Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ice Cream, Mandrake! Children's Ice Cream!

How attractive is the prospect of deliberately pissing on one of the electrified rails of modern left wing thought?

Not very at all, since the best case scenario is a series of angry rebukes.  Still, this is one of those days where I feel like I have to post something, just to get it off my chest.  Such days don't usually end well, for me at least.

So, here goes - I'm not convinced that an upsurge in genderised toys for kids is a major problem or even a minor one and even if it is, I'm pretty much dead against the people who have identified it being involved in attempts to fix it.

Now, straight off, I've already been asked whether I hold this opinion on gender and toys because I have a dick, and am thus blind to the problem.  I think this is probably true to a large extent, and if anything it doesn't take into account the raging egomania it takes to write screeds like this in the first place.

Nonetheless, let's start with Culture war isn't much fun when it's the right wing Christians doing it

The idea that cultural artifacts including movies, TV shows and, yes, kids toys amount to a form of malign indoctrination is rife in the US and certain parts of UK politics.  This belief is completely impervious to countervailing facts, such as - all of these things are money-making enterprises, intentionally targetted at the widest-possible section of the populace to make the largest-possible profit, rather than the dastardly tools of Machiavellian political puppet-masters.

The same applies to kids' toys here and, while I'm hardly blind to the effects of marketing and advertising - an industry that wouldn't exist if it weren't effective - I'm going to suggest that the demand for little pink bicycles pretty much bubbles up from the cash-possessing populace i.e. parents.  As I say, I'm unconvinced of the supposedly vast harm this corporate horror is wreaking upon the nation, but let's grant it for argument.

There are people in the UK who are well capable of explaining why e.g. thrusting pinkness on little girls from birth is a bad idea.  These people seem to be badly outnumbered by hyperbolic howlers of the gender apartheid genus, and I have to tell you - most of the people I know really, really hate the Waggy Finger of Tut-Tut [1].

Parenting is as personal an issue as it gets and if political activists want to expend a lot of energy pushing the ungendered toys argument, they can feel free and good luck to them.  I think it's going to be very, very difficult to do without sounding patrician, condescending and highly judgemental, but knock yourselves out.

Because we should also note that there's a substantial Class issue here.  There's a reason why this kind of thing is a hot topic at the Guardian and invisible in the red-tops, and it's not just because the red-tops are reactionary and idiotic - if there was an appetite for this kind of thing, the Sun would be pumping ungendered playtime like a jackhammer.

Issues like ungendered toys are mainly a middle-class, metropolitan issue for people from a particular and very small political milieu.  The Mums outside the schoolyards in the areas where the broadsheets don't sell so well are going to be at best indifferent, and at worst openly hostile [2]

As evidence, let me offer a similar toy-related campaign against Hamleys, once regarded as a smashing success.  I have no problem with well-to-do Londoners crusading against their own toystores so that little Jemima doesn't have to climb a flight of stairs to buy a chemistry set, but I suggest that this incident didn't have much effect on the 99% of the UK population who will never walk through the door.

Bluntly, I've wasted an embarrassing amount of time telling people that left wing politics isn't the sole preserve of a bunch of middle class Londoners with grand ideas about personal behaviour to impose on the plebs; I've wasted more hours than I care to say explaining that the PC Brigade is largely a figment of the tabloid imagination and frankly, a Guardian jihad on Argos isn't exactly my idea of a helpful contribution.

Elsewhere, I'm very much in favour of the government redistributing the public's cash to the general good but strongly opposed to it rooting through the population's cupboards for saturated fats or launching pant-sniffing moral crusades into its bedrooms...  And if there's one thing that you can guarantee, it's that the same people who are annoyed by girly toys are very, very fond of wielding The Ban-Hammer of No-No to knock some sense into the nation for our own good.

Let's not quibble over the relative merits of our various public health initiatives or proscribed magazines or internet filters, or any of that.  If, like me, you think that it's not the government's business to tell the people what they should and shouldn't do, outside of crimes, then campaigns like this should raise your suspicions.

And you might object and say well, there's no suggestion of public education campaigns or cudgelling toystores.  To which the answer is, not yet, but there always is sooner or later, usually at about the time somebody invents a terrifying phenomenon like Seagulling to panic about. 

What else?  Well, this is the one that's really going to get me zapped, quite possibly justifiably, because as best I can tell much of the nation's "discourse on gender" appears to hail directly from The World of Woocraft.

(Some disclosure, first - much of my cynicism on this score hails from a course I once took on gender in literary theory, the only one in which I was ever actively encouraged to wholly forget what an author was actually trying to say and to instead dash off up my own anus in pursuit of whatever daftness I thought was more important and politically relevant.  This is quite obviously a daft prejudice on my part, but it's one that I can't shake off and it's been strongly reinforced by further life experience, rather than diminished).

I confess to vast, depthless ignorance here, but it's very noticeable to me that current UK thinking on gender issues seem to hail not from scientific study, or even the kind-of-a-science realm of psychology, but from the utterly Woo-riddled world of political philosophy and literary theory.  Most of the (perfunctory) research I've done on this leads not to the tried-and-tested graft of biology or psychoanalysis, but straight up into the soaring formless ether of ethics and politics.

And to go one further, casual observation suggests that at present, the entire analysis exists less to describe existing phenomena, so much as to facilitate really horrible people being very horrible indeed to each other.  Almost every time I encounter arguments based on concepts of gender, it's deployed in service of a screaming match between gangs of people who hate each others' guts for political reasons and are largely employing the issue to flay strips off each other. 

Now, maybe this is irrelevant, and the humanities are the perfect place for such considerations.  Nonetheless, the Woo-factor and the internet combat just reinforce my belief that this is going to be a hard, hard sell to the populace at large.

And you know, maybe it's not important whether the public like the message.  The public rarely like new or unusual ideas and as has been pointed out to me already, the public were once perfectly fine with, for example, slavery.

Whether we want to rhetorically escalate a spat over My Little Pony to the level of Rosa Lee Parks being forced to the back of the bus is your call, not mine.  Like I say, these are your kids and your opinions; these are your choices.  If you're keen on the idea and want to pursue it, well, Go tell it on the mountain, Sister or Brother!  

I think that what we have here is a category error, replacing former mild anxieties about children and adult sexuality that have fallen away over time with more up-to-date concerns about gender identity, leavened with a depressingly common belief that the modern world is out to snatch our children from us.

I think it's all fine for you and yours, but pretty unappealing to everyone else.  I find it finger-waggy, off-putting; I think that a serious time-investment in it is counterproductive and I think it's manna from Heaven for the right-wing press, but it's your business.   

After all, I have an English degree, so I'd know.  But then, I also have a dick, so I probably wouldn't.


[1]  Ask a hundred religious parents how they responded to Dawkins telling them they were child abusers, and I'll be stunned if you got two who said Well, it really made me fundamentally reconsider the issue rather than I thought Dawkins was a twat.

[2] Anyone who's ever laid eyes on a nice school in a middle class area after experiencing even a mildly rough-around-the-edges educational establishment themselves would identify, here. It shouldn't be necessary to remind middle-class people that, if they had to send their kids to some of the country's rougher schools, they'd be better keeping them at home and flushing their heads down the toilet with kindness themselves, but plainly it often is.

44 comments:

otganic cheeseboard said...

I don't feel especially strongly on this, but I do think that childhood breeds attitudes in adulthood - you've only got to look at the weirdos who have Disney Princess or Star Wars weddings to see that, and the end of the Guardian piece is the most convincing on that - the sense that this kind of thing does have a referent in adult behaviour, including choices of career etc. A lot of that does stem from very early experiences - if a kid is told that they shouldn't like something because it's for the other gender, that is a confidence issue.

All the same, I don't mind target audiences tending to be one gender or the other either - but would prefer if they weren't specifically marketed as such (Hamleys is one thing, but Toys R Us is another) from the age of 0. Most of the obviously gendered kids' TV nowadays can be enjoyed by either gender anyway, at least from the stuff I've seen.

It's weird - when I was a kid in the 80s, kids' films were in general very clearly gendered - nowadays that's not the case so much. Odd that one industry moves one way, and another, the other.

Luis Enrique said...

like everybody I am operating without any evidence to back up my claims, but I am reasonably confident that going through a pink princess phase aged 3 has, in the scheme of things, approximately zero impact on the probability my daughter will go on to be a mechanical engineer. I mean it might have some role, if we imagine a blank slate with nothing other than PRINCESS stamped upon it, but I think in practise such things will be dwarfed by whether, aged 5, I buy her a mechano set and encourage her to learn maths, what her experience at school is like, what the attitude of employers is, etc.

Similarly my boy currently loves diggers. I am hoping he will become an opera costume designer, I just figure I'll let him have some fun before I start implementing my plans for him

Cylux said...

Sounds a bit like the Ban Bossy campaign to me.

Igor Belanov said...

I'm not sure that the under-10 years are particularly formative when it comes to forming these types of attitudes, and society is a bit more open than it was, at least at younger ages. My young nieces see no contradiction in wearing party frocks, reading about Disney Princesses, kicking a football about, or wearing a Leeds Rugby League top.
The difficulty comes later, I think, in adolescence and adulthood. For example, girls who like football are no longer able to play in mixed teams into their teens, even if there is no all-female team available for them to play for. Adult gender roles are still much less flexible than those of children.

gregorach said...

I confess to vast, depthless ignorance here, but it's very noticeable to me that current UK thinking on gender issues seem to hail not from scientific study, or even the kind-of-a-science realm of psychology, but from the utterly Woo-riddled world of political philosophy and literary theory.

There is actually quite a large body of pretty solid evidence relating to these sorts of issues. The search term you are looking for is "stereotype threat".

You're welcome.

organic cheeseboard said...

Yes - things are definitely better than they were, which is why I'm not all that fussed about this. I do think, though, that pre-school ideas (and the ideas of parents) inform ones people take to school with them.

Luis - as you say this is generally a question of parenting, which is why I'm with rodent in thinking a lot of this quite patronising. But I do think that it can't hurt to not market stuff specifically by gender on websites and in shops.

ejh said...

I sell a few heavily-gendered items in my work - this for instance is one that is currently on my stall. I don't have to do this, although I'm pretty constrained as to what I can get hold of through the remainder retailers. But I could not do it, and I do it all the same, and I'm not particularly concerned about the consequences, of which I am sceptical.

I don't believe - as several people have said above - that because kids are exposed to gendered books and toys at an early age, it makes a particular difference to how they or their lives turn out. It would make a hell of a difference if it was all they ever saw, of course. But it isn't. They'll have plenty of opportunity to come across other stuff that conveys a different message. (I mean Gawd, I was reading Biggles at a much later age, and it didn't actually turn me into a colonialist military aircraft fetishist.)

But at the same time, isn't it entirely reasonable for people to ask the manufacturers and vendors of this stuff to justify them, and see if they can come up with a batter answer than just "the public buys 'em"? At the end of the day you don't have to call it "Cookbook for Girls" - you can put all the cupcakes and heart-shaped biscuits you want on the cover if that's what people want. Lose the gendering, and I don't believe that ten years down vthe road anybody much would miss it.

And if it's the Waggy Finger of Tut-Tut, which it is up to a point, you do sometimes need a certain amount of this if you're going to get things done, in the field of culture at any rate. And it is stupid and it is annoying and if we are to say to one set of people that surely they can put up with a bit of gendered toymaking, then at the same time, can't another set of people put up with a bit of finger-wagging?

(Including, I think, the people who sell this stuff.)

McGazz said...

A couple of things.

"The idea that cultural artifacts including movies, TV shows and, yes, kids toys amount to a form of malign indoctrination is rife in the US and certain parts of UK politics. This belief is completely impervious to countervailing facts, such as - all of these things are money-making enterprises, intentionally targetted at the widest-possible section of the populace to make the largest-possible profit, rather than the dastardly tools of Machiavellian political puppet-masters."

This kind of reasoning is particularly nebulous, as it's praising the wisdom of The Market while pretending to take a sideswipe at it. How come you can see through the self-serving guff that politicians or religious figures come out with yet, at the same time, believe that capitalists just give people what they want? Anyway, you're not targeting toys at the widest-possible section of the populace if you're only offering each toy to 50% of your market, are you? You are, however, stopping them being shared with, or handed on to, opposite sex siblings. The profit motive doesn't generally encourage beneficence and it takes a certain set of ideological blinkers to assume it does. As for "Machiavellian political puppet-masters" - that's just a snappily-worded strawman. Capitalism doesn't work like that and no one's suggesting it's a conspiracy theory. It works impersonally; there is no shadowy cabal of illuminati or Protocols Of The Elders Of Matalan. There wasn't one when toys had lead paint on them, nor was there one when children used to work down mines, nor was there one when only boys were deemed worthy of receiving education.


"The same applies to kids' toys here and, while I'm hardly blind to the effects of marketing and advertising - an industry that wouldn't exist if it weren't effective - I'm going to suggest that the demand for little pink bicycles pretty much bubbles up from the cash-possessing populace"

You admit marketing and advertising are effective before going to claim that they aren't later on *in the same sentence*. Pink was associated with boys and blue with girls a century ago, so this "bubbling up" certainly isn't some kind of innate biological preference coming out. This is a thing I see with libertarians all the time - avowed empirical materialists who somehow simultaneously believe that people's consumer preferences spring fully-formed out of the ether. To use an appropriate idiom, I don't buy it.

As for "the Waggy Finger of Tut-Tut", I think Justin's right to say "you do sometimes need a certain amount of this if you're going to get things done, in the field of culture at any rate". Hey, I hate self-aggrandising liberal so-called "feminist" killjoys as much as the next ma...person. What they get wrong is that they think we can make the World a Better Place by constraining people's behaviour without changing the underlying economic system that shapes it. That's because they're narcissists who think everyone should be like them. God knows I've argued with enough of those folk online. Dudebro leftists get it wrong the other way around - believing that distribution of wealth is the only issue (the one country where old-school Socialism can be said to have 'worked' is a country where people drink rum and smoke cigars while playing dominoes and watching boxing and baseball)(*)

McGazz said...

"Issues like ungendered toys are mainly a middle-class, metropolitan issue for people from a particular and very small political milieu."

In other words, people who give a shit about the culture their kids are brought up in are all middle-class yummy mummies with a head full of CiF and too much time on their hands. This faux man-in-the-street, Clarksonesque pseudo-populism is, in a word, bullshit. It also suggests that working class people all have Andy Capp's views on gender norms, which is also pish. Maybe I'm lucky - my Dad did the lion's share of the housework when I was growing up and bought me and my sister Lego and board games rather than toy guns and princess outfits, despite him being the eleventh child of a Riveter's Mate, but *I* consider it an issue and I have the same class background and gender as you. I have friends with accents that could cut cold butter who feel the same way. This campaign (http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/) has targeted (and got results from) bourgeois boutiques like Boots, Center Parcs and TK Maxx. It was started on Mumsnet, which gets 10 million visits a month and is treated with the same reverence by UK politicians as AIPAC is by US senators. I can't find a group called 'Coal Miners Against "Her First Cooking Set"' but the 'only a few Jemimas in NW3' argument is utter crap. If Brownie was deploying that argument against, say, Palestine Solidarity campaigners on Harry's Place you'd be at him like a famished piranha, so it's odd to see you do it here.


"if there was an appetite for this kind of thing, the Sun would be pumping ungendered playtime like a jackhammer."

Hence all those campaigns in the Sun for more jobs, higher wages, renationalising utilities and jailing bankers. Personally, I've never noticed a vast public appetite for the invasion of Iraq, Page 3 lovelies, pro-Tory editorials or stories about Omar Bakri's daughter's boob job. Then again, they don't sell it round here. I don't believe for a second that you genuinely think tabloid content is driven purely by public sentiment, so I've no idea why you're ploughing that furrow.


"Bluntly, I've wasted an embarrassing amount of time telling people that left wing politics isn't the sole preserve of a bunch of middle class Londoners with grand ideas about personal behaviour to impose on the plebs; I've wasted more hours than I care to say explaining that the PC Brigade is largely a figment of the tabloid imagination and frankly, a Guardian jihad on Argos isn't exactly my idea of a helpful contribution."

What you're saying here though is that the political right and big business should decide what social justice campaigning is allowed. As I said on Twitter yesterday, that logic says there's no point in trying to make any change smaller than ending world hunger as it'll only give Mail readers butthurt fuel. You're happy to challenge the establishment when it's to do with wars, the surveillance state or politicians' hypocrisy, why not do so when it propagates what amounts to "man drive like this, woman drive like this" bollocks?


"If, like me, you think that it's not the government's business to tell the people what they should and shouldn't do"

And me. But I also don't think Capital should be allowed to either, especially as (a) no one elected it, and (b) it does it so fucking sneakily that it makes you think it's all your own idea.

McGazz said...

“much of my cynicism on this score hails from a course I once took on gender in literary theory”

I had a similar experience, although in my case it was Visual Basic. Years later, when actually having to use it, I realised that it was the lecturer's fault, not the code's. Yes, there are fantastic nutpicking opportunities in the peripheral puddles of gender theorist pissing contests. But, in the same way that half a dozen nobbers singing “ooh, ahh, Hizbullah” at a Stop The War event doesn't mean everyone present and, by extension, their cause, is utterly without merit, some theory-er than thou type boring a roomfull of neds by sifting Judith Butler's vomit doesn't mean that Steak & Blowjob Day should get a free pass.


"I confess to vast, depthless ignorance here"

Which, and pardon me for being a dick here, hasn't stopped you theorising at length and coming to the conclusion that it's all in the imaginations of Some People You Don't Like. I mean this in the nicest possible way, as a friend (in the degraded, social media sense of the term at least), but you can be a WKD-advert-class Bro sometimes. Hey, we all do a bit of that on Twitter - personal brand and all that - but your casual dismissal of these issues has a whiff of (and I'm using this phrase through teeth so gritted they'd be worn to stumps if they weren't already) M*le Pr*vilege. If you'd been born a woman, would you have ended up writing a blog about the stuff you write about and posing in combat gear in your avatar pic? Can you say for definite that being told certain occupations and interests 'aren't for you' since you were old enough to control your own bladder wouldn't have any effect on what you went on to do with your life?

Btw, I hope all of this is nothing to do with this (https://twitter.com/flying_rodent/status/454810560518176769) (which was a reply to this (https://twitter.com/panthersolo/status/454677993030701056)). I couldn't read your tone in the tweet (you don't strike me as someone who'd use "wide-o" in conversation (unless it's an Embra thing), so it was hard to tell what your intention was), maybe you couldn't read mine.

The context was: I was having a go at some arsehole at the Guardian, a self-styled "skeptic" who, it transpired, has no science education beyond a double-award GCSE but loved to point and shout "woo" at things that didn't fit into his neat, hermetically-sealed worldview (which can basically be summed up as "proclaiming Dawkins' Lordship"). I've noticed, from working with scientists and from reading a lot of ranty stuff on the internet, that the frequency with which someone uses the word "woo" is usually inversely proportional to their knowledge of science topics.

gregorach beat me to it but, yes, Stereotype Threat is a thing. There are shitloads of peer-reviewed (hurrah!) studies out there. Here's a random one (http://www2.wlu.edu/x48373.xml). It happens with gender and with race. I'm sure you'd agree that cultural factors that damage the educational attainment of blacks and latinos (while giving whites an unearned advantage) are a sign of a culture that needs changing. If you want to construct an argument as to why it's not a problem when its women losing out and men gaining, I'd like to hear it.

I don't believe that this (http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/72541000/gif/_72541803_professions_gender_624v2.gif) or this (http://ukfeminista.org.uk/take-action/facts-and-statistics-on-gender-inequality/) is purely the result of revealed preference.

If you want to read up on the topic I'd recommend "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine, which explains these things in a very accessible way and cuts through a lot of the folk myths around gender. I'll send you my copy if you'd like. It's had glowing reviews from such extreme feminist cultural studies journals as The Telegraph, Metro and New Scientist.

McGazz said...

"Whether we want to rhetorically escalate a spat over My Little Pony to the level of Rosa Lee Parks being forced to the back of the bus is your call, not mine"

No one is saying that. Not every campaign to change shit things has to be a bombastic, CGI-tastic, regime-shattering cumshot. If you ignore the bleating self-publicists that the media concentrates on, you often find the change they're pushing for happens quietly. As I've already said, a number of big name retailers *have* stopped marketing toys on 'trucks for boys, aprons for girls' lines, with the angry posho crowd playing their part. Surely that's a good thing, even if some Annoying People were involved?


"I think that a serious time-investment in it is counterproductive and I think it's manna from Heaven for the right-wing press"

Which is a genius argument for never doing anything other than exactly what the right-wing press want us to do (although you apparently reckon that the right-wing press merely reflect the public's thoughts, so that should be okay). The Suffragettes were no doubt manna from Heaven for the right-wing press at the time, as were gay rights campaigns, Irish Republicanism, student protests and all strikes ever. The African-American civil rights movement is still manna from Heaven for the right-wing press over there *now*. And cheers for introducing me to Roy Edroso, btw.


"Almost every time I encounter arguments based on concepts of gender, it's deployed in service of a screaming match between gangs of people who hate each others' guts for political reasons and are largely employing the issue to flay strips off each other."

You could say that about all sorts of things, including Israel/Palestine, the existence of God, the benefits system, UKIP... That wankers have a strong view on an issue doesn't make it a non-issue. Can we at least agree that "gender identity is the result of social conditioning and often hurts women - and men" and "people who want everything banned are wankers" are not mutually exclusive propositions?

I really hope I don't come across like a humourless, hectoring arsehole (although I often am one, so...). I wouldn't have bothered missing the darts(**) to type all this out if it was just some industrial-metal-and-undercut anarcho-capitalist waving their Y chromosome in my Twitter feed yesterday. I don't like grandstanding on someone else's blog (that's *my* genius argument for never doing anything) but I fully understand if you want to escalate this until we're both calling each other Hitler (who, incidentally, may have helped to feminise pink by putting that colour of star on gays in his concentration camps), so I'm contactable at mcgazz at gmail.

Thank you for your time.


(*) That was a joke. Even the Davos folk admit Cuba has a smaller gender gap than the UK, as of 2013 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Gender_Gap_Report). Coincidentally, advertising or marketing don't really exist there.

(**) Not really - I'm recording the darts. I like to skip the adverts - that's where they get you [taps side of nose].

flyingrodent said...

Cheers for the comments, and forgive me if I'm not able to cover every point you've raised.

First, probably best to say that the "English Lit & PR" tweet was a joke, nothing more. Not a very good one, maybe.

Second, I thought I'd gone to some length to say that the post is about picking your battles wisely: choosing issues that are important and hopefully resonate with other people, thus making them winnable. I don't think that this is a hugely important issue and I think, for the reasons stated, that it's not likely to catch on with the public, which will make it more difficult to succeed.

This isn't to say that people shouldn't campaign on it - I wouldn't, but it's really up to them. Sometimes unpopular causes are all the more important for being unpopular and if you think this is one of them, be my guest.

it's praising the wisdom of The Market while pretending to take a sideswipe at it.

I'm drawing a comparison between folk who think e.g. Hollywood is out to enforce a liberal consensus and folk who think it's out to impose restrictive gender norms. Actually, both may have a minor point there, but it's ultimately all about making money. I actually thought the linked Guardian article tackled that point quite well, but this isn't the only or the first time I've seen these issues raised.

you're not targeting toys at the widest-possible section of the populace if you're only offering each toy to 50% of your market, are you?

The point being that if there was less money in pink bikes than in red bikes, most bikes would be red. This isn't an argument about the wisdom of crowds, any more than the bestseller's list is a referendum on quality.

You admit marketing and advertising are effective before going to claim that they aren't later on *in the same sentence*.

I was trying to acknowledge that advertising works, but that also parents seem to like buying their daughters cute little pink things. No doubt this could be substantially changed by a strong PR campaign for red bikes, but there's surely more to it than PR imagineers messing with our minds. Otherwise, we'd all be drinking Dasani.

(Cont.)

flyingrodent said...

Dudebro leftists get it wrong the other way around - believing that distribution of wealth is the only issue...

This whole passage about the merits and failures of focusing on distribution of wealth is pretty fair on my argument here, and also on the flaws in it.

In other words, people who give a shit about the culture their kids are brought up in are all middle-class yummy mummies with a head full of CiF and too much time on their hands. This faux man-in-the-street, Clarksonesque pseudo-populism is, in a word, bullshit.

Well, don't take it from me. Go out into the world and spread the word hither and yon, then come back and report on how you got on.

Maybe I'm wrong - maybe there's a large and receptive audience nationwide for arguments about ungendered toys for kids. I don't think there is, and I while I'm aware that it's highly unfair to class everyone who's concerned about this as an aga-banging Guardianista, I do have to point out that it absolutely has significantly more traction within that particular class than it does elsewhere.

I've written before about how middle class people have just as much right to be heard as everyone else and shouldn't be dismissed for their background...

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/04/08/protests-and-trustafarians/

...But the point being made here isn't that issues are invalidated by linkage to a newspaper or a website. It's that it's an issue that primarily concerns a small and fairly well-off section of the populace, and that this has to be taken into account when bringing it to a wider audience.

I imagine you're aware of my opinions on all manner of issues, so you'd imagine I might be receptive to this one... And it puts my back up. From this, I surmise that others with less charitable views on left-wing politics generally are likely to take the same stance; to find this kind of thing hectoring and didactic.

Again, maybe I'm wrong. I often am, quite publicly. And again, unpopularity shouldn't count, if you think it's an issue worth pursuing anyway.

I don't believe for a second that you genuinely think tabloid content is driven purely by public sentiment...

I don't believe that. However, I've repeatedly said that these are cynical businesses, and that they're perfectly willing to co-opt almost anything that sells.

What you're saying here though is that the political right and big business should decide what social justice campaigning is allowed.

This is not what I'm saying here.

that logic says there's no point in trying to make any change smaller than ending world hunger as it'll only give Mail readers butthurt fuel.

If an issue is important and has achievable goals, then fuck what the Mail readers think. I don't think this issue is very important and I don't think its goals are achievable - I think folk would be better raising their own kids as best they can. But again, knock yourselves out if you want.

(Cont. again)

flyingrodent said...

But, in the same way that half a dozen nobbers singing “ooh, ahh, Hizbullah” at a Stop The War event doesn't mean everyone present and, by extension, their cause, is utterly without merit...

Yes, agreed.

If you'd been born a woman, would you have ended up writing a blog about the stuff you write about and posing in combat gear in your avatar pic?

To be fair, that pic was the only one I had in 2006 where you couldn't see my face, and I've never been arsed to change it. There's no more to it than that.

Had I been born a woman, I might very well feel differently about much of this.

yes, Stereotype Threat is a thing.

I'm aware of this and I'm not disputing that the pink/blue industry can have an effect on kids. I don't think it's a massive or especially terrible one for the vast majority of kids, but that's not a scientific view - it's exactly the kind of arse-extracted, just-seems-like-it-to-me verdict I'm about to have a go at.

The point I was making about gender woo wasn't about the negative impact of stereotyping - it was that I suspect that vast tracts of theory on gender hail from humanities wibble, and that its main effect on the world has been to stoke huge, hideous intramural pissfights. From that, I also suspect that the intramural pissfights are the point, rather than advancing our understanding of our condition.

This is why I said I expected to get zapped - I think that the phenomenon of people screaming at each other over articles titled, for example, "Why white cis women shouldn't say (x) about (y)" is a feature, not a bug. That is, the entire analysis exists to facilitate pissfighting.

no science education beyond a double-award GCSE but loved to point and shout "woo" at things that didn't fit into his neat, hermetically-sealed worldview...

This fairly summarises the point that I've just made. Nonetheless, I find my opinion on this gets more entrenched with the more reading I do, not less.

That wankers have a strong view on an issue doesn't make it a non-issue.

This is entirely fair and I've made the point countless times myself.

Nonetheless, dragging this back on topic, it's about picking your battles wisely. Frankly, I'm not keen on spending a lot of time and energy on this issue, with these particular people, in the manner that they choose to push it.

For the twentieth time, I get that other people disagree and advise that they can get on with it however they see fit. To me however, there are strong resonances in this debate of trends and tactics that I'd recoil from if they hailed from other parts of the political spectrum and I don't particularly want to endorse them just because the people and the issue are more worthy.

So, there you go.

ejh said...

I don't think this issue is very important and I don't think its goals are achievable

a. Isn't the evidence that some of its goals are being achieved?

b. Don't many campaigns start out appearing to have unachieveable goals, which gradually become achieveable due in part to the persistence of people who appeared to be wasting their time and ours?

others with less charitable views on left-wing politics generally are likely to take the same stance; to find this kind of thing hectoring and didactic

a. Are lots of people finding this kind of thing "hectoring and didactic", or is it possible that gender roles are something which parents of all social classes do think about and are happy to have raised, even if they may buy these items anyway?

b. Haven't all attempts to raise gender, race and identity issues met with a similar objection, that they are Telling People What To Do, which they surely are to a degree, and yet and the same time many people are able to lead happier lives because these discussions-cum-fingerwagging sessions occurred?

ejh said...

On picking one's battles wisely. This is one of these things with which agree far more, now that I am a sensible forty-eight-year-old, than I did when I was an eighteen-year-old hothead. Yes, of course I think people should think far more about what they fight for, how they do it and how they choose to talk about it, than in practice they actually do. They zre far too many screaming arseholes about, and for that matter, if I have an objection to how I went about my politics in the past, it's not what causes I supported (they nearly all lost, but I still think they were the right ones by and large) but the way in which I went about doing it. Personally I find it almost impossi ble to engage in politics, personally, without thigns excalating to a screaming match almost immediately, and this tells me very clearly do not do it any more, something I should not have taken a couple of decades to work out.

On the other hand, who actually achieves things, politically? Sceptical old forty-eight-year-olds, or eighteen-year-old hotheads?

flyingrodent said...

P.S. It occurs to me that this post is of a piece with everything I've ever written about other small, amorphous but really quite arsey political groupings who spend much time blasting each other and the wider world for failing to hold precisely the correct opinions - Decents, Libertarians, Rightist culture warriors, Nutty old commies, Tory cranks and so on.

Which is certainly a species of analysis that I hate when others do it i.e. a South Park-ish Hey man, why doesn't everybody just chill out and like, just be cool, then everything will be cool.

Certainly, you can split most of my posts into two categories -

- Everybody chill the fuck out about this, and

- Everybody spaz out about this.

All of which sounds like I have no coherent ideas and am pretty much just opposed to everyone and everything, and wish everyone would shut the hell up. And there may be more than a grain of truth in that.

flyingrodent said...

Sorry Justin, I have to go to work and can't give you a half-decent response so I'll just say -

Yes, Yes, Difficult to assess one way or the other, Yes.

gregorach said...

I do have to point out that it absolutely has significantly more traction within that particular class than it does elsewhere.

[Citation needed], as the kids say.

Now, I'm perfectly prepared to accept that it appears that way from the coverage that the issue gets in the media, but I'm not prepared to accept that that's a valid metric.

I'm not disputing that the pink/blue industry can have an effect on kids. I don't think it's a massive or especially terrible one for the vast majority of kids

If you were to bother you arse with engaging with the rather large body of research literature on the subject, you will find that the effects are really rather startling, and far more significant than anybody ever expected.

I pretty much agree with everything McGazz has said in this thread, with the exception of the bit about Visual Basic, which is a fucking ghastly abortion of a language that absolutely nobody should ever use for any reason.

Cylux said...

"It was started on Mumsnet, which gets 10 million visits a month and is treated with the same reverence by UK politicians as AIPAC is by US senators."

Isn't that also an argument in favour of campaigns started by the Daily Mail? I mean doesn't their website get several million visits a month too?

A Mumsnet campaign is more honestly described as 'a Campaign by Justine Roberts using the assumed support and backing of the all the users of her website, whether they agree or disagree (and some do disagree quite vocally and argue against in the comments section), since they aren't the one's who get to decide what mumsnet campaigns on.'

flyingrodent said...

I'm perfectly prepared to accept that it appears that way from the coverage that the issue gets in the media, but I'm not prepared to accept that that's a valid metric.

Well, It isn't. I'm not really pretending that it is.

There's no easy, accurate way to gauge this. I'm just going to say that I'm the only Guardian reader in my own social circle, and I've never heard anyone I know raise the issue of sexism and kids via pink. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Now, this isn't a scientific sample - it just reflects my experience, which is obviously limited. I'm aware of how weak that is. I'll add Mrs R, who was raised as a Disney Princess with no higher horizons than looking pretty and meeting a nice man (Ooops), and yet is now an astoundingly badass Crown Prosecutor who out-earns me by a factor of two, while also being aware that this is anecdata.

I think what I'll do here is declare "Anger about pink girly bikes are generally a middle class issue", and wait for countervailing evidence. I'd say ten examples of working class people being interested in the issue would call this into question, but I've pulled that figure out of my backside.

(And yet again, even if there's nobody outside of middle-class London who cares, that doesn't mean it isn't real).

If you were to bother you arse with engaging with the rather large body of research literature on the subject, you will find that the effects are really rather startling, and far more significant than anybody ever expected.

As I readily confessed in the post, I did do some research, and I also said it was entirely perfunctory.

How startling? How significant? What proportion of the population? How bad is this? Are we talking tens or hundreds of thousands of emotionally-ragdolled-by-gender-horror kids here?

Because I can get into this if it's a major issue with long-reaching effects. I can't if it's something that disturbs a few kids but is really an issue because it annoys a bunch of very aggro people who have political reasons for kicking off about issues that get their backs up.

flyingrodent said...

And while I'm at it, I find it odd that people are all upset about pink toys while I'm also repeatedly saying that the whole concept of gender identity is, in large part if not entirely, unscientific nonsense invented by the political and literary theory branches of academic fucking nonsense so that they can have a big genital-measuring argument about how correct they are, and smash fuck out of anyone whose opinions vary by a millimetre.

ejh said...

the whole concept of gender identity is, in large part if not entirely, unscientific nonsense

You couldn't expand on that? (I ask because I'm really not sure what you mean. I can get the rest of the comment OK.)

On pink toys. I completely accept that they may not be very important (though I, too, maybe ought to read the research). And if I thought otherwise I wouldn't sell pink books for girls. I can, however, see without any difficulty how the fact of things saying "this is for girls, this is what girls do" might annoy the fuck out of people for very good reasons - and also that they really might not want their little girl being told that. For very good reasons.

By the way, as I write, one of the words in Blogger's "please prove you're not a robot" box is "Evangelista". I immediately thought of one of people. This suggests to me that the world still has a problem with the representation of women.

ejh said...

"one of these people, sorry. The preview box is fucked.

flyingrodent said...


You couldn't expand on that?

Sure, and hopefully in less hyperbolic manner than my previous attempt, which was a lot more categorical than I'd intended it to be.

Whenever I stumble across a debate about gender identity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity

...(usually an extremely angry one, although they're not all like that) I can't help but notice that it's usually underpinned by sort-of-science (i.e. psychology*) or not-actually-science-at-all (i.e. literary and political theory).

Which isn't to say that current thinking on gender and sexuality is incorrect - it may precisely describe the various forms and phenomena entirely accurately. I'm inclined to give far more credit to the psychological research, which does at least apply the scientific method, than I am anything coming out of the English and Politics department.

Still, it's not very clear to me how far these debates are based on established facts, as opposed to conjecture accepted as fact. If there's room for significant doubt on this - and there may not be - I'm not sure how far we should credit it when presented with assertions that we need to do (x) about (y).

This is why I was saying I thought this post would raise really angry objections, and why I thought raising it was "pissing on an electrified rail". I freely admit that I'm fairly ignorant on the topic however, so I'm quite open to being corrected on this scare.

(I refer to psychology as a sort-of-science due to a prejudice I have against it - namely that if I go to ten doctors complaining of about my broken arm, you can guarantee that ten doctors are going to diagnose a broken arm. I'm not confident that if I was e.g. suffering from hallucinations and hypertension, that I'd get the same diagnosis from ten psychotherapists).

flyingrodent said...

I'm quite open to being corrected on this scare.

"On this score", I mean.

Igor Belanov said...

Literary and political theory might not be 'scientific' but still has rules regarding method and analysis. There is no reason to write it off just because it deals with topics that are more complex and open to debate than whether someone has a broken arm or not.

I just think you are been far too 'tabloidesque' on this issue.

flyingrodent said...

I just think you are been far too 'tabloidesque' on this issue.

Maybe so, although I'm more talking about taking literary and political theory at a discount, rather than writing it off entirely.

I'd just caution that if the gendered toy thing sounds like an annoying, if-you-disagree-there-must-be-something-wrong-with-you bunch of wibbly-woo to me - and I'm generally sympathetic to this kind of thing - how does it sound to the rest of the country, who aren't?

Well, maybe it doesn't matter how other folk respond, if it's that important.

Igor Belanov said...

I'd consider it more important than the number of foreigners who are working in this country, but unfortunately the people who run the media think differently.

gregorach said...

I refer to psychology as a sort-of-science due to a prejudice I have against it - namely that if I go to ten doctors complaining of about my broken arm, you can guarantee that ten doctors are going to diagnose a broken arm. I'm not confident that if I was e.g. suffering from hallucinations and hypertension, that I'd get the same diagnosis from ten psychotherapists

Ah yes, the good old inability to tell the difference between psychology and psychiatry. Always a classic sign that you're dealing with someone who doesn't have the first fucking clue what they're talking about.

How startling? How significant? What proportion of the population? How bad is this?

Hard as it may be to believe, given that I'm bothering to comment further at all, but I do actually have better things to do with my weekend than your homework, so I'm not going to be digging up references for you right now. I may later if I feel like it... But off the top of my head, we're talking about an effect that can, for example, knock somewhere around 5-10% off exam performance, on average. Again off the top of my head, I seem to recall that that's roughly comparable with chronic low-level lead poisoning. Then there's the fact that it almost certainly plays a significant role in keeping girls out of STEM disciplines.

flyingrodent said...

the good old inability to tell the difference between psychology and psychiatry. Always a classic sign that you're dealing with someone who doesn't have the first fucking clue what they're talking about.

Ouch, sair yin. An especially embarrassing error, given I did a year on the course here...

http://www.dundee.ac.uk/psychology/

...which suggests I wasn't listening very hard. In fact, I know that I wasn't.

we're talking about an effect that can, for example, knock somewhere around 5-10% off exam performance, on average.

That certainly does sound like a significant effect. I'm assuming studies on this would include wider issues than just toys, but still.

gregorach said...

OK, I'm feeling generous... Here's one of the classics: The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Women’s Performance and Interest in STEM Fields.

"In a demonstration of the potential influence of stereo-type threat on high stakes testing, Danaher and Crandall(2008) analyzed data from an AP Calculus AB exam inwhich high school students were either asked to report their gender before they began the test or after they finished thetest. This analysis found that when female students were asked to report their gender
before completing the AP Calculus exam (thereby making gender salient prior to the test), their performance on the test was reduced by 33% as compared to female students asked to report their gender after taking theexam. This finding translates to an additional 5.9% of female test takers who would have achieved a passing exam score and as a result, earn college calculus credit."

[My emphasis]

There's also a very readable discussion of stereotype threat at Reducingstereotypethreat.org.

I'm assuming studies on this would include wider issues than just toys, but still.

Oh, absolutely. As far as I know, nobody's managed to figure out how to isolate the various different factors which are involved in the transmission of these stereotypes and assess their relative importance. But to return to the lead-poisoning parallel, you don't really need to argue too much about which exposure routes are the most significant - you just do whatever you reasonably can to reduce exposure by any of them.

I do have some sympathy for the argument that it's difficult to know what to do about this, and I'm not really a huge fan of the waggy finger of tut tut either, but one would hope that just increasing awareness of the problem would be sufficient to get parents' natural desire to do the best for their children to apply commercial pressure.

gregorach said...

Some discussion of the role of toys in stereotype threat, with references for further reading (but you'll probably need journal subscriptions to access them): Does this pink miniskirt make me look stupid? Stereotype Threat and Kids.

ejh said...

By the way there's a real issue in chess about girls' drop-out rates. Girls are just as keen on chess (among those who are keen, heh) as boys at an early stage, but they get a bit older and the gender ration changes enormously. (Until you get to adult level, when female participation rates make football look like yoga).

Because of actually-experienced prejudice and discrimination? Because they receive the message - directly or indirectly, in any number of ways - that it's not for girls? I don't precisely or even imprecisely know. But both seem likelier factors than lack of aptitude.

flyingrodent said...

Justin - Chess has always been a bit of a sausage-fest, hasn't it? Not brimming with female role models, one particular player aside, and I imagine there's a boy's club attitude there that could be extremely off-putting.

to return to the lead-poisoning parallel, you don't really need to argue too much about which exposure routes are the most significant - you just do whatever you reasonably can to reduce exposure by any of them.

That's fair enough and it'd be daft to wait for a perfect solution, rather than picking up on individual instances of sexism major and minor in childhood.

I still think - based on no particular evidence, as usual - that the importance of toys in particular in early years is overstated in the original article, but it's plainly a part of a larger issue and I don't doubt that the general princessy trend is going to have significant effects.

This analysis found that when female students were asked to report their gender
before completing the AP Calculus exam (thereby making gender salient prior to the test), their performance on the test was reduced by 33% as compared to female students asked to report their gender after taking the exam.


That's an extremely bizarre and worrying result.

ejh said...

I imagine there's a boy's club attitude there that could be extremely off-putting

Well yes, you do get stuff like this.

gregorach said...

I still think - based on no particular evidence, as usual - that the importance of toys in particular in early years is overstated in the original article

Well, like I say, it's extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to separate out the various factors involved. I suspect that a lot of the reason why it's getting so much attention is that it's such a recent phenomenon, at least in the very extreme form it's taking at the moment - people are going to buy toys for their kids and finding that the landscape is radically different to what they remember from their own childhoods, which makes it much more noticeable. Then there's the fact that it's one of relatively few areas where we're going in completely the wrong direction. Finally, it's a matter that people can feel able to address through their individual purchasing decisions, which seems to be about the only kind of social activism that people are really comfortable with these days. It's almost certainly not the most important factor by a long way, but it is about the only one you can feel you're doing something about simply by deciding to buy a different product.

Cylux said...

There is of course this to consider too:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-hardwired-difference-between-male-and-female-brains-could-explain-why-men-are-better-at-map-reading-8978248.html

Igor Belanov said...

Take that last example and substitute 'black and white' for male and female'. Evidence of how sexism is taken for granted a lot more than racism, unfortunately.

ejh said...

people are going to buy toys for their kids and finding that the landscape is radically different to what they remember from their own childhoods

Is that actually true though? Or is it just that people notice this stuff far more than they did?

Martin Wisse said...

Oh, it's true, at least in the US, where there has very much been a division into pink or camouflage, in kids clothing and toys. This has very much been a development in the last decade or so, though of course has longer roots than that and cause by the fact that "intentionally targetted at the widest-possible section of the populace to make the largest-possible profit" is not actually true, but rather toys, clothing etc is sold to the audience it's easiest to sell to.



Martin Wisse said...

No girls allowed is a good overview of how marketing makes videogames a boys only club not deliberately, but because it's easier.

Just as an example of what I meant above.

Cylux said...

"but rather toys, clothing etc is sold to the audience it's easiest to sell to."

And why is it easier?

http://healthland.time.com/2013/05/11/how-are-our-daughters-supposed-to-grow-up-to-be-lean-in-worthy-execs-if-most-of-the-play-mops-and-stoves-are-labeled-for-girls/

Luckily, intergenerational warfare is postponed by the disappearance of my daughter. A frantic search finds her in the pink toy aisle, sitting inside a miniature car. The motorcar is plastic, it is pink, and it is branded by a well-known doll whose breasts are bigger than her feet.

I’ve never seen my child so happy.

...

I’m seized with motherly self-doubt. Thanks to an unimaginative toy industry that continues to typecast our kids by gender, I’ve turned a family outing into an obstacle course I can’t win without being a killjoy. To make matters worse, my daughter doesn’t even like gender-neutral toys. Her happiest fantasyland is one sparked by her pink broom, her pink cookware and her pink collection of dolls.
"

Ice skating uphill springs to mind.

Also, I should point out I'm very much of the opinion that letting your children chose their own career path early on in life is borderline parental negligence, I mean wtf does a 12 year old know about the jobs market or the demand for Doctors and STEM graduates? Yer average child, boy or girl, is more likely to want to grow up to be a rich popular celebrity entertainer than a quantum physicist if left to their own devices.

ejh said...

Oh, it's true, at least in the US, where there has very much been a division into pink or camouflage, in kids clothing and toys. This has very much been a development in the last decade or so

I'm going to have to be a bit sceptical about this. The reason is that my recollection from my childhood is that pretty much everything was gendered one way or the other, even if it didn't explicitly say so. (Peter and Jane comes most obviously to mind.) I mean I'm not sure how you'd measure it, how the comparison would be made, but as I do spend a lot of time in the world of stuff-for-children, it's not clear to me that we're nthe field of things getting worse as opposed to people' perceptions getting sharper.