October 27, 2013

IconSugar and spice versus slugs and snails

“Sugar and spice and all things nice” is apparently what little girls are made of, whereas boys are largely comprised, so the old rhyme goes, of “slugs, snails and puppy dogs tails”. 

Apart from being highly anatomically dubious, not to mention very disparaging to boys, this rhyme is the epitome of the gender stereotype.  Girls are lovely and sweet and should like sitting around and stroking bunny rabbits and kittens, whereas boys are dirty, muddy little animals who like nothing better than running around a football pitch or spearing the occasional unsuspecting antelope.

We all know some males / females who fit in with these ideas, but then we also equally know many who don’t; neither form of behaviour is any more ‘normal’ than the other and, in an ideal world, all children should grow up with this understanding.  Brilliant.  But then a multi-national company like Kinder Surprise comes along.

Kinder’s gender error

Kinder Surprise is currently embroiled in a stereotyping row after their introduction of pink and blue eggs into the UK confectionary market.  The idea here, as you may have guessed, is that pink eggs will contain traditionally ‘girly’ products such as dolls and the blue eggs will contain more ‘boy-friendly’ products, like toy cars.

Campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, a seemingly successful group who aim to discourage the promotion of gendered toys in major retail outlets, have already expressed their disappointment in Kinder’s approach to the children’s market.


He-Man: great sword action

Now when I initially heard this news my initial reaction was outrage.  The socialisation of children is so important and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes such as this will only serve to alienate and confuse children who aren’t interested in the ‘right’ kind of toys for their gender.  Personally I have very happy memories of playing with my Barbies and A La Carte Kitchen, but then I have equally happy memories of playing with He-Man (he’s nowhere near as hot as Barbie but, seriously, you should check out his sword action…).

Individual responsibility?

I don’t ever recall my mum telling me I couldn’t have a He-Man, even though during the 80s it would have undoubtedly been in the ‘boys section’ of the toy shop.  I’m actually not even sure if it was mum who bought it for me, or someone else.  What I do know is that I had that toy and, ultimately, that was a parental decision made by my mum.  She could have refused to buy it, or to let someone else buy it, or simply taken it away.  But she didn’t.

So isn’t this really more about individual parental decisions, rather than a media image portrayed by manufacturers?  Ferrero (the company who make Kinder Surprise eggs) can paint their packaging any colour they like, but if parents are happy to let their little boy or little girl have any colour egg they damn well want, where is the power in that marketing ploy?  Is it not the case that the very existence of groups like Let Toys Be Toys shows that the individual is intelligent enough to make their own decisions about this and therefore the media images with which we are presented don’t really matter?

An open-minded culture

Or maybe that’s just naïve.  In an ideal world the scenario I have described above would be fine, but sadly we do live in a media age where adverts, celebrity endorsements and social media are far more likely to influence the majority of decisions than common sense.  Like it or not, our whole culture is shaped by media images and influences and it is our duty as responsible citizens to make our culture as enlightened and open-minded as possible.

So, ultimately, I agree with the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, and in particular I agree with the opposition to Kinder’s latest gender-specific offering.  This is a relatively small thing, in the grand scheme of gender / sexuality related issues that exist worldwide.  However, my mantra as a teacher has always been that if the small issues are addressed quickly, the bigger issues will never rear their heads, and I believe the same is true in this case.  Let us, as a society, raise open-minded, caring children who see, not the media-invented limitations of being male or female, but the unlimited opportunities of being a human being.



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Sue Curley


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