Harrods criticised for sexist children’s reading books


by Sunny Hundal    
9:19 pm - February 7th 2013

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These pictures were taken by Krystina Meens and posted to Twitter today.

and another

This is outrageously stereotypical and sexist.

Last year the toy store Hamleys was similarly criticised for stocking toys by gender, and later changed policy after a barrage of criticism.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


*Shrugs* Does indifference to this one mean I’ll have to hand back my ‘Official sandal wearing yogurt eating leftie card’?

This is a trifle and not real politics.

“This is outrageously stereotypical and sexist.

Last year the toy store Hamleys was similarly criticised for stocking toys by gender”……..

Guess what, little boys and girls are different, get over it. FFS, everything is sexist to these dickheads.

4. Lord Stranger

Most of what passes for politics is a trifle, how we bring up kids is important.

Oh for crying out loud! May I (respectfully comrade, natch!) suggest you need to get out more and find some real issues to get angry about? There is a wide selection of real problems and challenges out there…..

Most of what passes for politics is a trifle, how we bring up kids is important.

Hit the nail on the head.

For some reason those with a view on the left of the political dividing line seem hell bent on denying our human ancestry. We are imperfect until we accept the way of socialism where everyone is equal and no one is different and where we are made perfect by the removal of all emotion and desires.

But humans desire to be different. It’s what drives us to do better and progress. It has worked for tens of thousands of years. But progressives are actually regressive and want to stop this.

Look. We are different. Women are genetically predisposed to be caring. Men are genetically predisposed towards action. But humanity is a big grey mess where 100% of not action men and all women are not barbies. There is a wide range of behaviours, but generally the stereotype is valid. To go around saying that because publishers are fulfilling the natural desires of boys and girls that they are therefore sexist is just stupid. All you are doing is twisting the minds of young kids to think things which are not natural.

Rather than force young people to accept your point of view about how the world should work, why not just accept that they like things which you don’t approve of.

If you are right then the book publishers will lose money and go bust as their books flop. If you are wrong, then the books will sell and the publishers will make (and this is a nasty word to you lot) some profit.

I think you need to grow up. These books are catering to the people they think might be interested in the subject matter. Indeed the How to be Clever book isn’t even sexist, unless showing a boy on the cover is sexist. Wittering about trivia like this sets the Liberal cause back years.

For some reason those with a view on the left of the political dividing line seem hell bent on denying our human ancestry.

This is undoubtedly true. Only the other day, when I posted the ‘list of shame’, I was told I was going to incur the wrath of god.

That cheered me up immensely.

10. Chaise Guevara

@9 Sunny

“This is undoubtedly true. Only the other day, when I posted the ‘list of shame’, I was told I was going to incur the wrath of god.

That cheered me up immensely.”

OK, that was fucking sublime. Seriously, I’m still giggling. Well played.

On the issue: I’m with you in principle. It’s not a good way to act about gender, especially during childhood. But these examples look a bit cherry-picked or coincidental. I’m not convinced it represents what’s actually there.

I’m curious – are these the only books being stocked in this vein? If there’s a similar one involving a girl on the front cover doing something neutral or non-stereotypical, I don’t think there’s a problem here.

One is definitely marketed to girls – to some degree that’s inevitable, given how much emphasis society places on female “gorgeousness” – but the one about cleverness is definitely more arguable.

There’s something iffy here, but I think we need more information and more examples before we can come to the conclusion that the publishers are completely evil, rather than just a little bit evil as is standard.

It’s not a good way to act about gender, especially during childhood.

According to whom?

Do you really assert your right to impose your prejudices onto our children?

As others have pointed out, if the kids don’t relate to it, they won’t buy it.

13. Chaise Guevara

@ 12

“According to whom?

Do you really assert your right to impose your prejudices onto our children?”

No, I was objecting to people imposing their prejudices onto our children. Keep up.

“As others have pointed out, if the kids don’t relate to it, they won’t buy it.”

It’s not the kids who buy it, on account of being kids.

Seriously dude, I kinda like you, but you sometimes suck at libertarianism.

A better book for children would be titled “How to be Gorgeous and Clever”. Why only one or the other? They’re not mutually exclusive after all.

I like the books.

Isnt Helen generally a female name?

@ Chaise

It’s not the kids who buy it, on account of being kids.

OK, parents buy the toys but the kids choose them.

And I’m sorry they don’t want toys you consider appropriate on the grounds of being gender neutral but that’s the way it is.

Now go off and play with your Barbie doll….

The “clever” boy appears to be Asian. More sweeping generalisation?

The issue appears to be in the juxtaposition of these books. If it tipifies the children’s section then it’s shameful.

I cannot believe some of these comments!

I mean, OK, there’s room for disagreement about the extent to which this or that perceived difference between men and women has a biological basis vs. a cultural/social basis, about the extent to which retailers, publishers etc. are simply catering for vs. creating/reinforcing such differences, etc. But seriously: “How to be Gorgeous” vs. “How to be Clever”? That’s just naked, indefensible sexism, isn’t it?

And yes, these are the only two books in the ‘series’:

http://www5.scholastic.co.uk/zone/book_howto.htm

Given its Harrods there’s scope for parody. Who’s going to help me write How to be a Tory Wife? It’s niche, I know…

Like Hengist I struggle to care about this.

Though I assume we are meant to be greatly exercised by this because girls are being encouraged to be gorgeous rather than clever. In which case I see no reason why little girls would be put out off by the cover of the second book. If you remove it from the context of the first book, it simply looks like a generic book aimed at children. On the other hand I can see boys being greatly put off by the cover of the “gorgeous” book, but no one cares about that though.

I accept there are real problems with our culture when it comes to educating girls and encouraging them to be “clever”. However, we need to pick our fights, and I’m not convinced the book stock of posh london shops figures into that.

Given its Harrods there’s scope for parody. Who’s going to help me write How to be a Tory Wife? It’s niche, I know…

Tories don’t shop at Horrids. That’s Fortnums, Harvey Nicks and Waitrose.

As to the books, they wind the ever-living fuck out of me. I spend about 40% of my parenting telling my nearly 4 year old that girls can be absolutely anything they want to be, and that there’s no such thing as a girl’s job. Fine, have a ‘how to be gorgeous’ book, knock yourself out, but would it really hurt to have a boy and a girl on ‘how to be clever’?

Seriously, my wife and I are both lawyers (she earns a fair bit more than me too). My kids are used to the idea of women working. And yet when my daughter was in hospital in November, she insisted that all the women were nurses and all the men doctors. It drives me round the twist.

I thought this was a trivial matter till I noticed the complaints were made on Twitter and therefore of vital importance to people who’s attention spans are limited to 140 characters or less and would therefore find children’s literature as incomprehensible as Finnegans Wake.

The focus on Harrods is just an attempt to provoke a reaction from lefties who instinctively dislike the posh department store. The books are also available at Waterstones or via Amazon, for example (check their websites). Which doesn’t excuse Harrods any more than it excuses Waterstones, but I’d imagine the average girl or young woman is more likely to stumble across these books at Waterstones.

The “clever” boy appears to be Asian. More sweeping generalisation?

Eh? Not when its based on what is obviously THE TRUTH.

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 17 Pagar

“OK, parents buy the toys but the kids choose them.”

I think parental choice comes into it when the product is titled “how to be clever”. When I was a kid my parents would sometimes buy me things without me demanding it. Strange but true.

“And I’m sorry they don’t want toys you consider appropriate on the grounds of being gender neutral but that’s the way it is.”

FFS, kids can want what they want, step away from your silly straw man. But the above – if honestly represented – shows a pretty skewed view of girls and boys. Women are genuinely judged on their looks more than men, there’s no need to actively encourage that sort of thing.

Anyone here ever read Saki’s short story ‘The Toys of Peace’ ? Says everything that needs to be said about lefty bedwetting over gender stereotypes, and that a hundred years since.

“The focus on Harrods is just an attempt to provoke a reaction from lefties who instinctively dislike the posh department stores”
I don’t know the lefties I know love those stores. It is their secret pleasure.

“Women are genetically predisposed to be caring. Men are genetically predisposed towards action”
That may be true but have you a scientific paper proving that claim.
Also are there some societies where the role is reversed.
I get concerned when people use the words “genetically predisposed” without proof. Call me picky.

@ Thornavis

“Says everything that needs to be said about lefty bedwetting over gender stereotypes, and that a hundred years since.”

Of course, if lefties hadn’t been wetting their beds about gender stereotypes a hundred years ago, women wouldn’t even have the vote today. Damn these lefties and their trivial concerns, eh?

Yes, the more we reflect on the world as it was a hundred years ago, the clearer it becomes that only the most pissy-mattressed pinko could think there was any kind of issue with raising boys who aspire to be clever and girls who aspire to be gorgeous.

*headdesk*

*headdesk*

*headdesk*

“Seriously, my wife and I are both lawyers”
Now I know why I don’t like you.
Also I love the idea of horrids.
Also boys, I am afraid the girlies are out stripping us on every educational criteria.
We might all have to be house husbands.

@GO

So you reckon that the lefties of a century ago were in favour of female suffrage, what all of them ? Check your history books. Many if not most of the suffragettes were anything but lefties and it was part of the suffrage movement that first came up with the delightful idea of handing out white feathers to young men during WW1 – not that the left have ever been particularly opposed to war of course – excuse me if I don’t share your admiration.

@ Thornavis

It was you, not me, who suggested that concerns about gender stereotypes are “lefty” concerns. I’m merely trying to argue with you in your own terms. I can stick to those terms even more closely, if you like:

“Of course, if it hadn’t been for all that lefty bedwetting over gender stereotypes a hundred years ago…”

Explain to me again how that undermines the point I was making?

34. Robin Levett

@Thornavis #32:

The Conservatives generally were in large part opposed to women’s suffrage on the basis that it might lead to universal suffrage; to the extent they were not expressly opposed in principle, they paid lip-service to it when campaigning, while doing nothing when in power. Their support, such as it was, was based on party advantage rather than principle. The Conservative women supporters of women’s suffrage, when push came to shove, woudlsubordinate their suffragism to their Conservatism.

The Libs and Labs were broadly pro-women’s suffrage; the Labour party explicitly so.

On the suffragette side, the Pankhursts were divided; Sylvia, the Communist, was horrified by her sister’s and mother’s support for the war, and the WSPU’s white-feather campaign. On social issues, however, the differences were less – Sylvia took the view that women’s suffrage should be fought for alongside a much wider set of social issues, whereas Christabel and Emmeline (although as time went on they became increasingly conservative) took the view that those battles could be fought once women’s suffrage had been gained.

There were however a very significant number of Communists among the suffragettes, and vice versa.

So, on balance, yes it was lefty bed-wetting that led to the success of the women’s suffrage movement, and it was the right that opposed it. The fact that a number of suffragettes, even prominent ones, were on the political right doesn’t change that basic position.

Should female universal suffrage be a left or right issue.

I didn’t know about the white feather campaign.

@35

Should female universal suffrage be a left or right issue.

No it should be a feminist issue, which in theory should be it’s own political axis and thus transcend the left-right political divide. It used to at any rate.

In practice though when feminists object to something they get

lefty bedwetting over gender stereotypes

characterised as lefties, sometimes even ‘the loony left’, but this can then often be self contradicted, should the characterisation be responded to while accepted at face value, by

So you reckon that the lefties of a century ago were in favour of female suffrage, what all of them ? Check your history books.

Which makes everything clear as mud.

btw, I also think these book covers are wrong on many other levels. In fact, for them to be right, on each cover there should be a girl, a boy, a black girl&boy, asian girl&boy, jewish girl&boy, and let’s not forget- homo girl&boy.

GO

Re read my comment, I said that Saki’s story exposed the ridiculous sort of worrying about nothing that so many progressive types go in for when discussing gender, as the above article demonstrates nicely. If you haven’t read it I recommend it, it’s very amusing.

Cylux

The women’s suffrage movement before WW1 was far from an exclusively or even mainly, left wing cause, GO seemed to be suggesting it was. Robin Levett is doing the usual leftist thing of taking some highly diverse social movement which was often deeply conservative and claiming it as a great progressive cause and the whole thing was a dismal failure anyway. The vote wasn’t won by the suffragettes but as an inevitable response to social changes that had nothing to do with leftist agitation.

I forgot to mention the unions who were at best divided on the issue and often opposed to female suffrage, which is one of the things I was getting at when I suggested to GO that the idea that votes for women were won by the left is nonsense.

40. Robin Levett

@Thornavis #39:

I forgot to mention the unions who were at best divided on the issue and often opposed to female suffrage, which is one of the things I was getting at when I suggested to GO that the idea that votes for women were won by the left is nonsense.

The idea that trades unions are on every issue and universally on the left is ludicrous. On this issue, as on so many, they were socially conservative.

You see, unlike some thornbirds I could mention, I recognise that the suppport and opposition to suffragism came from many sides, although the drivers were largely on the left.

@38

The women’s suffrage movement before WW1 was far from an exclusively or even mainly, left wing cause, GO seemed to be suggesting it was.

The problem is that YOU suggested that concerns over gender stereotyping are a leftist cause. In fact that was why he even responded to you in the first place.

Also having read Saki’s story it doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with gender stereotyping, instead pointing out that boring toys are boring.

@ Thornavis

The point I was making was that what you dismiss as “the ridiculous sort of worrying about nothing that so many progressive types go in for” – e.g. objecting to the expectation that girls should grow up ‘gorgeous’ and boys ‘clever’ – has in fact been responsible for such desirable and fundamental changes in society as universal suffrage. And as you have been kind enough to underline, this is not in fact a matter of “lefty bedwetting” but of legitimate concerns shared by people on the right as well as the left.

So the fact that guys and girls like different things bothers you?

The Conservatives generally were in large part opposed to women’s suffrage on the basis that it might lead to universal suffrage; to the extent they were not expressly opposed in principle, they paid lip-service to it when campaigning, while doing nothing when in power.

Both the Acts passed extending the franchise to women were passed by Conservative or Conservative-dominated governments. The era where there was agitation for and suppression of the suffragettes was during the last Liberal administration of 1906-1916. It’s a funny definition of nothing.

whereas Christabel and Emmeline (although as time went on they became increasingly conservative) took the view that those battles could be fought once women’s suffrage had been gained

Emmeline ended up as a Conservative Party candidate, and Christabel stood on a coalition ticket during the war.

45. Robin Levett

@Tim J #44:

Both the Acts passed extending the franchise to women were passed by Conservative or Conservative-dominated governments

I was under the impression that the 1918 Representation of the People Bill was introduced by a Lloyd-George led coalition government, with the Squiffite opposition an opposition in terminology only since they all took a Liberal whip? Was I wrong?

The 1918 Act was passed 385-57 – of the 57, 45 were Unionists. It is argued that a significant number of anti-suffragists (largely Conservatices) voted in favour of the bill – which granted women over 30 the vote – because it would delay universal adult suffrage by taking the steam out of the movement.

The era where there was agitation for and suppression of the suffragettes was during the last Liberal administration of 1906-1916.

But various bills for women’s suffrage were introduced during that period, none of which made it onto the statute book (for various reasons – among them the facts that (for the Liberals) they didn’t go far enough and (for the Unionists) they went too far).

Emmeline ended up as a Conservative Party candidate, and Christabel stood on a coalition ticket during the war.

Emmeline started on the left – she was a friend of Keir Hardie, and joined the ILP in the 1890s. She joined the Conservatives in 1928; arguably because of her anti-Bolshevism as much as anything else.

Christabel stood for the Women’s Party in the December 1918 election; the political position of the party was anti-trades-union, pro-women’s equality.

I was under the impression that the 1918 Representation of the People Bill was introduced by a Lloyd-George led coalition government

Lloyd George led a coalition, the majority of whose MPs were Tories. The Leader in the Lords, the Leader in the Commons, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty were Tories. Of the leading cabinet positions, the Liberals had three portfolios, including LG himself.

It is argued that a significant number of anti-suffragists (largely Conservatices) voted in favour of the bill – which granted women over 30 the vote – because it would delay universal adult suffrage by taking the steam out of the movement.

By whom? The Tories introduced universal adult suffrage in 1928.

47. Robin Levett

@Tim J #46:

Lloyd George led a coalition, the majority of whose MPs were Tories.

Only if you excluded the Squiffites. That Parliament was an odd one, to say the least – not the least oddity being it’s length. More Liberals took a Government party whip than Unionists; the Squiffite Liberals sat on the Opposition benches but did not oppose.

The Leader in the Lords, the Leader in the Commons, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty were Tories.

True; but the PM was Lloyd George, and he was the one who made the call to proceed with the reform bill.

It is argued that a significant number of anti-suffragists (largely Conservatices) voted in favour of the bill – which granted women over 30 the vote – because it would delay universal adult suffrage by taking the steam out of the movement.

By whom? The Tories introduced universal adult suffrage in 1928.

I didn’t make the claim that the anti-suffragists in 1918 had a crystal ball in perfect working order.

A private member’s bill for equal suffrage, given a fair wind by the Labour Government, fell with that Government in 1924; the Unionist manifesto for the resultant General Election contained no commitment to equal suffrage, whereas the Labour one did. It is true that the Unionists did introduce equal suffrage at 21 in the 1928 Act – but it wasn’t quite as simple as that…it certainly was not universally popular in the party.

It is instructive to look into what happened to the suffragettes once their cause for equal franchise with men was achieved in 1928, in time for the general election in 1929, which led to the election of a minority Labour government with Ramsay MacDonald as PM:

“Julie Gottlieb’s Feminine Fascism would disabuse them. Its brilliant analysis of the place of women in Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists does much to change our preconceptions. Where women played comparatively little part in the fascist movements of other European countries, more than 25 per cent of the BUF members were women, many of whom were prominent in the movement’s activities. All this, despite the macho image, so similar to that of continental fascism, displayed by the leader and by so many of his acolytes.”
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=157840&sectioncode=6

“Sylvia Pankhurst went the other way and became a founder of the Communist Party”

Oswald Mosley was a member of MacDonald’s cabinet until 1930 when he resigned saying the government was doing too little to deal with unemployment. Mosley first went on to form the New Party in 1931 with John Strachey, until that flopped, and then the British Union of Fascists in 1932.

Tim J @ 22:

“As to the books, they wind the ever-living fuck out of me. I spend about 40% of my parenting telling my nearly 4 year old that girls can be absolutely anything they want to be, and that there’s no such thing as a girl’s job.”

Relax. Girls can be girly and feminine, and also be successful. What matters is your gentle encouragement and support. My daughter’s state primary school teacher outrageously dismissed her as “too fluffy, dreamy and feminine to achieve anything academic”. Now 26, she’s MA and LLB, and working as a City solicitor.

I like Churchill’s opposition to female suffrage: “why should wives get two votes?”.

Anyway, the right/left argument is false surely? It was about (small-c) conservative v radical wasn’t it?

In Switzerland, women didn’t get to vote in federal elections until February 1971. The result was hundreds of years of peace and prosperity.

Talking of liberal bedwetters (passim, above), here’s a fine specimen:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451675669e2017c36d1ab0e970b-pi

If this was just one instance of sexism within childrens toys and books then maybe it’d be trivial. But it’s not. Check out PinkStinks for many more similar examples.

How children view themselves and each other as they grow up is important. It affects their academic achievement (and thus life chances), their relationships, their mental health – e.g girls being pressured to value looks over other attributes is extremely damaging to their self-esteem and puts them at risk of developing eating disorders.

I dunno, maybe looking at the bigger picture makes me a lefty bedwetter. *eyeroll*

“How children view themselves and each other as they grow up is important. ”

Absolutely. Which perhaps helps to explain why girls have overtaken boys in achieved grades in the school leaving exams and why women now outnumber men among undergraduates in universities.


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