PARENTS

Please Let's Stop The Tacky Stereotypes For Children

06/06/2012 16:48 | Updated 22 May 2015
LEGO's controversial new Friends rangeRex Features

LEGO infuriated parents this new year by launching a 'Friends' range targeting girls which is set in some godawful Californian-style 'Heartlake City', featuring easy, unchallenging models to build and pinkified characters who are obsessed with accessories, cupcakes and getting 'styled and ready to go!!!' at the 'beauty shop'.

Because this is what women's lives around the world consist of, obviously, and this is all that a small girl might aspire to become.

Since when was normal LEGO too difficult for girls (it was, in the 1960s, defined by the Danish founder's son as specifically for girls and boys)? The answer is that apparently, a decade or two after we were kids, when Lego was relatively gender-neutral, the company decided to focus on marketing to boys - and introduced more violent kits involving ninjas, firemen, aliens killing one another, and so on.

LEGO started being shelved in the boys' toys departments, there were few female figures, and so it's now time to reach out to girls. Who, in the ads, have swapped really cute ginger hair, jeans and creativity for long blonde hair, pink lipstick and sickeningly fake cutesiness.

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Oh LEGO, how could you do this? And just who are the parents LEGO insists would prefer their daughters to play with easy, mindless, girly LEGO rather than the real thing?

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I was perplexed to hear a friend recently mention a pregnant woman who, on discovering she was having a boy, not a girl, said: "Oh, now I won't be able to do crafts with him and bake cakes together". Instead, she's stocking up on little football outfits for him.

Perhaps those of us who instinctively recoil at the idea that little boys aren't supposed to bake cakes and little girls aren't supposed to like building things are in the minority. But while of course gender differences exist and are right and natural, why push sexist stereotypes to children barely out of the womb?

As soon as you find out you're having a boy, you discover that clothes for baby boys as young as newborns tend to be in khaki or dull colours, decorated with skulls, dinosaurs, pirates, trucks, cars, trains, buses, robots, planets or footballs. (Baby Gap is a major offender.)

Baby girls, in contrast, get bright colours (pink, of course, predominating), flowers, cats, cakes, and other domestic symbols.

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When I see babygros with 'Little Princess' or 'Supermodel to Be' emblazoned on the front, I feel sad for the girl put into the clothes.

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And when I see a baby girl who's already had her ears pierced, I feel sorry for her. I fear she will grow up thinking she had to look a certain way to be accepted, or that appearances are what counts if you're female. As for the war-themed clothes - girl or a boy, I see no valid reason for any baby to be fashioned into a mini soldier.

Maybe things will change when my son gets older and maybe I'm naive, but right now he's less than a year old and I'm consciously avoiding the car, sport and violence-emblazoned male baby clothes and toys, and if I had a girl, much as I like pretty flowery dresses, I'd equally be seeking out babygros and baby toys featuring robots, footballs, dinosaurs and planets for her.

I know I'm not alone. Other mums of babies tell me they feel the same - the mums of boys are sick of unimaginative khaki or blue clothes and the mums of girls are freaked out by everything being so pink.

I still remember how, as a little girl of seven, I felt alienated from the culture of (then popular) My Little Pony, Sindy and Care Bears. I knew that because I was a girl I was supposed to enjoy nothing more than grooming a My Little Pony or dressing a Sindy, but I was far more interested in playing with my toy road and my chemistry set. I wasn't a tomboy - hair ribbons, Malory Towers and Laura Ashley dresses were my passions - but even in the 80s, the toys marketed to girls made me feel I must be some sort of freak for finding them totally boring. And that's why I don't want any child to be made to feel that way - like they don't belong.

Perhaps it's the sheer stupidity and tackiness of these early stereotypes that turns my stomach. I find nothing offensive about a child playing with a water pistol or a doll.

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But when the water pistol is made to look like a machine gun, and the doll is an imitation of Jordan, that's inappropriate.

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Or perhaps it's the fact babies are being made to grow up and confirm at such a young age, which is sinister. It's not that there's anything wrong with boys liking football, or girls enjoying looking pretty. But putting a newborn into football club uniform or dressing a baby girl in a bikini is surely projecting entirely adult preoccupations onto a child.

Of course as children grow older and encounter peer pressure they're likely to become more traditionally boyish or girlish - and that's fine. I'm not planning to embarrass my son by making him wear pink when he's 10 (though if he wants to, that's fine with me and his dad).

If he turns out to be a real boys' boy who adores football or wants to be a boxer, I'll be proud and encourage him all the way, and if I had a daughter who genuinely loved fashion and make-up, I'd support her too (while making sure she also did her maths homework).

But can we please let babies just be babies?

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