Pink and blue R Us

Posted on: October 12, 2009

I just came across an article on The F-Word, a UK feminist blog, referring to a case in Sweden where some schoolchildren brought  a complaint against Toys R Us 2008 Christmas Catalogue to the Reklamombudsmannen because of what they saw as the store’s rigid and limit gender stereotyping – pink with the passive stuff  for girls (princess stuff, household chore stuff), blue with the active stuff for boys (action heroes, outdoor stuff, anything about science or nature).   The store was publicly reprimanded by the agency for its ‘narrowminded’ portrayal of children, ‘degrading to both genders’,  but the agency didn’t have any power to change anything.

Good on the Swedish kids, and their teacher.  The whole passive princess stuff seems way out of control to me, along with the incredibly girly clothes marketed to young girls.  It seems to be so COMPULSORY.  Yes, little girls might well like pink a lot (although not all do) but do they need to be wearing clothing and shoes that they can’t run in or play in or do anything much in?  I see families out in public all the time where the little boy has sandals with buckles held safely on his feet, and baggy shorts and a t-shirt – all great for running around and exploring, while the little girl has ridiculous shoes that it takes all her energy to walk in, and is wearing some frilly garment that restricts her movements – too long, too short, too precious – suitable only for sitting there looking pretty.

Here’s the link to the F-work article,   There is a link there to the original article in a Swedish newspaper.  I spent a while reading the comments on the original article  – it’s amazing how threatened so many people are by the suggestion that perhaps the gender roles shouldn’t be so rigidly described.  “Boys and girls are different” they kept saying, which is true enough, but boys and boys are different, and girls and girls are different.

It’s astonishing to me that there are still lots of people out there who really seem to believe that advertising and marketing reflect neutral objective values.  They can happily claim that the influence the Swedish teacher may have had on the students was ‘indoctrination’, while seeing the behaviour of Toys R Us (a giant multinational driven above all by profit) is just innocent Nature in action.

Interestingly, lots of the complainants assumed the teacher was male, even though neither article gave the teacher’s gender that I could see.  Very few referred to the teacher as ‘he or she’, just ‘he’.   It seems that the people complaining that it is ridiculous to talk of gender stereotyping happen to be stuck in the assumption that authority figures like teachers, are always male.  (Am I surprised?).


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