Disney, Clarks and Gender Neutral Classrooms – what does it have to do with me?
During the very busy run up to the end of August, you might have missed this post that went viral about a little boy not being allowed to go to a “Princess for a day” party at Disneyland. And with BBC’s No More Boys and Girls, and the Clarks shoe debacle, when big companies get it wrong it seems like a great opportunity to discuss what the public is increasing expecting regarding gender neutrality in play.
As you know, Kids Bee Happy has been the proud supporter of Let Toys Be Toys, and been awarded the Toymark Award for the past 2 years, but it’s something that we should never rest on our laurels and always be at the forefront of how we do business. There is a fantastic moment in the No More Boys and Girls episode 1 where the producers swapped a baby boy and baby girls clothes round, and then put the babies on a mat with an adult and a selection of toys, and then watched as the adults pushed gender stereotype toys onto the children without even realising that they did it. It was very noticeable that the stuffed passive toys were directed at the “girl”, and the mechanical toys for the “boy”. And it shows instantly how all these influences are around children everyday, and how they all add up.
Now me, you might have noticed that I have a huge passion for levelling the playing field. I personally have spent the majority of my life being the only female in the room, and I haven’t lived that rebellious a life. And as a mother of girls, I had hoped that what gender they are would have no impact on the choices of my children in their careers and future. However, the world moves slowly it seems and we’re still fighting the battle. But the one thing that I can do as the Managing Director of Kids Bee Happy is to try my upmost to make sure that its something that we as a company join the battle to eliminate.
Kids Bee Happy offers a very wide range of Sand Art pictures, and we try to ensure that there is something in there that appeals to everyone, however, when i’m out at the events I have to consistently remember to help the children choose in a gender neutral way. All too frequently we see the parents or grandparents steer their children’s choice in the direction of “suitable” pictures, how many times have we seen wee boys hovering over a butterfly or a fairy picture to see the mum go “Oh, there’s a dinosaur, or how about a car?” Or to see a girl thinking about a robot picture and their parent suggest a “pretty butterfly”.
As advocates of gender neutral play, we have a role to play here, little things that we can do can make a difference. If a parent is pointing at lots of stereotypical pictures then interrupt (gently) point out other pictures that they can equally enjoy. If we’re making recommendations to children then again mix it up so that the suggestions are wide and varied, and be brave, make the first picture something that could be associated more with the opposite sex. Make it clear to the boys that if they want to colour in a picture of a princess then that is absolutely fine, and make it clear to the girls that we know that they like cars and planes just as much as boys. On the tables, in the displays mix up the pictures, make it clear that there is no such thing as a “boys” section and a “girls” selection.
When we colour in our display pictures make sure that we make them as multicoloure as possible, using all the colours from pink to blue, and all the other ones inbetween, so that we don’t send out the subtle “pink for girl” messages that we see so often in the clothes and fashions sectors. What I personally prefer to do is to mix up the colours in the most wonderful and creative way, pink loins, red dolphins, brown butterflies, orange fairies, orange, pink and yellow skies, even a punk rock hedgehog. There is no right or wrong with colour when it comes to sand art, so the more creative we can be with our display pictures, the more we send out the “anything goes” message to the children. If a boy’s colouring the picture point out to them that they’ve not coloured anything in Pink yet. If we’re chatting to the children about colour start a conversation about how “brown” is your favourite colour etc and make up a whole load of wonderful reasons why brown is so good.
Draw attention and offer an alternative, that’s all we have to do.
In the great big gender debate it’s very easy for critics to dismiss it all, saying “oh why do we need to worry, the children will choose what they want”, but the problem is that by the time the kids get around to choosing they’ve already have years of marketing, fashion, TV, books, films, cartoons, and adults telling them subconsciously what they “should” be preferring, and sometimes its difficult for them to say something different. And this is where our role comes in. I know that all of our consultants work hard to ensure gender neutrality with our young customers, however, its important to remember that they might not have that same influence elsewhere, they could perhaps live with very traditional parents or grandparents, so your voice is important, even if it by doing something as tiny as just adding in the word “fairy” into a list of suggestions of boys pictures, let them know it’s OK to do something different. From little acorns big oaks grow, so please continue to plant those little acorns. Thank you.