Open Letter of Rejection

girlboy

Dear PR,

Thank-you for your e-mail and the kind offer of review items.

From looking at the website and video, [Brand] appears to sum up every part of gender stereotyping in products aimed at girls that I support campaigns such as Pink Stinks, The Brave Girls Alliance and Let Toys be Toys to eradicate so although I could review them it’s unlikely that my review will be positive and therefore I will decline the offer.

[Brand] is aimed at young girls aged 4+. The marketing copy clearly states “[Brand] is every little girl’s dream!” No. It isn’t. Every little girl is a unique and fascinating individual with a complex mix of interests and emotions. Every little girl is not a gender stereotype.

I haven’t seen any of your actual products, but let’s look at your marketing video. [Brand character] states that she loves pink and lists the things she likes. This list consists of shoes, dresses, and hair. All these items relate to how girls look.

She introduces her best friend, who loves purple. Yet again girls have been limited to a palette of pink and purple ignoring the rich variety of colours that are actually available in the world.

The video continues, introducing [Brand character]’s little brothers. Two little boys who are playing in mud. [Brand character] says: Urgh, look at all that mess and dirt. Boys are trouble.

The message in this video is very clear. Girls should only be concerned with how they look, with being pretty, and remaining clean and tidy. No messy muddy games for our girls, oh no! Boys on the other hand, are disgusting creatures. What sort of message is this to be sending to young susceptible minds? It’s doing our girls and our boys a huge disservice.

The video ends with a list of activities that the girls like to do: singing and dancing; drawing; playing dress-up; fashion shows; pretend play.

My daughters do like crafts, and dressing up, and imaginative play. They also like climbing trees, digging the garden and playing with mud, construction toys, finding out how things work, combining different games together to create new ones, making a mess, and running around like they’re on fire. They like pink and purple. They also like red, and green, and blue, and yellow, and black, and every other colour in the rainbow or otherwise.

You may think that [Brand] is harmless fun for girls who are attracted to pink, dressing up, animals and crafts in the first place. However, it is impossible to raise a child in a vacuum and our children are being exposed to a media diet of gender stereotyping, which does nothing but harm. Focusing on girls’ looks and promoting boys as trouble does nothing but harm.

If you prime children or adults with messages about gender then gender differences become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, the author describes experiments where participants are primed with information either saying that a particular gender is better at a task, or that there is no gender difference, before taking certain tests; the mere mention of a gender difference affects performance in the tests. Children brought up to see girls portrayed one way and boys portrayed another will grow up with differences. Not because of innate difference, but because of the power of influence.

Part of my job as a parent is to nurture my children and help them grow to be whatever they want to be. In order to choose whatever they want to be, they need to see girls and women (and boys and men) in every type of role possible so that they do not take in the underlying message that girls are only fit for certain careers and interests, and boys for others.

My daughters, or any child, should not be made to feel that girls should only care about their looks, that mess is ‘ugh’ and only for boys. Boys should not be made to feel that they are ‘disgusting’, ‘horrid’, ‘trouble’ and the other characteristics that are piled on them.

Toys and books aimed at children should reflect all genders doing all interests and should be only segregated by interests. You like arts or dressing up or pretend play? Excellent. But that doesn’t make you a girl, or mean that you only get to use pink products.

Perhaps you see my blog logo containing pink as an endorsement that pink is for girls. I don’t. After all, pink is just a colour. The pink and orange pencils portray aspects of my daughters. They are vibrant, bright, creative, imaginative, and messy. They are unique and different; just like every other child.

I cannot endorse or condone a product which promotes such gender stereotyping, and I recommend that you look at the websites of Let Toys be Toys , The Brave Girls Alliance, Pink Stinks, and many others to see the messages from thousands of parents and educators, and most importantly children, who just want to have the option to be themselves, whatever gender they happen to be.

Many thanks again,

Anne-Marie
childledchaos.me.uk
@childledchaos

I didn’t actually send the bit not in pink; it’s not the PR’s fault that they were given this brand to promote…

21 comments

  1. Menai

    Bravo! So beautifully put. Am wondering whether I can try to explain to my inlaws why I don’t want them to buy the new Lego Friends (for GIRLS) for my daughter’s Christmas present. They’re on facebook so they must have seen my comments about it – back to the Lego of my childhood please – all the colours of the rainbow and all the imagination in the world…..
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    • ChildLedChaos

      I am tortured with Lego Friends. I hate the idea of pink and that’s all that girls are interested, and I’m sad that the minifigures aren’t the same, but Lego of my childhood isn’t the same as Lego today and Friends is like Ninjago etc to me. Not ‘real’ Lego anyway! Having seen a set in real life (belonging to a boy!) it was actually quite cool (a desk with laptop and lamp etc) but I do wish it wasn’t marketed at girls only, and I think that girls (and boys) should have a mix of everything, not just one thing that’s marketed at their gender! So far my girls (there I go again with the gendering!) only have my childhood Lego – all pirates, castles and space because that’s what I liked :-) Thank-you for the comment.

  2. Nikki Thomas

    Brilliant brilliant brilliant! It is true that the world of little girls is so pretty and pink and as a parent it is too easy to fall into that trap of stereotyping. My daughter does seem to have a natural affiliation with all thing a pink but that may well be my fault after three boys but I agree that the preoccupation with ‘pretty’ and looks is a worrying thing. A appears to be a girly girl but she is as tough as old boots and loves wrestling, playing nerd guns and playing football with her brothers so I am happy that she is a good mix. A brilliant post!
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    • ChildLedChaos

      It is too easy. Look at how I talk about ‘my girls’ on this blog, and give them nicknames with ‘girl’ in. I’ve fallen into the trap of making gender a huge part of who they are, when really gender is just one of our aspects as people. Delusions of Gender talks about ‘what if’ we defined people by left- and right- handedness in the same way? It’s a very interesting read. I was so ‘anti-pink’ before children but am a lot more neutral now. There’s a lot of pink in the house, and a lot of every other colour too :-) Thank-you for the comment.

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  4. ReadItDaddy

    Durned good post and hear hear. I tend to be a little more sarky and truculent about any PR regarding genderised items. Sometimes we’ll even review them specifically to point out that items that have been pushed as being boy or girl items are just enjoyed by children – regardless of their gender. Sometimes PR then cheekily ask for the reviews to be rewritten and at that point we part company with ‘em.

    Lego Friends – we like them, but not as Lego. C treats them as an extension of things like Playmobil etc, so it’s less about the building or creation and all about playing dolls houses / role playing with them. I guarantee though that if we took the bold move of mixing all those bricks in with the huge box of ‘normal’ lego we’ve got, she wouldn’t mind a bit – in fact some of the Lego Friends specific bits are great for space models!

    Ace post Anne-Marie, top stuff!
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    • ChildLedChaos

      Thank-you :-) I looked up bulk Lego on eBay as a potential Christmas present and it made me feel so old. All the kits from my childhood were labelled ‘vintage’. Cry! Pirates were released when I was 13 & I got some for my 14th birthday (I was young for my age, okay?!) but now they’re ‘vintage’. They were NEW! ;-)

  5. Ann Taylor

    Bravo. Mother of 3 children, (one girl, two boys) I very determinedly had non gender specific toys in the toy box. All my children wore all the colours in the rainbow. On a tight budget, clothes have to be passed down, regardless of gender, my daughter looked just as lovely in blue as as the boys! I am so disappointed that all the efforts of our grandmothers and great grandmothers to fight for equality are being undermined by this obsession to ‘pinkify’ girls.

    I climbed trees, played soldiers with my brother, played in the mud, and did a degree in Chemistry. Can’t say specifically this was because my mother didn’t dress me in pink but she definitely didn’t limit my horizons like these PR and media companies are trying to do to this latest generation. And don’t even get me started on the ‘PlayBoy’ branded accessories for girls.!!

    • ChildLedChaos

      Thank-you! It’s so hard to see my children who were interested in so many different things start to put themselves and their toys into ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ boxes. My four year old loves pirates, but she stops herself sometimes and says ‘pirates are for boys, I want to be a princess’ :-(

  6. Cecilia Busby

    Brilliant post – but I really think you should have sent the whole thing to the PR people. They need to realise that there’s a ground swell of opinion against these noxious gender stereotypes, and they should start steering their marketing departments in a more gender-neutral direction. You know what the bottom line is, though? If they have boy-exclusive toys/clothes and girl-excusive toys/clothes, most families have to buy two sets.

    • ChildLedChaos

      I must find the contact for the organisation and write to them directly. The PR was only in charge of sending out review products from what I could gather so I didn’t think she deserved my ire, but I will try to get the message to the correct department. Thank-you for your comment, and for visiting :-)

  7. Paula Harrison

    Hi Anne-Marie,
    I think you’ve written really thoughtful piece here. I wanted to add a dimension that annoys me. I often see tokenism in books and films for kids. My latest grumble is about ‘Justin and the Knights of Valour’ which is out soon. In the trailer (I haven’t seen the film) the girl character bounces on to the screen with the question ‘do you need a sidekick?’ I see this often at middle grade age bracket. As if the author./ film company is saying ‘it’s ok this book/ film is for girls too – see she’s feisty!’
    My point is that while the boy gets to be a 3D character with all kinds of facets to his personality, the girl just gets to be ‘feisty’. We need more fully dimensional female characters in films and books.
    This blog also interested me. I have used the word ‘girly’ as a pejorative myself but what message are we giving to kids of both genders who like these things?
    http://bookriot.com/2013/09/13/books-boys-books-girls-problems-gendered-reading/

    • ChildLedChaos

      I saw that trailer too, and thought exactly the same! I was going to use it as an example in another article I’ve not written yet ;-)

      The bookriot piece is also interesting. ‘Girly’ is seen as negative, but ‘boyish’ interests are more important. Today I heard a mother say to her son ‘you ran like a girl’ to mean he was scared (of a dinosaur – it was a book event with dressed up characters) It was just an offhand joke remark, casual everyday sexism that isn’t even noticed :-(

      • Paula Harrison

        Hiya! I wince when I hear that sort of thing. (‘you’re a big girl’s blouse’ – that sort of thing). My children (I have 2 girls like you!) have also started picking up homophobic language at school which upsets me as I have worked very hard to help them form open and equal views.
        I personally think that until we can value the ‘girly’ elements of our culture equally we’re always going to be at war with ourselves. I wonder if boys who are interested in games/ books/ subjects that are seen as ‘girly’ have the hardest time of all.

        • ChildLedChaos

          Boys definitely have it harder for some things. Girls are ‘allowed’ to choose ‘boy’ options, but a boy in a dress? A boy with a doll? A boy with makeup? Oh, no! Equality works both ways. With daughters I’m fighting on the female front, but supporting the male front too :-)

  8. griselda heppel

    Coming late to this I say hip hip HOORAY for your extremely well-written and intelligent response, also for the many apt comments I’ve just been trawling through. Sugar and Spice and all things nice vs Frogs and Snails and puppydog tails eh? You wonder where we’ve got to in the last 150 years.
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