Girl with Sword & Purple Fire-breathing Cat Fight Patriarchy

On International Women’s Day my daughter gave me this picture in which, armed with a sword and magical ‘purple mist’, and aided by a fire-breathing cat with an Ice Tail she fights the patriarchy, (well actually she said they’re fighting a baddie, but that’s how I like to interpret it).


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I was pleased to hear about the #Readwomen2014 campaign. I don’t really need to read more women authors though, as I already tend to read mainly women. A quick scan of my bookcase suggests that around 10% of the books I read are by male writers. I was surprised to find it was that many.

Why do I read more women than men? It’s not specifically a choice, more the way my reading habits have evolved over time. Women writers tend to speak to me in a way men don’t. I suppose as a feminist reader I am going to be more attracted to people who see the world in a way I can identify with. If I’m reading for relaxation I don’t want to be angered or upset by sexist attitudes from an author. Of course plenty of writers, of both sexes, can write both male and female characters well, and it’s not only males who may be misogynistic. I can make allowances, but generally speaking if I’m reading for relaxation I just don’t want to be bothered with sweepingly sexist generalisations, or deep seated misogyny that I find to be more prevalent in books written by men than by women.
I read primarily to relax and escape. Sometimes I read to learn. Sometimes I read books I feel I should read, or because I fall for the hype around a popular book. Most of my books come from the shelves of charity shops and I regularly recycle them, sometimes I’ll borrow books from the library or from a friend, I get some from giveaways on websites and occasionally I’ll treat myself to a brand new purchase or some kind friend or relative will gift me new books or a voucher/card to buy something new. An electronic reader doesn’t appeal to me at all, one reason being that I wouldn’t be able to relax in the bath with it.

My favourite authors vary with time and mood and I’ll read any genre as long as it entertains me. I have several books by Atwood, Lessing and Murdoch on my shelf, plenty of ‘classics’, a fair few sci-fi and fantasy and books, a healthy selection of crime fiction and a few aimed at young adults. Most of the books I read are written by middle class white women, (my most read black authors are probably Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Andrea Levy), and I’d welcome any suggestions to help me build up a more diverse selection.

I’ve started to list the books I’ve read in 2014 and leave a few comments about them on a new page; Books 2014. Comments & suggestions very welcome.

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Cultural Femicide on a Sunday Morning

Sunday's TV guide: 66 males and 18 females are named.

Sunday’s TV guide: 66 males and 18 females are named.

On Sunday after a morning lie-in I wandered downstairs, grabbed a cuppa and idly flicked through the channels on my TV. On every screen I flicked through, out of around 20 ‘favourites, there were only male faces, not one single woman or girl’s face showed up. It was all men talking to men, men talking about men, male actors acting out male dominated drama; there was Eddie, Nick, James, Jeremy, Simon, Frasier, Tony and on and on, on every channel. I went through them all again just to make sure; even the children’s channels were boy dominated. Some women showed up as I watched a little longer, but they weren’t onscreen when I’d first flicked through and in general women were either minor characters or absent. It wasn’t until around 10.30 that a woman fronted show turned up; something about food, with Lynda Bellingham.

People can come up with as many reasons as they like for explaining this, but I’d bet my life that no-one has ever yet flicked through all the channels on offer and seen only women’s faces. The words cultural femicide came into my head. Cultural Femicide is a term which was originally coined, (as far as I know), by Bidisha, to mean ‘the erasure of women in public life’.  This absence of women in mainstream culture, on our TV screens and radio, in theatres, movies, libraries and art galleries is hard to credit. It amazes me how little some people even seem to notice it, never mind care. The Women’s Room is one website set up to challenge this gendered cultural hegemony and provide a voice for women in media, yet even those few female voices we do hear tend to be the type that seeks male approval.

Back to Sunday; my five year old daughter was in the room with me and I considered the effect it might be having on her to repeatedly see men showing up as experts and authorities. I don’t let her have a lot of screen time, but as she grows older and wiser it’s increasingly difficult to monitor her intake and I’m not sure that it’s desirable to keep her in a protected bubble anyway. She asked me if she could have some screen time, but was bored by the boy dominated shows on offer. She seen the words Angelina Ballerina on the screen; a show we’d just missed, she’d recently seen an Angelina Ballerina book at a friend’s house and was curious about it so asked me to make sure that she could watch it when it was next on. We watched an episode together, on my laptop. As the theme tune began, my daughter commented, ‘It’s so pink. Why is everything always so pink?” The episode we watched concerned four mice, two ‘girl’ mice, (wearing pretty dresses), and two boy mice. It’s the only episode I’ve ever watched, (and ever hope to), and it actually centred on a ‘boy’ mouse called AJ. It was AJ’s birthday and the other mice were planning a surprise party for him. So, in what I imagined would be a show that was, if not ideal, at least girl centred, I watched as the two girls planned how to make a boy happy. As it ended I asked my daughter if she’d liked it. She answered that she would have liked it better if it had been about Angelina.

Later on I let my daughter watch a film; part of the Studio Ghibli series currently showing on Film Four. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese company, generally seen as being much more girl friendly than US studios such as Disney, and it’s played an important part in my daughter’s movie intake to date. There are some great Ghibli films, but as a canon it’s far from perfect, and yesterday, yet again, we watched as the girl in the story became a princess, a prospective bride and had to be rescued by male characters. The film was ‘The Cat Returns,’ in which a girl, Haru, rescues a cat from a near death collision with a lorry. Unfortunately the cat is a prince and Haru is now expected to become his cat princess. She is rescued by a team of male helpers; the heroic Baron, another male cat and a male raven. There is one female cat who tries to help her; Haru’s first comment upon meeting her is about how beautiful she is; a white cat with long eyelashes and a pink bow, not stereotyped at all then. The few other females in the movie are unsympathetic characters, such as the two cat maidservants who help Haru to dress and tell her how lucky she is because all the girl cats have crushes on the prince. Early on in the film, a delegation from the Land of Cats marches past Haru’s window and stops to talk with her. At this point my daughter piped up; “Are all of those cats boys?” Well spotted little one, best get used to it.

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Let’s End Toy Apartheid

Along with several other people, I’ve been doing a lot of work for the Let Toys be Toys campaign lately, which is why this blog has become a little neglected. I did recently blog for the f-Word about the way science toys are overwhelmingly marketed to boys, a post which was also published by New Statesman. The Let Toys Be Toys website is under development –  what is currently a holding page will soon be a much more informative and interactive site, including a blog open to guests. As the campaign is made up of busy parents with a variety of jobs, sometimes things take a bit longer than we expect them to. In the meantime can anyone who supports LTBT make sure you have signed and shared the petition and keep on sending photos and ideas to @lettoysbetoys on twitter or facebook.


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To the Child Haters

Children exit through the plane's lips

(Photo credit: (aka Brent))

This tweet appeared on my timeline this morning. It obviously struck a chord with a lot of people as it had several RT’s and favourites, but it irked me:

“Totally in favour of child free planes. Kids should be made to go to Wales on holiday. Didn’t do me any harm”.

I replied: “nice sentiment – kids are part of society. Which would you choose with child – 40 min plane trip or a 7hr train journey?”

It wasn’t the holiday in Wales part that bothered me. I love Wales. What I didn’t like was the anti-child sentiment. I appreciate that this may have been meant as a jokey comment, I don’t know, but I do know that there are there are a lot of very judgemental people about who make life unpleasant for families with young children.

These are the same sort of people who think children should be banned from restaurants, apparently such a popular idea that Radio 2′s Jeremy Vine once discussed it on his show. I find this anti-child attitude really saddening. Children are a part of society, as are their parents, and the bad attitudes towards them are akin to discrimination.

Now fair enough, there are some restaurants I wouldn’t dream of taking my child into, grown up, softly lit places that are obviously not for children, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about everyday cafes and restaurants that have a child menu, where there’s no reason for children not to be. How can they to learn how to behave in public places if they are kept inside, away from the disapproving glare of the child haters?

I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of hostile stares when my own child has had the temerity to behave like, a child.

To those who are actively unpleasant – do you know how it makes someone feel when you stare and tut? Perhaps they’re thinking what a bad parent you must think they are ,or that they must be, perhaps this makes them more flustered which in turn makes their child play up more. Perhaps they’re really embarrassed by their child and starting to hate them for showing them up. Or perhaps they’re just hating you instead. None of it is really going to make the situation better.

Instead of being hostile why not smile and show a bit of sympathy. I always appreciated it when people talked to my child in this sort of situation. It often removes the tension, not to mention the fact that it can distract the child and change their behaviour. Just the acknowledgement that most people have been there at some point in their life and that the onlooker doesn’t see it as a reflection on the parent can make a big difference to the way they feel.

Of course there have been occasions when I have been irritated by someone else’s noisy child, but until I had my own daughter I’d never thought about the fact that the parent probably felt a lot more bothered by their behaviour than the minor distraction it caused me. Being treated like a pariah is not pleasant, so try and have a little tolerance and understanding. If a child is crying, it’s usually because they are distressed. Getting angry about this solves nothing and is undoubtedly a lot less effective than sympathy. And remember, you don’t know the backstory, there might be things at play of which you have no idea, so don’t judge.

When you are older or ill, you might need looking after by some of those kids who today you are requesting be banned from your flight, train carriage or restaurant. The same kids whose world is being fucked up by your needless aeroplane trips, intolerance and inaction. You should hope they’ll have a little more respect for you, as a human being, than you are showing for them today.

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Let Them Play

Best Toys?

Best Boy and Girl Toy Winners – Toy Fair 2013

Last week, (22 -24 Jan), saw the 60th Toy Fair take place in London, but the awards for Best New Toys revealed industry attitudes that remain firmly entrenched in the 1950′s. There may have been technological advances and changes in fashion since then, but today’s toys teach children to accept the same outdated, sexist and limited gender roles. An increasingly gendered approach to marketing sees toys more segregated today than ever before.

This year’s Toy Fair awarded the Boy’s Toy of the Year to ‘Web Shooting Spider-Man’ by Hasbro, and the Girl’s Toy was Mattel’s ‘Monster High Ghouls Rule Doll Assortment’. Let Toys Be Toys asked followers for their opinions. Answers included; Aggressive, hypermuscled masculinity and hypersexualized emaciated femininity. This doesn’t surprise me, but it sure is sad (@ElizabethVSweet), and Those dolls are hideous. & why ‘boy’ & ‘girl’ toys. My daughter loves Spiderman, so what makes it a boy toy? (@DillyTante).

Toy Fair also produced a Best New Toys list with 12 categories, including boy’s and girl’s toys. The three best boy’s toys were awarded to; The Trash Pack Ultimate Fighting Trashies Battle Arena (Flair), Dinosaurs (Schleich), and Horrible Histories Battle Arena (Worlds Apart). The girl’s toys were; Doc McStuffins Time for your Check Up Interactive Doll (Flair), Lego Friends: Heartlake City Pool, and Style Me Up! – Color Freedom (Wooky).

So, fighting and dinosaurs for boys, hearts and fashion for girls, no stereotypes there then. Okay the girls did get a doctor, albeit a very pink and lilac doctor, but still there’s no good reason why it should be labelled a girl’s toy. As for the dinosaurs, I’m sure Schleich would maintain that their toys are for all children, not just boys. Girls love dinosaurs too. All children love dinosaurs, (my daughter has several of them, although I no longer buy from toy shops that put Boys and Girls signs up, which limits my options somewhat). In cases such as this it would seem to be in the interests of toymakers to seek a wide appeal for their toys, so why are they marketed so narrowly? Is it down to social attitudes or profit? The answer may be the idea that selling to one gender means more products will be sold. If, for example, someone buys their daughter a pink globe, (shudder), then it follows that they will need to buy a blue globe for their son. The idea that a toy can appeal to both boys and girls may be obvious to parents, but it’s not one to which retailers and manufacturers pay attention. Profit must come before the wellbeing of children and the future of society obviously.

Research shows that non gender-specific toys are actually better for children’s development. Gender-specific toys can foster undesirable attributes in children, as girls are encouraged to focus mainly on their appearance, and boys encouraged to be aggressive. If parents buy gendered toys as proscribed by mainstream retailers, then daughters are discouraged from almost anything outside of a narrow domestic sphere, while nurture and communication skills are neglected in sons.

It’s about time Toy Fair joined the modern world and dropped these gendered awards. They help promote the harmful idea that children should only play with certain toys. There are plenty of other categories to use instead; construction, creative, outdoor etc. The sky is the limit, so let’s not limit our children. Let them play.


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