Sunday, 13 July 2014

Being a girl.

As a girl, from the very first moment that you begin to walk and talk you are bombarded with images of what you are supposed to be. Toys, clothes, everything is pink. Possibly the sickliest colour known to man dominates our life and choices, even as a child. If you've ever been to 'Toys R Us', you will completely understand what I am about to say. From the moment you step into the shop, you immediately know which are the 'girls' toys and which are the boys. The shop is split into two distinct colours; one aisle bright pink, the next blue. As you wander down the 'girls' aisle it's easy to understand why girls as young as five worry about their weight [1] as stick-thin dolls line the shelves in provocative clothing.

Although these toys are not labelled as being for  'girls' or 'boys' it's easy to understand where the stance of the companies that make these toys lie. The simple message is 'Girls, if it's not pink you shouldn't be playing with it.' and for a child, that is an incredibly confusing concept. Why should your choice of toy depend on the colour of it? And since when did being a girl mean you were attracted to all things shiny and sparkly? They're girls, not magpies. To look into this I went on the 'Toys R Us' website to look at the marketing used to ploy young children and make them make choices that aren't really their own.

I thought looking at the 'dress-up costumes' might give me an idea of the gender stereotypes placed on children, and they did. This image shows a 'boys' pirate costume placed directly above a 'girls' wedding dress. I believe that these gender stereotypes effect both boys and girls, however in this case I think it's much more damaging to girls. I couldn't find one 'girls' dress-up costume of a builder or a scientist or a police officer, but there were plenty of wedding and princess dresses. Not only does it limit the roles girls think they can play, but I know first hand that if you're the kind of girl that isn't into this stuff, it makes you feel like an outcast. I went to a fancy-dress party when I was about seven where all the girls went as Disney princesses/Angels/Mermaids and I went as Lara Croft. I loved it but everyone else just thought I was a weird kid dressed all in black and wielding toy guns, including the parents who found it quite amusing and made comments about my choice of costume. This amongst other things was damaging to myself esteem.

This was the next thing I found which sparked interest. Why does the 'boy' get to wear the army costume whilst the girls wear tiaras and play with a Disney Princess kitchen. Really. A DISNEY PRINCESS KITCHEN. My seven year old self would much have preferred the army costume, but again the message is that danger and adventure are for boys and girls can um, stay in the kitchen like the good little princesses they are. There were so many other toys I found that restricted boys and girls to gender stereotypes and conveyed the message that pink is girly and not for boys. Since when can you make toys masculine or feminine? They're pieces of plastic designed to be played with, but they are capable of sending out such damaging messages. 

This video was made by 'PinkStinks', a campaign with the objective to raise awareness of the stereotyping that goes on in the designing and manufacturing of children's toys. They believe both boys and girls are at risk of the stereotyping and this may limit their future career and life decisions. Their intention is to reverse the 'pinkification' of toys and girlhood and promote positive body-image and self-esteem for young girls.  Although this video is a couple of years old now, I think it's still very much relevant today. From my own personal experience, I don't believe that marketing the shiny pink plastics toys to girls and gearing them away from science and engineering has gotten any better. In fact, I believe it's worsened as we're continually becoming more obsessed with the way women look and the roles they play in society, which impacts young girls greatly. The more focus we put on how girls look, the more we drive the same young girls away from anything that could be seen as masculine. The challenge of removing these gender stereotypes is key to increase girls confidence, get more girls into fields of work where women are vastly under represented and instil a confidence in girls whereby they have dreams and aspirations, but not just to be a princess.

[1] APPG on body image.

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