US “Super Tuesday” primary elections to watch

Contests include CEOs fighting to lead California and tests for the conservative Tea Party movement.

With primary elections being held in ten states, 8 June is the most significant election day in the US until general election day in November. Today, voters are selecting Democratic and Republican candidates who will face each other on 2 November.

Although typically a smaller percentage of the American public votes in the primaries than in the general election, they will be a key indicator of the reaction to the Democrats after Barack Obama's first year in office. Polls show that there has been a clear backlash against the perception of big government spending, especially after the passage of the trillion-dollar federal health-care bill in March.

The primaries so far have also been a test for the "Tea Party" movement, which seeks to nominate right-wing Republican candidates. In some races, this has led to a split, with the official Republican establishment candidate pitted against a "Tea Party" Republican.

Here are some of the key elections:

Nevada

An unexpected boost in support for the Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, has rocketed her from single-digit support to the lead spot, over the GOP establishment candidate, Sue Lowden.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, the Democratic candidate in the race, has been lagging in the polls, and until recently was expected to lose his seat. The nomination of Angle overnight puts Reid in a much better position in November, as far-right Angle has a smaller war chest and is viewed as the weakest Republican candidate in a primary field of 13 candidates.

The Tea Party movement has excited and mobilised the Republican grass roots. However, if its candidates prove unelectable, the party may die down by November.

Arkansas

The dethroning of incumbents has been a key story this primary season. Two incumbent candidates have been ousted in primary elections so far this year: the Republican-to-Democratic Party-switcher Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania and the Republican Bob Bennett of Utah both failed to gain their party's nomination.

Today, there could be a third upset in the state of Arkansas. The Democratic incumbent candidate, Senator Blanche Lincoln, has been battling the effects of a reverse Tea Party effect. Lincoln has been viewed as too conservative by some Democratic Party supporters, and was forced into a run-off that is taking place on Tuesday. She faced opposition on the left from trade unions after she opposed a key component of the health-care bill.

Lt Gov Bill Halter came out of nowhere to challenge Lincoln in the runoff, after scooping up union campaign money.

California

In California, the fight for the Republican nomination turned into an expensive duel between a billionaire and a millionaire. The eventual general election winner in November will succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor and inherit a budget deficit of $17bn.

The former head of eBay, Meg Whitman, is seeking the Republican nomination. The billionaire has poured in an extraordinary $71m of her own money into her campaign -- which has cost $80m in total. She is expected to defeat her fellow Republican and former businessman Steve Poizner, a state insurance commissioner, who has spent $24m of his own money.

While Whitman and Poizner are competing to be the most ideologically conservative candidate, another overriding concern is wooing undecided voters in a state that is more liberal than many others in the country.

The Republican nominee will face the 72-year-old Democratic candidate, Jerry Brown, in November. If Brown wins he would be both the youngest and the oldest person to have served as senator for California: he first held the same office 40 years ago.

South Carolina

The story in South Carolina's primary is less about trends and money than plain old dirty politics. The front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, Nikki Haley, has been accused of infidelity and called a "raghead" by a Republican state senator.

Haley, the first Sikh American to hold state office in South Carolina, is seeking to succeed Mark Sanford, the Republican governor infamous for disappearing for days, before finally admitting he had fled to Argentina and had had an affair.

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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