Working on the principle that if you didn’t laugh, you might cry, it’s time to look back in amusement, and indeed some anger, at the worst that’s been thrown at us in terms of tortuously gendered products and sexist shenanigans in 2015.
Award for trying to stop the march of progress
With support from a great many authors and those working in the publishing sector, our Let Books Be Books campaign has notched up many considerable successes. Miles Kelly is one of the publishers who agreed to discontinue gendered titles, and so it was with great dismay we found out via our pals @letterboxlibrary that The Works bookstores had taken it upon themselves to slam gendered stickers on their books, thus undoing the good work and goodwill of campaigners and publishers alike to let books be books.
Award for refusing to go away
Last year’s Silliness Awards highlighted Smyths Toys’ doctors and nurses kits, the packaging of which – you guessed it – was divided along pink/blue, girls/boys lines. So, was 2015 the year that these sexist and statistically misleading stereotypes were finally put to bed? No, as these latest outfits on offer at Smyths Toys (you again 🙁 ) demonstrate – it wasn’t. Brought to our attention by @gwened02 (#childrendeservebetter) and @jo_the_girl (“is this the 1950s? Girls as nurses, boys as doctors. Sort it out.”)
Better luck next year!
Award for leaving nothing to the imagination
These items (what are they anyway? Tiny stone tablets?) sent to us by @girlcalledbrian (“Spotted in the window of a shop in Glasgow. Words actually fail”) exist so no one need ever worry again about the categories of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ and what they might mean. “Boys’ rules” stipulate that you can “build a fort”, “hunt for treasure” and “be brave”, while girls are given free rein to “have tea parties”, “paint your nails” and “dance like a ballerina”. OK? Got that? Good.
Award for skullduggery
Cycling for all. It’s a noble ambition and there’s no doubt cycling has really taken off in recent years, with all kinds of people convinced of its health and environmental benefits. Sad then to note that over at Halfords, one of the high street’s largest bicycle retailers, they chose to believe that girls can only be persuaded to get on their bikes if they can be assured that cycling poses no threat to their femininity. This advert for the Bell Amigo Pink Hearts Bike Helmet makes the cringeworthy promise that it is for “lovely little girls who really enjoy playing on their bikes and looking really pretty when they do it” – as @letclothesbeclothes tweeted, “Girls too lovely for cycling action?”. Meanwhile, the boys version is “sporty and cool, designed with safety at the top of the list”. Helmets for girls and boys that aim to protect outdated stereotypes as much as your skull. Phew. We’re happy to report, however, that Halfords has since revised this particularly clanging example of sexist marketing.
Award for creating a sad end to ‘girl power’
Just when you thought there was nowhere to go after girls’ biros, girls’ glue and girls’ Sellotape, another mundane household necessity gets an entirely unnecessary gendered spin. This time it’s the humble battery. Yes, admittedly you can’t admire its pinkness when it’s in a battery compartment, but you can still rest easy that your device is running safely on strictly girly electricity. In the words of @troyhunt: “Make sure that when you buy girls toys designed for girls you also use girls batteries”. Still, free balloon, so swings and roundabouts…
Award for making us scratch our heads
Now, this one’s a bit of a puzzle – apparently first appearing on a blog back in 2005, somehow this image resurfaced this year and went somewhat viral. And, credit where credit’s due, this ‘kit’ does not say it is exclusively for girls, despite its utilisation of those familiar tropes of glitter and glam. But this ‘Learn to Be A Journalist’ set left us quite baffled as to how its mini glitter gel pen, sequins, gemstones and confetti flowers would prepare you for a future career at Huffpost or The Guardian. But perhaps the manufacturers know better. And, if that glitter pen runs out, those budding war correspondents and sports reporters can no longer get themselves down to John Lewis to stock up on ‘For Her’ pink pencils, because they’ve been discontinued (hurrah!).
Award for showing that sexism & consumerism go hand in hand
A lot of us will remember playing Battleships as kids in more innocent times – all you needed was a couple of bits of paper and some pencils, and hours of grid-based fun awaited you. It was perhaps inevitable that this most basic of games would be commodified, but who could have forseen MB’s board game Battleshops lumbering into the crosshairs. With the darkly comic taglines, ‘Is your skirt in aisle B?’ and ‘Girls just want to have fun’, it’s a nightmare of sexist reinterpretation combined with lazy stereotypes about girls and shopping – but since it was spotted in a charity shop and no longer available new, perhaps we can conclude that girls didn’t buy it. Thanks @thevictorious11 and @ivf_steph for the find.
You’ll be relieved to see here that the primary school staple of tunelessness, the recorder, is now available as Princess and Pirate versions. (“What is the point? Seriously? @LetToysBeToys #genderpointlessness”, comments @Johnnygcake).
Like death and taxes, pink and blue toothbrushes (@FleecyLisa says “Boys and girls clean their teeth differently apparently”) are still with us in even more emphatically gendered forms in the shapes of Colgate’s GlamGirl and Galaxy Saber.
Other exasperating products we were tweeted about this year include pink telescopes (from @WomenCanSee), a logical extension of the infamous pink globe.
And finally, one we’ve seen before but that keeps being resurrected (this time spotted in a church by @RosAsquith) – Bible Stories for Girls and Bible Stories for Boys. Why? God only knows.