Remember the slightly bold marketing campaign of Yorkie a few years ago, that told us the chocolate bar ‘wasn’t for girls’. The one where TV ads showed us women attempting to purchase the chunky chocolate bar by glueing on fake beards, dressing up as builders with hard hats, and swaggering into corner shops asking (in deep, gruff, fake-male voice) for a “Yorkie please.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I took any offence from it. The ad campaign probably had the desired effect of generating media attention and was hardly likely to put a woman off eating a Yorkie because her gender specific sensibilities were in some way injured.
It would take a lot to ruffled my feminine feathers, so I surprised myself last weekend when a toy hoover got me thinking about my son’s future career.
I had taken my 22-month-old toddler to a local toy store to buy him a treat. I had in mind a toy hoover as he’s fascinated with the one at home and could happily spend an hour playing with it (and regularly terrorising the poor dog by chasing her with it). If truth be told, he’s driving me mad tearing the hoover around the house and launching it anything that gets in his way (me included) so I felt the time had come to invest in a smaller version of his own.
I became a little disconcerted when I finally tracked the toy hoover down to an aisle that contained toy imitations of numerous other household items, washing machines, cookers and so on. Because it felt like I had walked into a giant marshmallow – EVERYTHING was pink. What harm, I thought. My wee man hasn’t exactly expressed a preference for a favourite colour just yet.
To add insult to injury, however, the only toy hoover in stock was emblazoned with a ‘Girls Only’ logo. In fact, almost all of the toy household items were gender delineated, with pictures of little girls dressed in oh so pretty pink on the front of the boxes.
Now if anyone reading this is a woman who has done battle in her home over who’s turn it is to do the hoovering, I’m sure you can relate to how irked I was at this. How in the name of God are we to teach our sons that housework is not just women’s work, if he’s going to be gender stereotyped at such a young age??
I don’t think I’m being naïve here – I know it’s only a matter of time before he’s fully aware of the difference between an Action Man and a Barbie Doll. But I truly expected toys for young toddlers to be gender neutral.
In recent years, toymakers have been accused of widening the gap between the sexes by putting undue pressure on youngsters to conform to traditional roles. It’s true that the vast majority of toys aimed at little girls comes in sickly pink, pink and more pink and this incessant marketing drive is creating a generation of wannabee ‘little princesses’. Toys aimed at boys, on the other hand, overwhelmingly involve action, construction and machinery. In short, their play is designed to be exciting and stimulating, while the girls are perceived to be better suited at ‘playing house’.
A recent study on Gender, Toys and Learning, commissioned by the Froebel Educational Institute, expressed particular concerns about the impact of gender stereotypical play on children’s future subject preferences and job prospects. Girls are traditionally thought to be better at the literacy and humanities subjects, while boys outperform them at maths and science and the findings of the Froebel study suggest that early play has a crucial impact on these trends. Yet we continue to rear another generation of men from Mars and women from Venus. And while I would love my little boy to go far in whatever career he chooses for himself, I don’t fancy the reception he’ll get at home when he expresses the, by then, deeply ingrained view that hoovering is for ‘Girls Only’.