The middle class should leave rioting to the professionals

Couldn't the riots have been influenced by, well, the riots?

Something else has been bugging me. About the riots. Or more specifically, our attempt to find rhyme or reason for them.

We seem to have left no sociological or psychological rock unturned. Poverty and social alienation. Poor parenting and educational support. Cuts to everything from EMA to police numbers. Oh, and the bankers. Mustn't forget those dastardly bankers.

But something's been missing. For a while, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And then, in a flash of inspiration, it came to me.

Couldn't the riots have been influenced by, well, the riots?

We had some. We definitely had some. I distinctly remember. They started with Conservative Central Office getting smashed up, and a couple of police officers nearly being decapitated with a fire extinguisher. Then, if memory serves me right, half the West End got trashed. Not once, but twice. First by the students, then by a mob of anarchist fellow travellers trying to ride the coattails of the TUC rally.

Yet, for some reason we -- and by we, I'm using my traditional lazy short-hand for the left -- don't seem to have mentioned this. John Harris didn't mention it in last Thursday's Guardian, when he pointed the finger squarely at greedy MPs. John Pilger chose to overlook it when he blamed just about everyone but the rioters, here at the Statesman. No. The left has decided to scurry by, looking for more ideologically acceptable excuses. Sorry, causes.

Let's return to the group every right-minded person knows were the true instigators of this month's disorder. The bankers.

If you accept, as I do, that greed and an arrogant assumption of a right to material gain at any price were at a minimum a subliminal cause of the looting and mayhem. And you further accept the bankers, at least generically, are poster boys for that greed and arrogance, then I think the link between their excess and the excess on our streets is a legitimate one.

But if we believe the rioters were spurred on by the image of those in positions of wealth and influence flouting the rules to the detriment of society, surely we must extend that principle to people like Charlie Gilmour and his fellow undergraduates, who not only flouted the rules but physically indulged in rioting themselves. If the sight of a millionaire in red braces pushing a button in a City dealing room is supposed to incite a young inner city teenager to put a brick through a shop window, what effect is that sight of a millionaire in a Keffiyeh putting a brick through a window themselves supposed to have? To judge from the silence of the liberal left, none.

Let's cast the net a bit wider. What about the direct action movements, like UK Uncut? When middle class youngsters lawlessly occupy shops, and are feted for their "brilliant protests" that can "unite us all", we conveniently assume our inner city youth will instinctively know where to draw the line. And for some reason we also assume that whilst a banker engaged in legal activity at his desk can be the spur for a looter, a protestor illegally entering Fortnum's and spraying graffiti on the wall cannot.

This blame game can be fun. Especially when we get to write our own rules, and pretend we're the only side that's playing.

Just ask Jonnie Marbles. Self-styled crusader for truth, justice and the pie-pushers' way. Jonnie, if you recall, decided the rule of law wasn't for him. He had grievances, and a sense of injustice. He needed to fight the power; to take it to the man. So he took it the man, and assaulted an 80 year-old pensioner. He didn't care about the police. He didn't care that his actions would be broadcast on live public television. No balaclava for Jonnie. Jonnie laughs in the face of authority. Taunts it. Flans it. And what's more, he's got himself some much needed street cred. Just read this excerpt from his 'prison blog':

We both break into grins and the familiar dance of how, why and handshakes plays out. I give him the short answer first, then the long one. Five minutes later Beebop, my newest lag friend, is getting me to sign his copy of The Sun.

Eat your heart out, Oscar Wilde.

Is Jonnie Marbles directly to blame for the riots? Of course not. No more than Charlie Gilmour, or Edward Woollard.

But if we seek to go beyond direct to subliminal causes -- apparently all the rage -- then why are they no more or less to blame than Fred the Shred? Because our search for answers is not a search for answers at all. It is a desperate scramble to clean up the house before our parents get home.

Before 6 August, disorder in our streets was fashionable. It was raw and exciting. Empowering.

So long as it remained the preserve of the middle class. The students. The anarchists. The gentleman insurgents.

Then the big boys turned up. Bad boys. Boys who aren't content to sit listening to Asian Dub Foundation while huddled around burning copies of the Socialist Worker, sharing solidarity with the Arab Spring.

Middle class Britain has been having fun with its own unique brand of direct action. But this month the fun stopped. Ed Miliband is right. We do need to look at "irresponsibility" in all its forms.

And perhaps from now on the rioting should be left to the professionals.

Bennett Raglin / Getty
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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones