In this week’s New Statesman: Scotland unchained

A rare interview with SNP leader Alex Salmond. PLUS: Caitlin Moran – what makes us human?

Cover Story: “This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign”

In a rare print interview with NS editor Jason Cowley this week, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond declares "the real game hasn’t even started" and reveals that a written Scottish constitution would guarantee every young person the right to a job or training.

The SNP leader says he aspired to introduce a written constitution for “every 16- and 19-year-old to have a training place or an opportunity of a job if they are not already in an apprenticeship or a job or full-time education . . . we should aspire to establish certain rights – the right to a free education, the right to youth employment”.

Elsewhere, Salmond insists his party will win the independence referendum, sets out a vision for an independent Scotland within the EU, rubbishes the “Better Together” campaign and declares the bedroom tax a political insanity.

Read exclusive extracts here.

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

The Politics Column: Why both Labour and the Tories secretly think the 2015 election might be a good one to lose

“When an election looks hard to win, MPs sometimes seek solace in the myth that it might not, after all, be so bad to lose” writes Rafael Behr in the Politics Column this week. It’s a “virus” that infected the Labour ranks before the 2010 election. Now, the same malady has taken hold on the Conservative benches. Behr continues:

This attitude is not quite the same as defeatism, which is the fatalistic anticipation of loss. It is defeatophilia – a sadomasochistic faith in the purgative benefits of electoral spanking. The obvious rebuttal is that unity around a sharpened doctrine won’t be much use in opposition but the Tory defeatophiles have an answer. Labour’s inability to govern in austere times, they say, must be exposed. Let Ed Miliband flounder before the challenge of cutting budgets with his trade union paymasters in uproar. Only after a catastrophic single term of unstable Labour (or Lib-Lab) rule will the national appetite be whetted for authentic Conservatism; bring on another winter of discontent to augur the second coming of Thatcherism.

Read the Politics Column in full here.

 

Caitlin Moran: “What makes us human? Joy”

The Times columnist and author of How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran, writes the eighth piece in our “What Makes Us Human?” series, published in association with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show.

“The ways in which we are – and no offence to any other animals reading – totally superior to the beasts are manifold,” she writes. “It’s not like I don’t respect the fauna. I really do. But we are the species that invented a machine that vends crisps to drunken, hungry, heartbroken people at deserted coach stations at two in the morning . . .”

What makes us uniquely human is “joy, and the joy we take in our joy”, says Moran, taking in everything from Friday nights (“one of mankind’s greatest inventions, up there with the pyramids and the moon shot . . . You can hear hiss of the fizzy wine calling”) to hot baths (“Consider the nearest that animals get to this kind of day-to-day euphoric experience: wallowing in a puddle that’s had a double-glazing flyer dropped in it”) to the Beatles (“You know how some people have religion. . . ? Brought up by atheist hippies, I have the Beatles”).

 

Daniel Trilling: A letter from Greece

Daniel Trilling visits the remote village of Ierissos, Thessaloniki, the site of a “bitter dispute” between inhabitants and an invasive gold mining/extraction company. Despite local opposition, the government says the project must move forward – “Greece’s profound economic crisis allows no alternative.” Trilling continues:

As politicians try to sell the new Greece, the social crisis continues to deepen. Hospitals are so underfunded that they run short of basic medical supplies. What’s more, public anger shows no signs of abating. A group of enraged villagers who don’t want their mountain turned into an open-cast mine could severely damage the perception that Greece is a safe place for global capital.

PLUS

Kate Mossman goes to a Rihanna gig

Mark Damazer reviews Modernity Britain by David Kynaston

Marcus Mill and Robert Skidelsky deplore the despair caused by austerity

Laurie Penny on life lessons learned from Doctor Who

Will Self bemoans the pointless innovation of 3D cinema

Sarah Churchwell on the dark reality of the 1920s New York jazz scene

Alex Hern on Neil Gaiman

 

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

This article first appeared in the 24 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Mr Scotland

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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