Feminism wars: Episode one – Christmas shopping for the niece


…or how to feel old AND enraged at the anti-feminist message in children’s’ toys

Nothing makes you feel old quite as prematurely as having to navigate what is cool to buy for your 10-year old niece. I’m hardly an East London hipster, but I’d like to think I haven’t joined the tweedy, middle-aged, middle classes yet, or will do for a decade or two. However, I have really absolutely no idea what to buy those who aren’t old enough to be truly cynical about life yet. Plus my brother would kill me if I got her alcohol.

My dad and I were clubbing together to get presents for my niece and nephew. As my dad’s idea of good present buying once consisted of buying me a hockey stick when a) we didn’t play hockey at school and b) my feelings for hockey were apathetic at best, I thought it wise that I dealt with buying my niece’s present and he dealt with my nephew’s present. And that was the first twinge that anti-feminism was happening, occurred. Why wouldn’t I also be good at buying typical boy presents, and indeed why wouldn’t my niece perhaps enjoy presents society deems “boyish”? Had an inherently misogynistic society got to me and brainwashed me into thinking in terms of girly things and boyish things, and that I should deal with anything to do with girls? Then I remembered the hockey stick, gave my dad clear instructions on what to buy for my nephew and got on with my shopping trip.

My being a woman however did not enlighten me any quicker on what my niece would want. I tried to rack my brains back to what 10-year old me would have wanted. As I was a bit of a solitary child and thought that whacking a plastic cricket stump against a (now dead) bush in my parents’ garden was the height of fun, I scrapped that train of thought. (I feel I should explain that I liked to pretend I was Prince Caspian from the Chronicles of Narnia and the bush was a dragon.)

But if you think I sound weird, frankly the toys sold to kids now are weirder. My brother helpfully suggested things such as Monster High and Littlest Pet Shop. I say “things” as really, I’m not sure what else to call these toys. Monster High appears to consist of thin, leggy girl dolls who you can dress up in what is best described as sexy Halloween costumes. You know, the short skirts and stripper heels that would  make you catch your death of cold while trick of treating. Nope, I crossed that off my list.

Littlest Pet Shop is at the other end of the spectrum of toys being manufactured for girls – it’s cute and pink and features animals. (Well not animals I’m sure David Attenborough would recognise.) And indeed there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the idea of the Littlest Pet Shop although the consumerist girliness of it did kind of make me want to vomit. Still, pets over Halloween stripper dolls any day, right? This brand along with many other girl toys I encountered during that day annoyed me because they seemed to be under the impression all girls love is pink, sparkles, cute animals, fairies, cupcakes and make-up. No! Girls love dinosaurs and Star Wars too dammit!

And… my obviously growing senility started kicking in. I wanted to get my niece something fun, that she would want, but also that I felt would at least convey to her the right messages. Namely that it’s ok to not conform to this gender-unfriendly society’s ideals of what a girl should be like and like. I was basically turning into my parents and thinking about educational presents!

I did however just about drag from my memories that I loved Barbie and Polly Pocket back in my day, as well as whacking unsuspecting fauna with a cricket stump. So I feel I can’t be too judgemental about all things pink and traditionally girly. It would just be nice to have some variety you know? Is that too much to ask, oh giant brands that make toys?

So there I was caught between my feminist ideals and a self-righteous sense of ‘children these days need a better education’ on the one hand. Then on the other hand, there was this comical self-awareness that the poor girl probably just wanted something fun for Christmas and if that fun thing was pink, what kind of hypocrite/feminism Scrooge would I be to deny her?

Well I won’t say what I got her in the end, as she doesn’t open her presents at her dad’s place until the New Year. But I’d like to think it struck a happy medium. I just wish that manufacturers out there had helped make that an easier task to do.

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