Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Little girls: sugar and spice

Illustration by Paul Windle. From here.

Girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice.Right?

From so young, the worlds of boys and girls begin to become very different places and around Christmas time, it becomes especially noticeable. I find myself cringing as I walk along a supermarket toy aisle where the division between girl and boy toys is so stark that it feels like you're crossing a border from the one world into the other: from the action-packed landscapes of boys to the fluffy pink fantasies of girls. I find myself staring hopelessly at the overwhelming pinkness of girl-things, wondering of all the colours available, do girls really only like pink? Where does that even come from?

However, more worrying than the limitations of the colour palette offered to girls, is the type of toys on display. There are dolls and babies to be looked after, tea sets and kitchen sets and sets of pretend make-up, pink cell phones, pink fairy outfits and of course plenty of Barbies (you can read about my issues with her here). When examined in summary, the girl world is very pink, very glittery, centred largely around dress-up and make-believe play and takes place mostly indoors. There's a lot missing from that world: physical toys for gross motor skills and building toys that develop spacial skills.

What is of further concern is that this border between the two worlds is closely policed; what boy dares transgress into the pink zone? My 3 year-old is already quite aware of "what's for boys" and "what's for girls" despite all the discussions we've had about anyone being able to like whatever colour they want or that boys can also do dancing if they want to. I find it scary that these rules are already being observed and monitored at such a young age. This means that marketing toys at any particular gender isn't as innocent as it seems and makes it difficult for toys to just be toys. This is recognised by the British Let Toys Be Toys campaign. The campaign website states that it is, "asking retailers to stop limiting children's interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them."

Whether or not toys will ever be completely free of a gender label, I don't know, but I guess there are many steps in between and what becomes very apparent from the toy aisles is that not many have been taken. In the rush to buy presents to place under the Christmas tree, why stop and worry about the "pink and pretty" world of the girl aisle? I know that little girls do want to be princesses, but I also know they are so much more whether they realise it or not. Social psychologist and academic, Sarah Murnen puts the dangers of not engaging with the underlying messages of that pink world best,"girls are taught to view their bodies as 'projects' that need work before they can attract others, whereas boys are likely to learn to view their bodies as tools to use to master the environment." 

Recently I came across the GoldieBlox ad on YouTube and was quite taken with it. It's just so fun and refreshing.

It's for a construction toy range for girls with the aim to "disrupt the pink aisle" with a product that will develop spacial skills and, hopefully, an interest in invention and engineering. I like that it looks at girls as more than just princesses and was interested to find out that the company was a Kickstarter funded project. You can view more about the project here.

The idea behind the ad has been met with some criticism, for example Glosswitch on The Newstatesman points out, "Goldie Blox aren’t even trying to hide the fact that their toys are strictly girls-only. In this sense they’re not so much disrupting the pink aisle as coughing politely and asking Barbie if she wouldn’t mind budging up a little. Real disruption would mean mixing the whole thing up. We wouldn’t be able to tell where pink ended and blue started. We would let our children find their own way." 

I can't dispute the fact that what GoldieBlox is doing is still gendering toys, but I definitely think that at least it's offering a realistic alternative to what is usually found in the fluffy pink world of girl toys and, for that reason alone, is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


As much as I like words and playing around with them, this weekend is for different things... for being fully in the present moment and spending time with friends and family, for making bead necklaces and playing dress-up, for baking a cake and eating it, for all those things that make days both ordinary and special. 

But... seeing as I've been appreciating poetry at the moment, I'm going to leave you with The Word Party by Richard Edwards taken from 100 Best Poems for Children.

The Word Party
Loving words clutch crimson roses,
Rude words sniff and pick their noses,
Sly words come dressed up as foxes,
Short words stand on cardboard boxes,
Common words tell jokes and gabble,
Complicated words play Scrabble,
Swear words stamp around and shout,
Hard words stare each other out,
Foreign words trip on the rug,
Long words slouch with stooping shoulders,
Code words carry secret folders,
Silly words flick rubber bands,
Hyphenated words hold hands,
Strong words show off, bending metal, 
Sweet words call each other 'petal',
Small words yawn and suck their thumbs,
Till at last the morning comes,
Kind words give out farewell posies...
Snap! The dictionary closes.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Poetry and breathing

I feel like I'm just quickly coming up for air before I sink back down into the madness. Why does the end of the year seem to speed up suddenly? It always takes me by surprise. Every time.

At least there are moments of calm and in one of them, the kid discovered poetry; happy, funny little poems that we giggled about together. She listened enchanted while I read from a children's poetry book we took out the library. It was such fun to read the poems aloud and it reminded me how children's poetry lets you really play with language: trip over tongue twisters, rattle off rhythms and giggle at rhymes. It's somehow so tactile and offers both profound insight and a whole lot of nonsense. Poetry offers those moments where you go 'I know that!' and you hear a resounding human echo that restores you again.

Why then does it become so despised at high school level and beyond? Why does a barrier come down and cut the air off, when poems are actually needed to breathe?

Poems don't have to be serious or solemn and (to me anyway) they even lend themselves to children's parties. I love Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat so this became the theme for the kid's second birthday (she was obsessed with owls at the time. Cats too actually, now that I think of it, so it was perfect). Her third birthday was built around Jessica Nelson North's The Tea Party and we had a tea party in the garden. I printed the poems on the back of the invitations and had them laminated so that parents could share the poems with their children even once the party was over.

Monday, 4 November 2013

{habits & happenings}

At this time of year there are not many moments to call your own {I know that feeling well}. So here is my secret of stolen morning moments given to tea and a book at the kitchen table; sun seeping in with promise and new energy. Sipping tea, turning pages, enjoying a quiet home until the rush begins, the kid awakes hungry and curious and tasks come tumbling at me. Time never waits. That truism is a reminder that we have to "make" time in our lives: we construct it, carve it out, give it, steal it. Always take it by force. And in the same way, reading is a habit, a daily ritual; one I want to teach my daughter to steal away from everyday life too.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...