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.
LEGO FUCKING 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 II, Red 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?