Sex(ism) Sells

I’ve made peace a long time ago with the insanity that is the world of children’s entertainment. Some of the toys and TV shows simply make no sense, and I’m okay with that, as long as my son thinks they’re cool. For example, my son is inspired by a range of toys called Trash Pack, in which the various figurines represent, well, junk. Old pizza. Dirty keyboards. Germs. For my son, an ultra-rare ™ mouldy cheese is The Bomb (surprisingly not a range of toys just yet).

But when I returned home one day to find my son watching Youtube reviews of a separate toy range – ‘Trash Pack for girls’, my jaw dropped. Not because I care that my son would take an interest in ‘girls toys’ – more power to him for unconsciously shrugging off the shackles of sexual stereotypes. Not even because there still exists toy ranges ‘for girls’ and ‘for boys’. Rather, it was because this specific toy range for girls was about as pessimistically gender-stereotypical as it’s possible to get.

Boys get garbage. The Trash Pack.

Girls get shopping – the Shopkins, to be precise.

I take a small measure of comfort that, for once, both ranges are equally patronising – garbage and shopping, rather than, say, engineering and shopping.

The circle of sexism

I don’t think that professional sexism is intentional. I doubt that the CEO’s of toy companies sit around the table discussing what toy range can best be used to relegate woman to subservient or superficial roles. I don’t think there’s a marketing conspiracy during Women’s Month to distract from real women’s issues by offering Women’s Month Spa Specials. Toy companies make toys that parents buy, and boutique spas sell packages that women buy. Selling what people buy is just good business.

Spa’s sell Women’s Month packages because women buy them. Women buy them, because women want them. Women want them, because they are not offended by them. Women are not offended by them, because  spa packages on Woman’s Month are normal. Spa packages on Woman’s Month are normal, because 90% of the material you see during Women’s Month is about spa packages and fluff and 10% is about real issues. (I made those stats up but they’re probably as accurate as anything else you read on the internet).

It’s a circle, you see? Business markets pampering and other superficial things, thus enforcing and normalising the perception that Woman’s Month is about pampering superficial things. And because that perception exists so pervasively, it’s quite difficult to see what’s wrong with it, and avoid buying (ahem) into it.

Sexism sells, and what it sells is more sexism.

But – and this is important for understanding how to address it – it’s not an intentional effort by anyone in particular to undermine woman’s rights. Often, you can see the good intentions with which society operates.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

It doesn’t matter if it’s intentional, I hear some of you say, it needs to be killed with fire. And my response is…yes – but a qualified yes. Because we do need to differentiate between sexism and sexists. There is a lot of the former and a lot of the time it’s held by people who are not the latter. Attacking people who have sexist ideas rather than the sexist ideas themselves often leads to bafflement, defensiveness, and no solid gains whatsoever. Attacking sexism as a vague principle, rather than those specific things which actively promote sexism, is (often but not always) a waste of time.

Others of you might wonder what’s wrong with a good Woman’s Month Pamper Session. Here’s what’s wrong with it – the idea that Woman’s Day, or Woman’s Month, is a special time for honouring women is profoundly disturbing in the implication that the other 11 months, or 364 days, are NOT for honouring women. There’s something wrong if you need to use Woman’s <something> as an exceptional opportunity to enjoy your humanity.

But more importantly, if patronising marketing is not intentional, and attacking the marketers directly for their patronising marketing is not the solution, then the solution lies in educating ourselves on the issues with the status quo. It lies in being offended at the distraction that the fluff provides from real issues. It lies in being offended at women being offered spa packages in lieu of equal pay. It lies in being offended by ‘girls toys’  being superficial and boys toys being practical. It lies in not buying those products, thus educating marketers in the way they best like to be educated – with money.

(By the way, I don’t think it’s that difficult to take the sexism out of toys – make more pink cars and blue handbags.)

For more examples, you might reference this article, which addresses sexism as a principle, but also references more practical and specific examples upon which one might focus one’s energies, and implicitly points out the way in which paying lip service to the principle distracts from the cause.

Feminism not (only) about women

One of the themes of this blog is that the individual wins most where the majority wins, too. So while men are undoubtedly the beneficiaries of sexism, they are also victims. While Women’s Month – and feminist – addresses on one level inequalities that hurt women most – the solution to those issues do not come at cost to men. At least not in the long term. I’ve spoken about it before to some extent  in a previous post. I’d rather be married to someone who challenges me as an equal (To be clear, I am) than to someone I need to support (or ‘keep in her place’) – I learn more, I grow more, I don’t have to work as hard. Likewise, empowered female colleagues (such as I have, if any female colleagues are reading this!) make me and my company more versatile and competitive.

A philosophy of empowerment for all actually strengthens the economy by increasing it’s buying power. (You see, maybe counter-intuitively to the people selling things, encouraging rather than opposing or distracting  from women’s rights makes good business sense – empowered women buy houses instead of handbags.)

True – in the short term, quite a lot of work is required to overturn a broken system. Economists call this an “investment”.

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