Friday, 5 December 2014

An over-reaction, the gender binary and kids toys

I went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay last night. It was one of those rare occasion where I think the movie outshone the book, and I'm actually happy that they split one book into multiple movies. Kudos to the director/screen-writing and the rest of the production team. Anything with a female, weapon-carrying protagonist gets my attention. I especially loved the scene where Hamitch mocked they stylist for covering Katniss in an inch-thick layer of make-up. Just that little bit of recognition that it's okay not to wear make-up made me punch the air.

So considering this movie has so many women in positions of strength (Katniss is the symbol of the rebellion, Prim is becoming a doctor, the president of District 13 is a woman, the leader of Katniss' film crew is a woman) and the amount of noise in the media about breaking down gender binaries, I would have expected better from the lead in adverts.

Hang on, did I just say I expected better from an advertising company? Yeah, that'll be the day, but still, moving on.

I'm pretty cynical on advertising as a whole. Generally it's just attention grabbing and the adverts relation to product performance is low on the list of priorities. I get that. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's just plain baffling. It doesn't sell your product to me, but at least I'm entertained. What really irritates me (and has since I was a young girl in dresses not allowed to ride on the go-kart in case I ruined my clothes) is gender stereotyping.

I've always been keen on archery. It comes from a childhood of reading fantasy novels. Whenever I play role-playing games I like to pick the rogue, or the thief, or the hunter. Whichever role lets me shoot the bad guy from far away, or sneak up on the big ugly troll and beat it before it notices me. So when I was watching the Pre-Hunger Games ads for NERF Rebelle toys, I was initially pretty stoked, and then a little uncomfortable, and then pretty pissed.

See, the advert is question showed girls playing with NERF guns and bows and arrows. Which seemed great, at the start. Girls having access to what has traditionally been 'a boys world' is always a good thing. But did you really have to make them so stereotypically girly? Really?

Everything is pink, purple and princess-ey. The girls in the ad weren't playing traditional run-and-gun games with their friends. Instead NERF went and made a gossip gun. The NERF rebelle messenger blaster isn't just a gun because that wouldn't appeal to girls. To make it appealing it has a secret message decoder. You write on the bullets with a special marker, and the message can only be read if it is placed into the decoder on the gun, which is just a red lens filter. Boys can play with 'real' toy guns, but girls need to have the couched in princess colours and secret messages to make them fun.

So what should have been an exciting moment where the gender binary had been flipped on it's head, just turned into a sickly marketing attempt to get girls to play with bows and arrows like their hero Katniss, but without straying away from proper, girly games.

One of the biggest issues I face when I see the gender binary played out, is the amount of voices that cry out "Oh, but you're just over-reacting." A scarily large number of people don't want to move against the status quo. That is terrifying. You don't have to agree with me, actually I would love you to disagree. And when you disagree with me, I want you to think critically about why. Why do you feel the way you do? Why do you disagree with me? and then once you have thought it through, come share your opinion with me. I might not change my mind, but critical thinking and debate is how we progress, as individuals and a society. People who don't want to move against the status quo scare me. But people who are actively ignorant and refuse to think about situations instead preferring to have the 'truth' spoon-fed are far, far worse.

So did I over-react? In this case, yes. I found this ad halfway through writing this blog when I went looking for the one I saw last night. This ad, I freaking adore. It shows women snowboarding, skateboarding, gearing up for boxing, and various other 'male' sports. It even touches on the #LikeAGirl campaign. This ad I love. I'm still a little sad that we need to make 'feminine' toys, rather than any child being up to pick up a bow. But it's bridging the gap, and that's great.

I googled "Girls Toys" and "Boys Toys"
The whole thing goes to show that feminists can get a little over zealous. I can't see any commercial media, read an article or listen to a radio show without noticing inequalities. Intentional or not. It's important to call out these casual inequalities, because they are the most pervasive. But it's also important to take a deep breath, step back and do a little research.

Sorry Hasbro, looks like I was wrong this time. Maybe. I'm going to be optimistic that you created these toys with a view to bridging that gender binary. Children will censor each other for playing with the wrong toys, that is how quickly and deeply the binary can be engrained. So anything that bridges the gap is a good thing in my eyes.

But it doesn't negate the point. I still don't like what was implied in the ad I saw last night. So I did some thinking, decided I was uncomfortable with the implication that girls could/would only play with boys toys if they were 'girl-ified'. At the time I was outraged, because I read the advert as Hasbro saying girls can only play with girls toys.

After watching the second advert, I hope Hasbro's marketing team has the same idea that I do, that girls might want to play with bows and arrows. They also might want to have pretty things, or know in some intangible way that they 'should' play with pink things. And in case you have missed the entire point, boys might prefer a pink bow as well! Rather than forcing them to choose between the aesthetic and the function, Hasbro has created a range of toys that has both. If I was still a pre-teen, I'd be begging for a NERF bow for Christmas. Instead I've somehow become a responsible adult that worries about hindering children's development by stuffing them into our pre-defined gender binaries.

Oddly, as I was writing this Senator Larissa Waters was getting slammed by mainstream media for her comments on No Gender December. Looks like I hit on a hot topic, go me.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...