Incurably Curious

Shafted by My Little Pony: Why Girls’ Toys Suck and Boys Have All the Fun

Icon29-GirlsTorysLast night I was sitting in front of the telly when an Argos advert came on during the commercial break: “great deals on boys’ toys, like Lego Star Wars, and girls’ toys, like Hello Kitty!”

Are they having a laugh..? I was livid! I can’t remember being so pissed off at anything since, er, well, probably something quite recently actually. I am quite prone to sudden but short-lived bursts of self-righteous indignation and murderous rage after all. But I was still pretty fucking angry. For a start, even before we get on to a discussion about gender roles and social conditioning, Hello Kitty is the shittiest, lamest toy concept ever. It’s a two dimensional cat. As far as I can tell, it has only one expression: vacant. I know the things that tiny people find entertaining are usually pretty mystifying – senseless violence and Teletubbies are the two that spring immediately to mind – but I genuinely can’t for the life of me deduce why Hello Kitty is so popular. I’ve shat out things after a heavy night out with more personality, so I’m at a total loss to explain its tremendous, billion-dollar appeal. IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A MOUTH.

Personally, I blame the parents, who get blameless girl-sprogs hooked on it from an early age. They give it to their tiny, helpless offspring because it is ‘cute’. Hello Kitty is geared at very young people, mainly because children of that age have other, more pressing things to concentrate their brainpower on, like gurgling, clapping and trying not to shit their pants. Presumably learning these all-important life skills take enough energy to distract little girls from the fact that Hello Kitty is the most mindless piece of crap ever to hit the shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us. It’s even more pointless than Pogs. But old habits die hard and a little girl given a Hello Kitty blanky aged six months is likely to carry on asking for it as she gets older. It’s like crack for babies, which would explain the number of seven year-olds sporting Hello Kitty watches and other plastic bits of shite.

And then the boys get Lego Star Wars.


I don’t even like Star Wars and I’d still give that a go. When I was little I had a big box of Lego, positively minuscule in comparison to the real beefcake boxes you can buy nowadays, but at the time it was the biggest one they did. It was almost all building blocks – they hadn’t starting making the fancy themed sets yet – and my most favourite thing to build was caravans because I couldn’t think of another use for the two sets of wheels that came with it. It was great, probably my most favourite thing. You could build stuff and then you got to play with it afterwards, which was spectacularly entertaining (I reckon this is why The Sims was so popular – everyone knew building the dream house was the best bit). I remember wanting a Meccano set as well, and one of those elaborate Hot Wheels racing set-ups too, but I wasn’t allowed lest it induced me to shave off all my hair aged fifteen and minimise my parents’ chances of grandchildren by becoming a high-flying lesbian.

I also remember my grandma commenting that my wooden Marble Maze, a toy that required actual thought, might be a bit too butch for me.

Of course, the most ubiquitous toy of my youth (the nineties) was Barbie. Barbie I actually kind of like. Sure, on a real-life body her proportions might prevent her from standing up, walking or even menstruating (according to a study at the University of Finland), but she was still a bit of a rockstar. Barbie has had almost every job going; she’s been a schoolteacher, a fire-fighter, an ambassador for world peace, a palaeontologist and a ballerina. She’s been a nurse (but also a doctor), a stewardess (but also a pilot) and a secretary (but also a business executive). She was an astronaut in 1965 to celebrate the moon landing, before there had even been any real women astronauts. Yeah, go Barbie! Fuck the patriarchy! Admittedly there have been a few gaffes, most notably the “math is hard” Teen Talk Barbie, but she’s also managed to do what no other doll has really managed: look fit while representing women doing traditionally male jobs. Obviously the Over-sensitive Body Image lobby comes down on her like a tonne of bricks, but Barbie is no more (mis)representative of female bodies as Action Man is of male ones. Do we see people getting upset about Ken’s perfectly formed six-pack and spectacular pectorals? Nope. How about his bulging, oversized pelvic hinge? Still no. Nobody is upset that boys’ action figures are all ripped to shit and hung like an elephant. They’re dolls. So is Barbie. Get over it.

The other reason why I like Barbie is that she totally dicked on Bratz dolls. Admittedly the legal battle isn’t quite over yet, but it looks like Mattel is winning. The technicalities all seem quite complicated, but basically Mattel, maker of Barbie, is accusing MGA Entertainment, the makers of Bratz, of nicking their idea. Regardless of who is actually entitled to the brand, I am sporting a Team Mattel T-shirt because Barbie is (mostly) pretty awesome and Bratz are (entirely) pretty revolting.

I was too old for Bratz when they came out in 2001, but I’m positive as a child I wouldn’t have liked them. Perhaps I might have identified with the first generation’s disproportionately large feet, but that’s as far as it would have gone. Bratz – self-entitled teenagers with a poor handle on basic grammar, apparently – are offensive to the point of nausea. If you’ve missed out on this gruesome phenomenon, they are dolls for little girls with oversized heads, excessively be-lashed doe-eyes and an enormous set of blow-job lips. They wear tiny mini-skirts and feather boas. As a brand, their only saving grace is that they come in a true rainbow of ethnicities, which is nice. After all, it’s important we teach the youth of today that no girl should let something as silly as race come between her and her dreams of becoming a raging slag. Barbie wouldn’t be seen dead in fishnet tights, probably not even if Mattel brought out a special edition pole-dancing Barbie (and there would be nothing wrong with that, it’s a perfectly legit profession. If I had the tits for it and could whizz round a pole at 30mph I’d probably do it too for the money it pays).

At the other end of the scale from Bratz’ five-inch stilettos and leopard-print hotpants is the ‘homemaker’ range of little girls’ toys. Now, I know children like to mimic adults and pretend they’re grown-ups and so on, but ironing is so fucking boring nobody should spend any more time doing it, or pretending to do it, than is absolutely strictly necessary. Besides, when did you last see a little boy playing at ironing? It’s not like it’s still only the preserve of women. Of my generation I do not know a single dude who does not or cannot iron his own shirts. If I was with a bloke who expected me to iron his shit for him I’d laugh in his face, unless he had broken both arms or had shell shock or something. And even then, he’d have to ask nicely and owe me a drink. Two drinks.

Anyway, it is not cool to let any kids play at housework. Even if they want to do it, it should be discouraged, sort of like when really small children fiddle with their junk in public not realising how inappropriate it is. If they really want to play house, parents should do what my grandma did and buy one of those little hoovers people use for the insides of cars and soft furnishings, that’ll sort ’em out. There were a few days when my sister and I used to bicker over who got to use it (what a swizz! My grandma is clearly a genius) but then the novelty soon wore off once we realised we were doing actual work, which is enough to suck the fun out of anything. After that I never, ever had the urge to pester my parents for anything that replicated a household chore. It should be noted that my room is a total shit-tip these days though, which I hope is a coincidence.

On a similar note: baby dolls. I have never understood the appeal. I recall being ushered into my mother’s hospital room, aged 3¼, to meet my newborn sister and be given a replica baby dressed in white Christening garb as a present; strange, as my parents are against organised religion like dyslexics are against Dickens. I can’t remember it too clearly, but I’m pretty sure the thoughts running through my head were more or less ‘what the bloody fuck am I supposed to do with this?’ The doll and I never got on. I was more interested in cuddly toys and collecting Puppy in my Pocket figurines (like most little girls I spent many years wanting to be a vet, until I realised that 90% of it was shoving your hand up dogs’ arses and shooting horses in the head). The doll got off lightly though, because I also had a larger, toddler-sized doll with blonde hair who went by the name of Laura Bad-Eye, so called because I once stabbed one of them out in a rage. She was one of those models with eyelids that shut when you laid her down, so after my short-lived interest in ocular surgery her eyes used to roll back, Exorcist-style, every time I picked her up. Which, to be fair, wasn’t very often.

The final, greatest injustice of gendered children’s toys is video-games. A few years ago my then-boyfriend and I went up to the Grim North (Barrow, if you’re wondering) to visit some relatives, including my cousins Robert and Samantha, nine and seven respectively. While I got to help Samantha draw horses with a pink, tracing light-box so embellished with hearts and flowers I was nearly sick over it, Mark got to sit and do with Rob exactly what he would have been doing had he stayed at home: play Halo 3 on the Xbox. Eventually I threw them off so Samantha and I could have a go, which turned out to be a mistake because Samantha’s games were all mindless puppy-feeding simulators. Now, I know that Samantha is younger than Rob and that generally little girls do not like explosions and guns, but none of her games involved an ounce of strategy. Admittedly I’ve never been a huge shooter fan, but at least I can appreciate that people who play the game well actually put some thought into it. I can’t have been the only girl who liked proper strategy games like Civilisation IIRed Alert and Sim City. If you tell a small child she can only play My Little Pony Dream School and not any of the cooler games that involve this alien, male concept known as ‘thought’, then she’ll believe that’s all she can play. And that’s what she’ll want to play too. It’s called social conditioning, and it’s easy to change.

Anyway, it turns out I’m not the only one to have gotten all enraged about the crap little girls have to put up with. Pink Stinks is an organisation that targets retailers particularly guilty of sexist fuckwittage (Sainsbury’s, for instance, recently only sold doctor outfits for boys and nurse/beautician outfits for girls…!) You can support their crusade against bullshit here.

What did you play with as a kid? And if you have/had children now, what would you give them instead?

19 comments on “Shafted by My Little Pony: Why Girls’ Toys Suck and Boys Have All the Fun

  1. mancunianvintage
    July 29, 2012

    Wow that is a lot of social conditioning rage – I LOVE it!

    I completely agree with you – why should girls and boys have their play things pigeon-holed? If they like it, they should be allowed to play with it regardless of what gender ‘society’ thinks.

    Phew, I feel better now!

  2. Connie
    July 29, 2012

    Arh! So much! That advert has been winding me up something chronic. I LIVED for Star Wars toys when I was younger. Why, twenty-five odd years on, would my daughters or nieces now consider these same toys too masculine? They help kids tell stories and learn about storytelling.

  3. Laura
    July 29, 2012

    Ah so much truth in one post! have you watched the cherry healey how to live your life prog on prejudice? A woman on that says some great things on that too. I cannot believe how divided childrens toys are now and I will fight so damn hard for my child to simply play with whatever takes their fancy, not the ‘gender appropriate’ only shit. I was a little girl who baked pies with my mum in the kitchen, who climbed trees, who helped my dad with mechanics (and I sitll ADORE old cars), loved disney princesses and played sports generally involving pummelling the shit out of other kids. I did whatever I wanted to. Its fucking ridiculous just how gender orientated everything for children is. It’ll be us, as consumers, that will have to put our money where our mouths are when its our turn to be parents and show the stupid merchandisers they have got it ALL wrong. Wooo. Stepping off my soapbox now! Great post

    • CuriousEmily
      July 29, 2012

      Hahaaa, that’s quite a rant! ;) I totally agree; I’m not really into kids but it almost makes me want to have them, just so I can do the gender thing right. I too liked Disney princess and baking but I also did the other shit like tree-climbing and, apparently, Marble Mazes, haha. Clearly our parents got it totally right though, look what fabulously well-rounded grown-ups we turned out to be! ;) x

  4. Lauren
    July 29, 2012

    I love this. When I was a kid, my Mum never bought me Barbies, My Little Ponies or whatever but she did buy me baby dolls and prams and books. LOTS OF BOOKS. As soon as my best friend/boy cousin came round to play, he would be head first into my doll/book pile whilst I’d tear up the carpet with his toy cars et voila! We’ve both grown into respectable (well, mostly) adults.

    • CuriousEmily
      July 29, 2012

      I had a lot of books too, so many I’ve had to box them up and put them into storage so I can pass them on to any sprogs I might have in the future! I’m really jealous of your relationship with your cousin, I always wished I had someone like that my own age! x

  5. The Style Box
    July 29, 2012

    Amazing blog post as usual! Made me chuckle so much – especially the bit about what a real life vet does haha! I played tons of strategy games when I was younger – I LOVED Age of Empires, Rollercoaster Tycoon (if that counts?) and I had some kind of Railroad construction simulator game and Theme Hospital and obviously anything Sims related rocked.
    I also loved Barbie, mainly because my nan used to make me clothes for them which made it more fun. Other than that, I couldn’t take my eyes away from any book around and I don’t think I ever owned anything remotely pink or overly fluffy.
    Definitely won’t be buying my future children gender-specific toys, they can play with whatever they like, and I won’t be painting the nursery blue or pink.

    Totally hadn’t noticed that Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth either…..

  6. e1aine
    July 29, 2012

    My daughter only liked toy tractors anyway. Strange child. (Generally, not just the tractors).

  7. nadia
    July 29, 2012

    I played a lot with barbie, I’m glad someone else appreciates that barbie as had practically every job going. I also was addicted to the sims when I was younger. I used to work in a game shop, the stats are something like 70% of sims players are girls, I can’t decide why it appeals.

    but personally I disagree with you, I look at toys like hot wheels and think “whats so fun about that” I was always more into craft toys (usually aimed at girls), where you made something. Boys toys can be just as puerile as girls, as evidenced by my bf telling me how great ‘street sharks’ were….

    and the official party line from sanrio on hello kitty’s lack of mouth is that she doesn’t speak any language, she is for everyone in the world

    • CuriousEmily
      July 29, 2012

      That’s really interesting – I didn’t know that about Hello Kitty! But no mouth means she can’t speak at all, or laugh.

      I think it was the building aspect of Hot Wheels I liked; I wasn’t interested in the cars. But I do was absolutely obsessed with the Sims when I was younger. :)

      I always liked the idea of crafts but I was shocking at them – clearly you were a more hands-on child than I was!

      And what is a street shark!?


      • nadia
        August 2, 2012

        my mum always says that she can’t eat either and must survive entirely on cocaine.

        as for a street shark it’s a shark with arms and legs that walks about and I suppose fights things.

  8. Under A Glass Sky
    July 30, 2012

    Ha! I love your enthusiasm / rage!

    Boys do get some really cool stuff, but I think what’s great about being a girl is that it is socially acceptable for a girl to also like boys stuff. If you’re a boy, it’s kind of frowned on to like Barbie dolls…. in fact I went to Primary School with a guy called Colin who only liked girls toys (his birthday parties were dead popular with all the girls, but really not the boys!).

    I was lucky enough to have a She Ra action figure (with the flying horse) which totally kicked arse. She was an independent, feisty, fine breasted woman, who took no crap. BEST girl toy ever, I’d argue!

  9. Marissa
    July 30, 2012

    Yet another witty, excellent post!

    I love how every single post of yours is so readable and brilliant!

    I too, adored the sims, loved Barbie, got fucked off when my baby born didn’t grow into an adorable toddler and had Polly Pockets that could fit, well, in my pocket.

    I did find this when browsing through the argos book one day…,r:1,s:0,i:76

    I couldn’t imagine them having ‘Laundry Ken’!


  10. Sherbet and Sparkles
    July 30, 2012

    LOVE this post.
    I played with My Little Ponies, Lego and my brother’s Stingray toys… we’d kind of share our toys so it didn’t really matter which was for boys and which for girls.

  11. lacywallace
    August 7, 2012

    I laughed so hard at this post, you are so right about all of it. I was also the little girl with the marble maze and Sim City, and I do not remember a single doll I ever had, except Barbies of course which are awesome because of the whole creating-miniature-worlds-for-them part, a la The Sims.

    I think the only thing you forgot was places like McDonald’s. In my silly teenage years I would sometimes stop for a happy meal in the drive-through, and I remember they’d ask “Is it for a girl or boy?” because then they would decide whether you get a doll or a truck, instead of just asking which toy the kid wanted! Pretty sure this is the most blatant example of social conditioning I’ve ever seen.

    • CuriousEmily
      August 12, 2012

      Oh yeah, I totally forgot this…! The boys’ toys blatantly always cost more to produce too, because they had moving parts and things. I don’t think they do this any more though…*fingers crossed*

  12. Rebecca (@Rebeccawater)
    August 7, 2012

    What a wonderful rant! (I’m new to your blog and you are a spectacular writer!) I couldn’t agree more. I was lucky to grow up in a family where my mom worked and my dad stayed home with us girls so not growing up in that stereotypical household makes me realize just how much most of our society conforms to the so called gender roles and then forces it on their children..

    • CuriousEmily
      August 12, 2012

      Hi Rebecca, welcome to my angry blog. ;) Thank you so much for your tender comments – and I think that’s so cool that you grew up with a stay-at-home dad while your mother went out and did the work. Props to your parents for doing their own thing and not giving a shit!

  13. Chelcie
    July 31, 2014

    I loved playing games when I was younger, and still do, I hope to become a Games Designer.
    I’ve always played violent games or games with storylines because they appeal to me. I can’t stand any of these Ponyz, Catz, Dogz, and any of that other misspelled crap, and what angers me even more is that mothers buy their girls these stupid games! No wonder why so many women don’t play games, because they’re given shit to play so it discourages them.
    Also, “games are only for boys”.. I feel like falcon punching any mother who says that to their daughter.

    I, I cant…

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2012 by in Feminism, Things That Make Me Furious and tagged , , , , .

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