Material Sensibilities

making space for play across the life course

Category Archives: Geographies of children and young people

Gender, Consumption and Toys: does it matter?

The following is a blog post by undergraduate students from UoP’s Geographies of Children and Young People module.

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“Girls wear pink, boys wear blue”

Source: Martin Schaefer (reproduced with permission)

Children’s gender socialisation is being altered through today’s consumerism and consumer culture. Parents are just as conscious with the toys their children play with, as the clothes they wear when it comes to their gender roles. Various products and companies aimed at children are showing gendered bias. Products are typically either over feminine, labelled “pink, glittery and frilly” or over masculine by being “powerful and macho”. Being a female does not necessarily mean to aspire to be a princess, this millennial society appears to accept that girls can grow up to do what they wish. So why are toy companies’ products still enforcing old fashioned gender stereotypes? The worry is that if these gender stereotypes are applied at a young age it is not something the young child will know, it is something they learn as a result of their upbringing. This is where problems can arise in the future, where young males and females reject the generalised norm, an idea that is explored throughout this blog post.

‘Girly Girl’

The ‘girly’ culture is defined in the ‘gender appropriate’ items girls are buying. Shops like Claire’s Accessories or Girls Heaven “epitomize the commercial appropriation of childhood”  and are targeted towards young girls. This is creating an idealisation of femininity, installing the idea that to be a girl means to want to be a princess and to aspire to be pretty. Girls who do not feel that they fit into this ideal are therefore left out and unaccommodated. However not all children assume this norm, with some clearly breaking this stereotype. Children are humans in their own right and have their own agency to form individual opinions as to what appeals to them. Moorhead writes about this argument, discussing her own experiences with her daughter being a “tomboy”, She comments that not all girls are

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 13.32.21sugar and spice and all things nice…but some little girls are made of different stuff

reiterating that some children simply do not  relate to their gender stereotype.

Academics have studied gender stereotypes among infants, concluding that as the primary purchaser of toys tends to be a female, this influences the type of product purchased for a child. It was found that pink and yellow tones were used to decorate young girls’ rooms, whereas colours such as blue and white were predominantly used in boys’ rooms. This shows that even from a young age before a time where it is perceived for a child to have any social agency, they are being assigned a gender regardless of their own opinions.

Stereotypes in Consumption

The video below represents an opinion from Daisy Edmonds, an 8-year-old girl who was filmed by her mother talking about some stereotypical clothes seen in the chain supermarket Tesco. This shows that young girls are becoming aware of this gender appropriation seen in consumer goods. It shows that the typical stereotyping seen in products, like clothes shown in the video, are being challenged not only by academics but the children concerned themselves.

 

Some try to argue that the reason for having gendered toys is because it is seen as natural or in some way innate, however this assumption is a fairly new ideal created purely by marketing departments. In a 1927 Time article, the writer was informing parents on how boys should wear pink and girls should wear blue. It is thought that this was encouraged so parents would have to buy a whole new wardrobe that was colour appropriate. This furthers the idea that consumerism is a key influencer in the gender stereotypes that have been created. The whole social construct that surrounds gender and consumerism is largely supported by the colours of the products, which is why companies deem it so important to brand certain products in a certain way depending on the gender of their target audience.

 

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“Blue for a boy, pink for a girl”

Source: Own. Taken at Fratton Tesco store, December 2016

As the awareness grows towards gender stereotypes, so is the desire for more gender neutral toys, or toys which represent both females and males in equal terms. The toy manufacturers ‘LEGO’ have generated criticism in recent years for stereotyping how girls should play. The launch of ‘Lego friends’, aimed at young girls, featured five characters who all partook in a leisure led lifestyle such as a salon environment, a swimming pool, and a convertible car. The lack of an educational element for these characters is what sparked criticism towards this range.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 13.32.21All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and had no jobs,” while the boy figures “went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs,” adding they “even swam with sharks

Extract from letter from seven year old Charlotte Benjamin in January 2014

Since its release, further products have been launched with the aim of counteracting the backlash from the ‘Friends’ range. The ‘Research Institute’ features three female scientists in their laboratories, aimed to promote the message that girls can aspire to be whatever they wish to be.

 

Public criticism of gender stereotypes has seen the likes of GoldieBlox and Wendy Tsao emerge, to expose children to diverse role models. Debbie Sterling of ‘GoldieBlox’ reinforces the stereotype that

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 13.32.21the most iconic action heroes are almost always men.

 

In a refreshing new ad campaign, the main protagonist is a female superhero. The aim is to influence today’s young population with toys that inspire people to divert from the generalist ideal that boys play the superheroes and girls are the ‘damsels in distress’.

 

Artist, Wendy Tsao supports this shift in toy stereotypes, with the transformation of the over-marketed Bratz doll into iconic women such as Malala Yousafzai and Jane Goodall. Wendy Tsao hopes that young girls will aspire to these women instead of the products of Disney and Hollywood.

Rapid progress has been made in recent years about attitudes towards gender, especially with regards to consumer culture. In reality, there is a great need for further discussion into whether it really does matter if toys are gender stereotyped or not; surely it should be down to each individual child and their own social agency as to what they play with, where they play, and who they play with.

 

Bridget O’Brien, Verity Smith, Lara Griffin, Michael Sonner & Emily Seth.

 

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Fake news: is media literacy the answer?

David Buckingham

Growing concerns about ‘fake news’ have led to calls for young people to be taught critical media literacy skills. Yet while media literacy would obviously be useful, it isn’t enough to address the problem. Media educators need to frame the issue more broadly, and join forces with those calling for media reform.

My apologies for the length of this post (believe me, I’m trying). I hope it won’t take you more than ten minutes to read.

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In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, there has been considerable debate about the problem of so-called ‘fake news’. Trump’s opponents have accused his supporters – including the Russian government – of circulating fabricated news stories in order to gain support. Yet Trump himself has frequently used the term to discredit what he claims is false information about him.

The problem is somewhat less evident here in the UK, although the Brexit…

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How to talk to children about politics… and Donald Trump

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Article in the Orlando Sentinel

As we’ve been finding out through our research, many parents question whether they should discuss world events with their children, or if it’s best to just to try to shield them from worrying events all together. As Stephens (1995, p14) notes in her discussion of the sentimentalisation of childhood, our ideal conception of the child is one founded on innocence, with no engagement with matters of sex, money and politics. 

“Modern children are supposed to be segregated from the harsh realities of the adult world and to inhabit a safe, protected world of play, fantasy, and innocence”

Parents we’ve meet during our ethnographic research have expressed how they sometimes struggle to respond when their children demonstrate knowledge of events such as beheadings by terrorist groups. Such concerns demonstrate how it is naive to believe we can shield children from the realities of the wider world. This is especially the case with the growth of social media.

“Children today are more exposed to world events than ever and despite the urge to protect our children from what’s happening, this can mean their worries build up. (John Cameron, Head of NSPCC Helplines, quoted in the Huffington Post)”

A recent NSPCC study revealed there has been a 35% rise in children who have had counselling for anxiety in 2016, compared to last year. Alongside personal and family issues, concerns about world affairs such as the EU referendum, the US election and troubles in the Middle East were also frequently mentioned as causes of anxiety.

Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of the Good Toy Guide Ltd, CEO of Fundamentally Children and member of the Ludic Geopolitics Project Advisory Board, recently offered advice on how to talk to children about world affairs and politics in an interview with the Huffington Post.

“Conversations that happen in front of a child, that don’t involve the child can be scary, so try and hold the conversation in a way that the child could join in with if they wanted to, otherwise leave the more complex or disturbing topics for when the children are out of earshot.”

Read the full article here.

Artist Mark Neville explores childhood play in collaboration with The Foundling Museum

In preparation for a lecture on children and conflict, I’ve recently been reading Helen Woolley’s work on play in disaster areas. It was interesting to read about an exhibition on Child’s Play by artist Mark Neville, which includes photos from the war torn zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine alongside this work. Tom Seymour writes about this forthcoming exhibition in the British Journal of Photography.

Tom Seymour (reblogged from bjp-online.com)

As identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a child has a universal human r…

Read more: Artist Mark Neville explores childhood play in collaboration with The Foundling Museum

The end of innocence?

David Buckingham

Channel 4’s new drama National Treasure has brought the issue of celebrity paedophiles back to public attention. What does the most notorious and well-documented of these cases – that of Jimmy Savile – tell us about the role of media celebrity and children’s culture?

When it comes to holiday reading, most sensible, well-adjusted people pick up a pile of three-for-the-price-of-two novels at the airport bookshop. For better or worse, I tend to take things that will give my brain something to chew on. And so it was that I found myself in some beautiful locations in Southern Italy this summer reading all 600 pages of In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savileby Dan Davies.

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While it’s eminently readable, this is not a book you want to escape into – more one you want to escape from. I felt almost soiled while reading it, and I…

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The Dystopia of Sodor? Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism

I haven’t engaged closely with Thomas and his friends for many years now so I’m not sure how far I’d agree with Oli’s comments, but his post (below) makes for interesting reading. Given that my students are asked to undertake a critical reading of Postman Pat in my first year Rural Geography lectures, I may have to tune in to Thomas soon…

Thomas the Tank Engine, the popular children’s book and TV series, has been with us for 70 years, and still captures the imagination of children around the world. As a father of two rapidly growing-up children, trains seem to have some sort of mystic fascination with the preschool demographic. So it is no surprise that […]

via The Dystopia of Sodor: Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism — Landscape Surgery

Young People and the EU Referendum

This morning’s #Brexit news gives pause for thought as I put together the material for a new third year geography unit we’re launching this coming academic year: Geographies of Children and Young People. An understanding of young people’s agency and participation sits at the core of this unit. Polls from a variety of sources show that voters were split by age, with some showing up to 75% of young people (18-24 years) in favour of remaining part of the EU.

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Source: Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)

We could, of course, also look at the polls that suggest the same age group were the least likely to vote in the referendum. Hence, Eddie Izzard’s tour around universities to make an impassioned plea for young people to have their say.

See Eddie Izzard talking at UoP here.

It’ll be interesting to talk to students to gauge their reaction to the decision. The news comes at the end of a week where I was heartened and genuinely impressed by the levels of global citizenship on display in undergraduate work at Bath Spa (where I am external examiner). Students were taking longstanding geographical ideas around representation and power, and actively choosing to apply these to the contemporary situation for Syrian refugees. This was through critical analysis of British newspaper coverage and reflective commentaries on work placements with refugee charities.

This afternoon I’m on an interview panel for postgraduate study on intergenerational geographies. This has also taken on a new feel in light of the age related statistics.

As we begin to work through what this morning’s decision means for the UK, the recent edited collection on Children, Young People and Critical Geopolitics by Matt Benwell and Peter Hopkins seems to have taken on even greater significance.

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