What toys did you play with as a child? Would you say they were, on reflection, a bit rubbish? If the answer’s yes, did you by any chance happen to be a girl?
I’m pondering this following a visit to ToysRUs [sic]*, everyone’s favourite megastore for gender stereotyping fun. It’s easy to get into a state of mild-mannered liberal apoplexy in a place like that; you just have to walk through the door without leaving your brain and/or morals outside. However, following yesterday’s visit, I’ve started to worry about something else: cruelty to toys, in particular to toys marketed at girls. Scratch the surface and you’ll find it’s a bigger problem than you’d first imagine.
When toys are in the feminist firing line, it’s always the girls’ stuff that’s at the front. Stands to reason, I suppose; armed with lipgloss alone, Polly Pocket and Bratz can’t shoot back. Truth is, we’re a bit scared of the boys’ things; they promote violence, or might do, and it’s all a bit complicated really. With girls’ stuff it’s simple. When it comes to essential crapness – being a rubbish toy which makes the child have shit aspirations in life – it’s so much easier to stick the knife into Barbie than it is Ben 10 (I have no idea who Ben 10 is or what he does. My son has a Ben 10 pencil case. He has no idea either. We both agree Ben 10 is a rubbish name).
Barbie is not a realistic role model, but I suspect Ben10 isn’t either (it’s something to do with fighting aliens, I think. If so, it’s definitely not realistic – the aliens would totally have us). So why the fuss about Barbie? I think there are three main reasons:
- Girls seen as more “vulnerable”, ie more likely to have their little minds poisoned by some stupid post-feminist hell-doll.
- Boys’ stuff should just be “for everyone” (because heterosexual male experience is “real” while everything else is just mere misguided posturing or something)
- If girls play with “boys’ toys”, while it won’t necessarily make them as good as boys, it might make them a bit less shit. If boys play with “girls’ toys”, on the other hand, it’ll make them all gay.
In short, why can’t everyone just be equal, throw out all this pink fluffy crap and do whatever it is you do with Ben10?
I have a real problem with this. First, because all toys are cute in their own special way so we shouldn’t be being so fucking mean to them. Second, because lots of toys marketed at girls are way better than the equivalents being sold to boys. I know this because I was a girl and I had some truly ace toys. Alas, boys didn’t get to play with them. Hence I’ve compiled a list of the best girls’ toys of the 1980s. YOU didn’t get to play with them, chaps. Ha! Read it and weep:
1. Sweet Secrets The Transformers of the girls’ toy market. It’s beautiful jewellery to everyone else, but turns into playmates when you’re by yourself. So something you can wear (I had a necklace) turns into a real doll. Hours of fun. Way better than something of no use whatsoever (I think my brother had a pretend screwdriver or something) turning into a fake robot (robots are meant to do stuff. Dolls aren’t, so the doll wins). Why they aren’t currently making Sweet Secrets: The Movie I’ll never know.
2. Twirly Curls Barbie Yes, Barbie is too thin. No, she is not a feminist icon. But did Action Man have a twirly curler? I think you’ll find he didn’t.
3. Tiny Tears A doll that cries, yes, but also a doll that pisses itself. Tops! And let’s have none of this “indoctrinating girls into the drudgery of motherhood” crap. You’re a kid. You have a toy that wees. Bloody brilliant.
4. Rainbow Brite This is the story of Rainbow Brite / Who rides on a horse called Starlight /And happens to have a name that rhymes with “shite”. It might have been the type of school I went to, but that last bit (not featured in the TV ads) caused years – literally years – of fun.
5. Strawberry Shortcake Had hair that smelled of strawberries. And yes, the toys a girl has can affect her aspirations in life, and yes, I do still want to have hair that smells of strawberries. But tell me, is that really so wrong?
6. Makeup laboratory thing that I can’t remember the name of Which was WAY better than my brother’s crappy chemistry set. He had some test tubes and powders and shit, but I got to make lip gloss and perfume. And okay, iron filings are fun for a bit. But a lip gloss is for life.
7. Knitting Nancy One of those knitting dollies where you end up with a long sausage of wool that you can’t actually do anything useful with, but it’s pretty addictive all the same. Unlike, say, Meccano, which is only fun if you’re good at that kind of thing. And let’s face it, most of us, male or female, are crap at that kind of thing.
8. Sindy Town House Four floors of gleaming white brilliance. I wanted a Sindy Town House. I never got one. Mum and Dad, YOU’VE RUINED MY LIFE! <storms off to pull the stuffing out off some fucking stupid cuddly toys that I didn’t want anyhow, and no, Pippa is NOT the same as Sindy, she’s just some cheapo version, so you can just take her back to Woolworth’s where you found her, I hate you, I hate you, you’ve never loved me etc. etc.>
And that, I think, is just the tip of the iceberg. I think this because there were no doubt loads of other ace things out there but my mum and dad were MEAN and KEPT THIS FROM ME so I couldn’t be like everyone else. But anyhow, I’m not bitter or anything.
My sons play with cars, but they also play with one of my old Barbies. Admittedly they mainly play with the cars (what do you think this is, some sodding liberal shangri-la?). I care that they are free to make their own choices about what to play with. But most of all, I care about the toys. Toys are bloody brilliant. Be nice to them. They don’t get to choose their packaging.
* Damn that quirky backwards “R”.