “should” play with Barbie and boys “should” play with tanks?

      • hm1

        Have a look at the Let Toys be Toys website. Plenty of examples.

        • Mr Grumpy

          No examples of “shoulds” that I can see. Plenty of examples of boys and girls playing respectively with the kinds of toys that as a matter of fact they do tend to play with – as any child can work out by looking at their friends. Do we need to raise kids in solitary confinement?

          • hm1

            Should is inherent in labeling. Plenty of examples on the page and twitter feed starting with books labelled “how to be a princess” under a title Girls Books, and “how to be an astronaut” under the title Boys books.

            ETA: I don’t agree with every example there. Having princess pink craft boxes is fine. Having it under a label saying “girls toys” is not.

            • Mr Grumpy

              Did you read the piece above the line? People who sell toys are not interested in “shoulds”, they’re interested in selling toys.

              • hm1

                Absolutely, I agree they are interested in selling as many toys as possible, hence they want two lots of toys in a house with girls and boys. No hand me downs, no sharing. That is how they gain from this type of marketing.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  Yes, I remember how my little brother never got any toys of his own and never wanted any.

            • Colonel Mustard

              “Should is inherent in labeling.”

              Ha ha ha ha! It never occurs to you that people looking for presents might use that labelling as a convenient search criteria? Only a fascist would view such labelling as “not fine”. In case you hadn’t noticed boys and girls are different.

              • hm1

                Boys and girls are different. But not all girls are the same as each other and not all boys are the same as each other.

                I am sure some people do find it easy to think, I have a niece, I’d better buy her something for a girl as so look for girl’s toys. It is shame they aren’t looking to buy her something she would like because they know what she, as that specific child, would like.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …sounds like there’s need for another government department here: “Minister of Correctly Diverse Proportions and Opportunities for Gender Selections for Gifts Given to Children”.

                  This Department will require an enforcement arm as well. Some parents may rebel and buy what they want to buy. They will have to be dealt with.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  They are amazing aren’t they? How they suck the life out of innocence in the name of protecting it.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, and their favorite method these days seems to be authoritarianism by quango, which attempts to give a “free market” and “private” veneer to a largely statist effort. That’s what will be inflicting all of this toy business, you may depend.

                  For the children, of course.

                  You have to admire their ability to develop oppressive government bureaucracy, by stealth. It’s clever and powerful how it’s done these days. Marcusean methods are the most effective of all, I’d say. I submit that if Lenin and Stalin and Hitler and Mao had gone this route, millions might have survived, with just as much progress towards their thefts of freedom and liberty as was historically experienced. I’d offer up the entire West as proof of that theory.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Well then, if that is the case labelling “should” not be an issue and you “should” wind up your very silly campaign.

                  “Let Categories be Categories”.

                • Icebow

                  Of course they’re different. Only a very rare woman would make an effective infantryman or fireman, and that very success would amount to a sad anomaly.

                  As regards equality, someone has already noted that women tennis players, having secured equal prize money with the men, have not been conspicuously eager to play the same number of sets, even though women marathon runners run the same number of miles, etc.. This unfair time-saving, again as pointed out already, enables the best women to make more money from the doubles tournaments than the best men have time for. This amounts to sexist discrimination. It would seem incontestable: they should play five sets, or revert to proportional prize money.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Whether they are looking for something specific or not, know her well or not, it means nothing. It is of no more consequence than the categories of goods anywhere and to make it the “cause” of an ideological campaign is asinine. Those who want to buy the toys they want, whether adult or child, have always done so.

                  This isn’t about the children. It is just more political feminism inventing problems that don’t exist and then screeching about them in order to intimidate companies into toeing the line. It is about orchestrated disapproval by women which these days companies and governments are terrified of.

        • Alexandrovich

          Do mothers have to encourage their young daughters to clomp about in shoes six sizes too big?
          Have fathers had to hide their shoes from their young sons?

    • hm1

      What Dan said!

    • Hexhamgeezer

      What’s that they say about the Grauniad? Wrong about Everything, All of the Time

      • Dan Grover

        I think Haxhamgeezer is a lovely guy!

        Oopsie!

      • Icebow

        Australia, then Norway, move rightwards. One day, the bonfire of ‘political correctness’, please God. It would be such fun to invent suitable punishments for Grauniad writers.

    • Sir Andrew Groan

      Absolutely. Ed’s a hack, desperate to peddle a bogus tale of common sense traditionalism valiantly battling the barmy PC brigade. Read his awful book and you’ll see more of the same. It’s based on the same flawed Christian fundamentalist ideas that motivate other (deeply unchristian) buffoons to guff on endlessly about how great the free market is, until that free market brings immigrants to your country.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Sounds like what’s needed is a Minister of Advertising Correctness. You’d be perfect for the job.

      Of course, there will always be offenders to your benevolent standards of correctness, so you’ll have to have an enforcement arm, and maybe some drones and armored cars, with assault teams and body armor, to smash into offending advertising agencies and studios, who’ve dared promulgate the offending imagery. Their hard drives can be smashed with sledgehammers, to completely destroy all this offensive material, scourge to us all. That’ll slow ’em down, hopefully.

      Then, you’ll need armies of bureaucrats, to scour the public square, the internet and all airwaves, and seek out the malefactors who offend your sensibilities, Minister.

      It’s a doable task. We can silence these evil people. We should get started.

      • Dan Grover

        I didn’t once mention the state or the government, Lord Mr Gin, Sir. This was a wholly private initiative on the behalf on Toys R Us – supporting their action does not make me wish a Ministry of Advertising Correctness.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          But as you’ve rightly said, “the children” need to be protected, and you know exactly how, Minister.

          We have a duty to seek out and destroy the evil speech.

          • Dan Grover

            I don’t know what you want me to say. I can’t argue against what’s in your head. I don’t support the government banning gender based advertising, I just support companies that opt not to do it. Can I make it any clearer for you, or have you had a long, wet lunch today?

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Yes, but this scourge must be stopped now, Minister. We must lead and save the children. It is an imperative.

              Only you know what speech is incorrect, and requires banning. Fine to start slow, as long as we get to the proper place, where all the incorrect speech is completely destroyed.

              • Dan Grover

                Satire works best when you’re actually making a point. But let’s ask a question, shall we?

                Let’s say there was a song released, and the title was “I love Raping White Girls”. It was by a British-Asian rap outfit called “The Bradford Bummers” from their hit album, “Full Fat Milk for me, Mohammed!” Their hit song, all about their joy in first grooming, then raping, then sexually exploiting for money, young, white girls from the Bradford area was shooting up the charts.

                As a die-hard supporter of free speech you would no doubt rally in the streets against anyone seeking to ban the song, or use the strong arm of your own imagined Ministry of Advertising Correctness to stop it’s advertising on TV, radio and the internet. You wouldn’t want that, of course. But would you call those that said that they supported iTunes for refusing to sell it as “authoritarian”? Would the independent record shop down the road that refused to stock it be accused of trying to enforce their own view of “correct speech” on the people?

                I get it. You don’t think they should stop advertising certain products to boys and some to girls. That’s OK, gin. You’re allowed to think that. I disagree. It doesn’t make me an authoritarian – but I support businesses that do things I like, and I refuse to support those that don’t. That is the way of the free market.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  I don’t do hypotheticals, Minister. They’re a distraction to what’s really important to you and I, which is to silence these evil people who are out there in public right now, being evil, and evilly speaking.

                  The evil ones need to be silenced. It’s for the children. Why, even now, children are hearing speech that you know full well is evil for them to hear. There isn’t a moment to lose, Minister.

                  It’s for the children.

                • Dan Grover

                  I’ll take that as a concession and recommend you have an early bath this evening!

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  That reminds me, Minister. I need to check my bathtoys to make sure they’re in compliance with Departmental directives, in case you send around the block captains to check.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  Time to roll out the overwrought moral equivalence. Which kind of breaks down over the detail that rape is a serious crime, whereas gender stereotyping isn’t. It doesn’t sound like you personally want to make it one, but I think you’ll find that for a lot of the people campaigning on this the ultimate goal is legislation.

                • Dan Grover

                  Then I’ll join you in complaining at those people. In the mean time, I’m confused at why people keep calling me an authoritarian for my views on what free companies choose.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, it’s likely we’ll have to deal with these people who are confusing you, Minister. They’re probably the same evil people you’re valiantly working to silence.

                  For the children’s sake, of course.

  • Muzeli

    Lego was great, so was doing jigsaw puzzles. Not sure if these are boys toys or unisex, but I enjoyed them and I don’t remember playing with dolls.

  • Mr Grumpy
    • anneallan

      Fascinating. Apparently if men have big testicles, they father children while they are only toddlers themselves. (Or Beeb journalists are crap at their job.)

  • Colonel Mustard

    What really ever stopped a Mumsnetrix from buying an engineering set in a blue box and marked as being “for boys” for her daughter?

    Disapproval ideology in the market place follows disapproval ideology in the law. Those who pursue it won’t stop so it will eventually permeate everywhere until the peculiar world they wish to fashion prevails and supposed “limiting” stereotypes are replaced by the force of law and regulation predicated on approval or more often disapproval of other stereotypes. Mao did something similar with unisex suits. He would be pleased that his cultural revolution is being re-played 47 years later, 5,000 miles from China and by those from a class who were once the victims of it.

  • dalai guevara

    Pink and blue striped underpants.
    It confuses people like Hull.

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