This is a sort-of-guest post, in that I’ve sourced most of the text and images from the excellent Mike Hall, with permission.
It’s a pet peeve of mine, this increasingly gendered toy market we’re seeing, and people’s defence of it; that it’s always been that way, that it’s what parents/children want, that it’s not a problem at all to be hammering old-fashioned and restrictive gender roles into kids from day 1.
Kinder Surprise eggs were part of my childhood; I used to collect the animal figurine series; turtles, lions, hippos etc. They’re probably in my mum’s house somewhere.
They did what they said on the wrapper; you didn’t really know what you were going to get out of this chocolate, in the little plastic popper-container. We’d shake them and listen, thinking that we were like some kind of connoisseur-expert, that we could tell from the sound whether it was a figurine or just another plastic toy you had to assemble.
It could have been a whole host of things. You didn’t know, that was the fun.
But now Ferrero have decided that they have 2 kinds of egg; one for boys, and one for girls. Yawn. Over to Mike for more…
12/08/2014: So yesterday I bought a pink “gendered” Kinder Egg, partly because I fancied a Kinder Egg, and partly to see what I would find inside it.
For those not aware, Kinder have recently started marketing independent “boy/blue” and “girl/pink” versions of the Kinder Surprise. Seems unnecessary to me? But there you have it. And these are a few thoughts on my pink Kinder Surprise.
1. They seemed to come in palettes, with a layer of pink eggs sitting on a layer of blue eggs, sitting on a layer of pink, etc. Don’t know if this is representative of how they are shipped, how the shop chooses to stock them, or whatever. Interesting part of this for me was that customers had only taken eggs from the top (pink) layer. There were no eggs taken from the blue tier underneath. Does that mean no-one gives a fuck about the colour and just want a Kinder Surprise? Does that mean that only women are buying them? Is this just an artefact of the shop being located in the business district in Liverpool where they’re going to be bought predominantly by adults? Would younger purchasers have been more discriminating? Don’t know.
2. The toy inside was a “Pop Star Barbie” (indeed, the pink egg itself is Barbie branded). This wasn’t as bad I was expecting, to be honest. I was expecting princess, nurse, home-maker, socialite, etc.
3. The toy required very little assembly. I remember Kinder Surprise being more difficult to put together than this. Maybe that was because I was younger? But basically, I have to clip two things together and apply one sticker. Not more than eight seconds work. But then sometimes you get little statuettes inside the egg with no assembly required at all?
4. The leaflet inside indicated that “Pop Star Barbie” is part of a larger “I can be…” range, which looks to be designed with the aim of giving little girls positive role models. Also in the range are Fashion Designer, Chef, Doctor, Lifeguard, Ballerina, Actor and Tennis Player. They are all very “girly girl” along with their vocation (e.g. Doctor Barbie is wearing heels and a sequinned mini skirt, Chef Barbie has pink wooden spoon, etc.), but they do come over as successful (e.g. Actor Barbie is holding an Oscar).
5. I’m wary here of coming over as denigrating the choice of some women to be “girly girls”. Of course, that’s a valid choice. Being a doctor in a mini skirt is a valid thing to do if that’s what you want to do. Though I do worry there is a fine line between the message “being feminine and being a doctor aren’t mutually exclusive” and “obviously you must be very feminine, but you can still be a doctor too”.
6. It could have been worse; it could have been only feminine stereotypes, without the attempt at giving positive role models. But it also could have been a lot better. Like not producing daft gendered toys in the first place and letting kids play with what they want to play with.
7. Overall, it comes over to me like a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class guys got together in a room… then tried really, really hard to be progressive about it. And missed.
01/09/2014: Bought another Kinder Egg today — this time a blue/boy one. It was a Hot Wheels car (also a Mattel brand).
It came in two parts, which snapped together very easily. Probably a simpler assembly job than Barbie, if anything. Plus the application of three stickers.
There was nothing along the lines of the “I can be…” message of the Barbie-branded egg, just the car with a photo of which other cars you can collect. This car came in a lovely poo-brown colour.
From the leaflets inside the two eggs I’ve bought — pink/girl and blue/boy — it looks like all the pink eggs are Barbies with various professions. And all the blue eggs are cars of various designs and colours. So no gender stereotyping in there whatsoever, no sir.
Interesting that the boys are given things they should want, and the girls given things they should want to be? Don’t know if that’s deliberate, or subconscious, or if I’m reading too much into that?
Thanks again to Mike for sharing these posts.
Looking through some other comment pieces, it does seem that there’s some evidence for this trend being sexist parent-driven rather than just from the market itself (although as a circle rather than linear effect, it’s hard to separate those out completely):
“The company said in a statement: “We do not advocate or promote our products as gender specific. Instead, Kinder Surprise Pink and Blue offers a range of interesting new toys in coloured eggs which help parents navigate the toy ranges on offer and make purchasing decisions based on what is most relevant for their child.
“Research that we undertook prior to launch indicated that parents welcome this product, with 66% of parents saying it was a good idea to have two separate ranges of toys. In addition, 66% of parents agreed that having a pink and blue Kinder Surprise egg made it easier for them to know which treat to buy for their child.”
– Marketing Magazine
There has been a Change.org petition set up to challenge the company’s decision on this, which is obviously met with the usual “find some real issues” type comments. But, if we don’t take the low-hanging fruit where we can, how are we ever going to address those bigger issues too? Feminism isn’t about only ever thinking of the most devastating issue; not only is it not possible, but ignores the fact that people can care about more than one thing at once.
See the links below for more, and do share if you have some experiences on the subject.
– “Kinder Surprise denies gender bias with pink and blue eggs, plus five sexist marketing fails” – Marketing Magazine
– “Kinder Predictable” – Let Toys Be Toys
– “Kinder Surprise in stereotyping row over pink and blue eggs” – Independent
– “Why New Pink Kinder Surprise Pisses Me Off” – HuffPo
– “What do toys have to do with inequality?” – Let Toys Be Toys