The Women’s Institute and the Bolshevik tendency

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual <a href="h

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual Campaign Against Climate Change march for years, and it has been exponentially bigger every time. This year’s event on Saturday was no exception.

The focus of CACC is to press for international agreement on effective carbon dioxide emissions cuts. So, with the US holding this up ever since George Bush took power, the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square is always the focus of activities, either starting or ending the march.

This year, we began with a rally in the square. Seize the Day provided music between speeches from, among others, CACC vice presidents Norman Baker MP, Green MEP Caroline Lucas and writer George Monbiot. George’s speech was the most startling – he warned activists sternly against too much ‘doom and gloom’ in our campaigning.

He pointed out the disturbing fact that erstwhile climate deniers are changing their strategy and attempting to switch from blocking action by pretending there isn’t any problem into blocking action by painting climate change as too far gone to bother. With most sane people now in a mid-position where we recognise the problem at the same time as recognising a lot of really obvious solutions, he argued that we should tone down our rhetoric, be positive and get some action going at last - or we’d be just as culpable for the consequences. Harsh stuff, but it was something fresh we needed to hear.

On the more political side of things, Caroline Lucas warned Tony Blair that the time for delay and fudge was over. She said that failure to negotiate a fair and effective international treaty is morally negligent and called for real UK leadership in negotiations this week at climate talks in Nairobi.

Setting off for Trafalgar Square, I was struck by the vast range of different groups marching together. Along with the familiar CACC greenhouse, Friends of the Earth flags, a big Green Party contingent and of course our own Alliance Against Urban 4×4s' lollipop man, people dedicated to campaigning on individual issues were everywhere.

I tried to emulate John Reed, author of revolutionary epic ‘Ten Days that Shook the World,’ by collecting as many leaflets and postcards as possible and I now have a fine collection of literature from the likes of Plane Stupid, RoadBlock, Group Against Motorway Expansion, Airportwatch, World Naked Bike Ride, Rising Tide, the Vegan Society, Christian Ecology Link, Stop Stansted Expansion, Come Off It, and the DOVE campaign against the Newhaven incinerator (if I missed your group – sorry!)

Also notable was the rising number of political parties in the mix. I saw placards by the Greens, LibDems, Respect, Socialist Workers and even the Bolshevik Tendency being carried, and speakers from the platform at the Embassy also included Zac Goldsmith for the Tories and Labour MPs.

Arriving at Trafalgar Square, all thoughts of party politics were banished, however, as the CACC march joined thousands of people filling the square as part of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition’s ‘I-count’ rally. Groups supporting the coalition are an even more diverse collection than the activists on the march and include the Women’s Institute.

Instinctively piqued at the lack of real political fire coming from the actors, comedians and pop stars on the stage (no politicians were allowed on the bill), I tried to put my feelings aside at the sight of the huge crowd they had brought along to the day’s set of actions, many of whom wouldn’t have felt comfortable with the radical types outside the US Embassy.

Phil Thornhill, the founder of CACC, started this traditional day of action single-handed in 2001 after the USA pulled out of the Kyoto agreement, and it is the sign of a great achievement that this day is now both a mainstream and an international event, adopted by such a wide range of groups and nations.

Forty-eight countries around the world saw demonstrations on Saturday, including 90,000 in Australia and an inaugural event in Taiwan. Maybe soon we’ll see some results.

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