If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. Photo: Getty
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Despite the best efforts of Cameron’s Britain, being in your twenties is actually great

Yes, we’re facing a housing crisis and mass unemployment, but your twenties can still be the time of your life.

Ah, millennials, they’re such arseholes, aren’t they? What with their Buzzfeeds and their hashtags and their Tinder-swiping and their “special snowflake” senses of entitlement bequeathed to them by the baby boomers. Yep, millennials get a seriously bad rap, mainly because the word “millennials” in itself is the ultimate in media douchebaggery (though “Generation Y” must surely come in at a close second.) And really, considering the fact that we’re universally acknowledged to have been financially shat on by our parents, it doesn’t seem fair that we have to deal with the bad press as well.

Obviously, only a fool would think that all the members of a single generation are slaves to the same motivations, but from reading daily media coverage you’d be forgiven for assuming that we’re all Whatsapping pictures of our newly trendy American Apparel-endorsed bushy vaginas to each other over dinner at SushiSamba. Either that, or we’re being forced into sharing beds with one another in between our various unpaid internships for start-up companies based on the Silicon Roundabout, all the while bemoaning how much easier that pesky parental generation of ours had it with their free educations and the houses they paid £2.50 for in 1973. But guess what, media people? We’re going to buck the trend here. Being in your twenties is actually great.

Though “millennials” are either cast as entitled hipster layabouts too complacent to pay their dues, or an entire “lost” generation robbed of opportunity, the truth is, we’re neither, or maybe a bit of both. True, recession and living under the coalition has been no picnic, and it’s no wonder that we may hold a smidgen of resentment towards the cushy nineties lifestyles of our elders (we fully missed out on the dizzy heights of Britpop and have never been to the Groucho Club – it’s a wonder we can still go on), however, things aren’t as bleak as all that. They may say we have no future, and believe us, when you’ve just been sick outside the Jobcentre and you’re on a comedown and it’s raining and a man is standing inside, demonstrably dry and sadistically tapping his watch, it may well feel that way – but there are plenty of other things to be thankful for.

It’s become rather fashionable to say that your thirties and forties are way better than your twenties. Hell, they probably are, because you might actually have money and no longer be a prisoner to regular panic attacks about who’s going to pay the internet bill and what might happen if you get cut off from Twitter. Yes, we’re facing mass unemployment and a housing crisis resulting in such low rental standards that the rising levels of damp enable you to grow your own mushrooms for sustenance, but your twenties can be the time of your life. If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. When Rhiannon’s mum felt that she was being too picky over finding a place to rent, she made a list of all her twentysomething abodes, and most of them had no central heating and collapsed ceilings. It was like, “Bitch, please: you think you’re the first person to have had a garden full of mattresses?” Holly’s mum squatted in an abandoned house in Cornwall in her teenagehood, and mentions ominously of that time that she will “never discuss” the intricacies of the living situation. In other words, we need to stop thinking we’re the only ones who’ve had it rough.

Being in your twenties in 2014 is great for a number of reasons. You can fuck up and people will look kindly on it because, hey, you’re only 24 and you don’t know any better (one of our friends’ dads says that you’re not a proper adult until you’re 30). If things go wrong, you can move back in with their parents and no one will automatically assume that you’re spending your time harvesting organs in a soundproofed cellar to a soundtrack of the Carpenters (if you don’t have parents, then it’s the foodbank for you, but let’s not kill the optimism while we’re in the flow, yeah?)

You can make terrible relationship and fashion and career choices and come back from them unscathed and in possession of a brilliant amateur stand-up routine - in fact, if you don’t, you’re seen as needlessly vanilla. You can get an interest-free overdraft, at least for a little while before they start sending you endless letters and you have to move house. If you’re renting, you can up sticks at relatively short notice, without having to worry about the terrifying consequences of a mortgage and a partner. Unless you’re in your twenties and you actually have a partner and a mortgage - in which case, all your friends will be jealous of you.

You have the entire internet at your fingertips, and you know how to use it to your best advantage. You’re young enough to harness its powers, but old enough to realise that people really do screenshot their Snapchats and a lot of what goes online might stay forever. You can still think your band is going to make it, and no one will think you’re pathetic. You’re sexually liberated, perhaps even more so than the previous generations – you’re certainly much less likely to be called a slut when sleeping with who you want, when you want, if you’re a woman. Among your age group in the UK, whatever the class bracket, homophobia and racism is fast becoming a huge taboo and is pretty much guaranteed to make everyone hate you. You can marry whomever you want, regardless of their gender. You can move anywhere in the EU and be in your twenties there instead. And when it doesn’t work out, you can come home crying and have a complete life rethink and no one will think you’re a failure; they’ll just think you made the most of your youth.

That’s not to say that everything in your twenties is easy breezy. This government couldn’t give a toss about young people at the moment, and there are huge social and economic problems that need tackling urgently, but it’s time that we reclaim our twenties and acknowledge the positives. So many of the people we know, regardless of their race, class background or economic situation, are doing incredibly exciting things (even if it is in between signing on). Whether it’s becoming young parents, travelling around Argentina, writing a novel, doing up a dilapidated terraced house and turning it into a home, going back to university after raising a daughter, living in Berlin, making your own clothes, doing TEFL in South Korea, becoming a champion pole dancer, working in the best pop-up cocktail bar the hipsters of Hoxton have ever seen, taking your two babies on a crazy-round-the-world trip, setting up your own business or working shitty long hours in an underpaid job and getting spectacularly lashed on the weekends, chances are you’ll be having some fun while doing it. Your twenties are a time where you, for fear of sounding corny, work out who you are. You make mistakes, drink too much, embarrass yourself, and you may be perpetually skint, but you’re also making stuff happen. And in light of the mess the country’s in (altogether now: Cameron’s Britain!) that’s a huge fucking achievement. Let’s carry on doing it.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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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