Tools down it's festival time

Brighton werewolves, saying the N-word and rusty nails through your nose

Dear Marina

As a born, bred and proud resident of Portslade, I have always treated you B-right-on people with suspicion. So it came as no surprise when I heard that Brighton police are putting more officers on the beat at a full moon. Is it because everyone there is a werewolf or something more sinister?

Worried, Sussex

More sinister, definitely. It’s a knee jerk response to people engaging with the natural world – have you ever wandered in the darkness on a moonlit night? Magical.

The full moon has always brought people outdoors. Pre-street lighting the big houses in the country held their balls on a full moon to make it easier for people to find their way. Successful trysts, ditto. But poaching’s better on a dark moon, for obvious reasons.

If people are allowed to go about their business of meeting up with friends in public spaces they might start having genuine fun, instead of being stuck at home in front of the telly.

And we all know that genuine fun has a tendency to encourage humanity to actually care about life. Next individuals might talk and together decide to act on their cares and before we know it we’ll have a cultural revolution on our hands and the G8 will have to keep its promises and the power will reside with the people. You can understand the authorities wanting to take precautions.

I feel a full moon protest party coming on. The kids are going to howl with laughter.

Dear Marina

Did you watch Big Brother? Emily “there’s a new music and it’s called indie” Parr has been booted out for saying the N-word. Now I know she’s a Tory voter but it was a bit harsh, don’t you think?
Jade, Essex

Oh Jade. I haven’t got a TV owing to it not liking being switched off properly every time – it was designed to be left on standby – what’s that about?

Anyway, having trained the kids up proper, the telly stopped responding to a positive current. So no, I haven’t watched BB. Or read a newspaper or even listened to the radio (my son sat on the wind-up’s aerial. You can vaguely still get Radio Five, but other than that it’s all French).

To what are you referring when you use the word harsh? Her expulsion or her use of the N-word? How did she use it? If it’s any help, I’m on the road quite a bit these days, preparing for a festival I’m helping to organise in September (www.outoftheordinaryfestival.com).

Among the Traveller community, I meet some of the most creative free spirits on the planet who have much to teach the housed population. When I meet them, they’re hired.

As I travel on with some I’m occasionally afforded a small insight into what it must feel like to be truly offended – hurt – by the use of the N-word.

The word Traveller itself is a dirty word in some mindsets. And yet it is the official term for a disparate band of tribes many of whom have no more in common with their fellow travellers than the fact that they all experience prejudice.

Much like Blacks, Muslims, Asians, Chavs, young people, old people and the rest. I guess we all live with prejudice. I’m a single mother of two, Liberal Democrat revolutionary, so called witch and your mum’s a lesbian. Are we in agreement? But when the opportunity arises to speak out and act against it, speak out and act we must.

Hence BB has refocused its editorial policy on such matters. Fair enough. Although since we’ve all had our sensibilities crushed by your unique take on cultural affairs, in this context the girl's removal might well be construed as harsh by many. Others will say lessons have been learned. While others still will contest that they haven’t been learned at all.

Keep in touch Jade. I’m off to some festival at Herstmonceux Castle this weekend, then on to Glastonbury. Maybe catch you at Secret Garden Party in July. I’m in the Feast of Fools tent. After that Small World and then Out of the Ordinary. Jade you are going to just love my zero waste strategy.

Not only will festival goers be expected to sort their paper/cans/plastics/compost, they must also, should they bring supermarket items on site separate out the non-recyclable packaging.

This will be returned to the relevant supermarket sources – en masse. Well what’s the alternative? Why should Out of the Ordinary pay to dispose of it? We’d rather spend the money on more artists. God, the world needs them. I think a bit of widening of your horizons is in order. Why not come and help? We could call it Community Service. It could be the makings of us all.

Dear Marina

My 18-year-old son, who sports a red Mohican and rusty nail through his nose left for Germany last week telling me he was “going to put the boot in.” Reading my Daily Mail, I realise now he’s been off lobbing rocks at Vladimir Putin and his G8 chums. What I can’t understand is why he’s so angry when all the G8 seem to want to do is give money to Africa and sort out climate change. Am I confused?

Bewildered, Surbiton

If you want peace, prepare for war. You must be so proud of your son getting fired up in his war paint and going off to play his part in making the world a better place.

Without our young guns sorting out the publicity, we’d never notice the G8 met and made promises.

Well done you for bring up such a well rounded young man. Now we just have to work out how to steer the G8 in a more positive direction than its usual round of Talk Global Do Fuck All Local.

Just one word of caution: don’t let your son go out with a rusty nail through his nose. As a Daily Mail reader, you must surely have been warned on the health pages at some point that it can’t be good for him.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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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