I may not actually win...

Sian urges London's voters to send out a strong message over green issues by voting for her first, L

Okay, I’m going to be painfully honest and admit I have a very slim chance of becoming Mayor of London after the ballots are counted on 2 May. I’m being asked why I’m standing a lot at the moment, and the truth is it’s not because I think I’m actually going to be Mayor.

But, I do believe in giving voters a full choice of candidates in every election, and I know that many voters will want to send a strong message about wanting more progress on green and social justice issues, and that’s what a Green first vote is all about. Then, as I have blogged before, I am recommending people cast their final round votes for Ken Livingstone to save London from the horror of becoming Boris Johnson’s playpen for the next four years.

This is what I’m calling their ‘insurance’ vote, and I also have an insurance policy of my own in this election. I am fourth on our London Assembly londonwide list, and so I do have a realistic chance of becoming an Assembly Member after election day.

Provided we run a decent campaign (which of course I’m largely responsible for making sure of, working in the high-profile mayoral candidate role), I think we should be able to win the confidence of the same proportion of London voters as in the last council elections in 2006. This was 13.5%, and would just about be enough to put me in via the fiendishly complicated D’Hondt counting system used to assign the list seats.

The only problem – and it’s not a small one - is the pitifully tiny amount of attention actually given to the Assembly elections by the ‘Boris and Ken show’ obsessed press. Hardly anyone is aware we have a progressive, almost-fair, PR-based system for the Assembly election, or that they can vote for who they like and be sure their vote will count towards winning AMs for their chosen party. Hopefully this will improve though, as the campaign goes on, and of course I’m doing my little bit by posting this here.

It’s a double shame for us in the Greens that the Assembly is so invisible in this election, because our current two AMs, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, have made far and away the best job of being on the Assembly over the past four years. I have honestly never known two more hardworking, morally upright and astute politicians.

Unlike the part-timers from the other parties, they have worked tirelessly to make London better; and not just on green issues either. Some people are aware that Livingstone’s increased investment in cycling and home energy-efficiency is down to their casting vote over his budget each year. But how many know that they were also responsible for the creation of the Living Wage Unit, which calculates what a Londoner really needs to earn to pay for the basic essentials and enables campaigners such as London Citizens to go out and shame big employers like Citigroup into paying their cleaners decently?

The scale of their achievements came home to me the other day, when I was putting together this webpage, listing what they have got done. Yes, as they (probably) say, ‘you can take the woman out of the web manager job, but you can’t completely take the web manager out of the woman’, so fiddling with the London Green Party website is still my spare time hobby. The amount of material was so large I ended up putting it over four pages in the end, and it still needed a list of id-tagged contents at the top of each page.

So, while a Tory monopoly will still leave us with lots to do, my two hopes for this election are that, first, we retain a Mayor over which the Greens have an influence and, second, that I can be working alongside them in City Hall making it all happen.

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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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