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Campaigners have won a small victory: Ladybird Books have promised to remove ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ labels on their titles.
There are only six titles (out of hundreds) where this still applies, but every little helps, right?
In our enlightened 21st century society, complaints about gender-based marketing are commonplace. The promotion of outdated stereotypes is prevalent during the likes of CITV and Milkshake, where pink dolls’ houses, animal rescue sets and secret journals are abundant, presided over by smiling girls with immaculately straight hair and Hello Kitty knapsacks.
Meanwhile the boys get water cannons, putrid green slime and board games that encourage you to pick the nose of a giant plastic head.
Except parents – and their children – are fighting back. Books featuring Barbie are rewritten to inspire girls. Requests for supermarkets to stop gender-categorising their toy aisles are prevalent.
And a seven-year-old sent a letter to Lego earlier this year, which eventually launched a whole new product line.
But it does seem to be closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
How dare the toy companies (we seem to be saying) embark on a marketing campaign that clearly works? How dare they sell things in a manner that taps into at least a couple of base gender impulses?
Now, I’m not saying that all boys like slime and all girls like pink. Not by a long shot. But lots do.
And while it’s easy to accuse toy and book companies of creating the market, rather than responding to it, I think the most they could be accused of is propagating a vicious circle, rather than actually starting anything.
I believe in effecting change where it matters, but I can’t help thinking that our energies ought to be redirected.
Because all the time we’re complaining about gender-based marketing and pink displays in toy shops, who’s actually looking at this stuff? That’s right, our children.
Oh, we can refuse to take them shopping. But that only works for so long, until they grow up. And unless we can get the juggernaut moving in some sort of mass boycott, which seems highly unlikely in an age where everyone is simultaneously connected but fractured, gender-based marketing is not going to go away.
It will not do so unless people vote with their feet, and call me cynical, but I just don’t think we’re sufficiently organised.
Instead, what if we were to actually engage with our children on this by having a constructive conversation about advertising?
Who is going to challenge the stereotypes about pink if not the parents? If someone gives you a doll’s house, have the girls fight off invading zombies. If someone gives you a Dalek, have it hold a crocheting contest with Emperor Zurg from Toy Story.
There are ways and means. Let’s leave the publishers and toy companies alone, not because they don’t deserve our consternation, but simply because in its current form it’s chronically misdirected.
You want to effect change? It doesn’t start with rants on Facebook pages. It starts on your living room floor, surrounded by dolls and secret agent kits, where Barbie is learning how to fix a steam engine while Spider-Man serves up tea.
Sometimes you can do far more good by parenting than you ever could by protesting.