Sex, children and Mail Online

The Daily Mail campaigns against the sexualisation of children. Meanwhile, its website runs pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a "tiny wetsuit" and "skimpy bikinis". What's wrong here?

Kylie Jenner is “seen posing up against a rusty old truck” with her sister, Kendall, in their “flirty white dresses.” With “much longer limbs” than their more famous siblings they “made the most of their trim pins”. Later, Kylie changes into an olive-green gown “which is skimpy around the bust area”, and “works her magic in front of the camera”. She has less modelling experience than Kendall, a swimsuit model who “is envied by millions of girls … for her lithe figure,” but is catching up, and loves “posing for the cameras”.

Kylie Jenner is 14 years old.

She is the daughter of Olympian Bruce and Kris Kardashian, and stepsister to Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob. Her sister, Kendall, recently turned 16. The quotes above are all taken from a single Mail Online article, which is just of one of dozens written about the young girls. A more recent headline reports that they “don tiny wetsuits for a day at the beach”. The article is based on a picture that Kendall posted on Twitter; it was spotted by the all-seeing Daily Mail Reporter, who apparently felt that 14- and 16-year-old girls wearing “very short wetsuits” would attract clicks.

 

Elsewhere on the site, six photos appear of the “teen bikini queens” soaking up the sun. Daily Mail Reporter describes them as “exhibitionists” who “display maturity and a lifestyle far beyond their years”. Fourteen-year-old Kylie is “not exactly shy!” as she “gets dressed in full view of passers-by”, an image Mail Online editors feel must be shared with the world. Days later, Daily Mail Reporter is shocked - shocked! - to find that the Kardashian family have included the two girls in a “raunchy home music video”. The “sexually-charged” performance features “teenagers Kendall and Kylie dancing suggestively in skimpy bikinis” and “shaking their bottoms for the camera”. The Mail show a picture of the girls, captioned Too young?” In case readers still aren’t sure, they helpfully provide the full video too. 

Enough.

Of course the Kardashians court publicity. The Kardashian name is a brand, and the family are a business built around the meticulously stage-managed performances of people who have chosen to live life as low-brow art. One can criticise adults for making that choice, and say that they deserve to reap the consequences of their actions; it is not so easy to dismiss the plight of a 14-year-old girl who - like any princess destined for a throne - has her choices made for her. Her family created the photo opportunities, photographers decided to take pictures of her posing in a bikini, picture agencies bought and sold the snaps, and newspaper editors chose to run them. At no stage in this celebrity industry assembly line does anybody seem to have considered whether it was appropriate to exploit a child in this revolting fashion.

At 14, Kylie has come late to celebrity. Six-year-old Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom and Katie, has been featured in more than six hundred Daily Mail articles - almost one for every three days of her life. In 2010 the Mail reported that the four-year-old was spotted snuggling up in her pink 'blankie',” observing that: “the comforter has been a constant feature in little Suri's A-list jetset life, and it seems that she isn't quite ready to give it up”. If this seems ‘cute’ to you, imagine this sort of obsessive media scrutiny applied to you or your child at the same age. No wonder that in 2008 the Mail could report that: Suri Cruise may be only two years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.”

The next stage, surely, is for the intrepid Daily Mail Reporter to venture through the vaginas of pregnant celebrities with a microphone and a handycam, in order to rank the relative cuteness of famous foetuses. Of course MailOnline's editor, Martin Clarke, told the Leveson Inquiry that “we don’t report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject”, but as TabloidWatch reported recently they’re happy to cover rumoured pregancies; whether revealing that Megan Fox is “still staying mum” about her “growing ‘bump’,” or asking whether Gisele has “something to hide?” Clarke and his competitors are leading us into a brave new world where people can be celebrities from conception to grave.

As worrying as this is, it is the treatment of teenage girls that is most worrying. The Jenners are far from the only targets - Jimmy Saville-Row at Vice Magazine recently highlighted, the Mail’s alarmingly frequent use of the phrase “all grown up” to describe adolescents, to which I would add the equally creepy “older than her years”. The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

Remarkably, there is nothing in the PCC code to stop Mail Online publishing images of young children accompanied by such commentary. Section 6 of the code, focusing on children, says that “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion” and that editors “must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s life”. In the case of Kylie Jenner, a celebrity under construction placed firmly in the public domain by her parents, neither rule really applies. That is a state of affairs the Leveson Inquiry would do well to consider. If Paul Dacre’s concerns about sexualisation are genuine, then perhaps he might like to consider it too.

Martin Robbins is a writer and researcher. Find him at The Lay Scientist or on Twitter: @mjrobbins

Kendall and Kylie Jenner are regular fixtures on Mail Online. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

Bennett Raglin / Getty
Show Hide image

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