You'll have to forgive me if there are a lot of typos in this week's column. I'm suffering from severe retinal burnout.
It happened about a week ago. I had just received the Christmas catalogue, and since I now have a wee one to shop for, I went straight for the toy pages. And suddenly, without warning, I came to the “girls' section.”
How did I know it was the girls' section? Because it was absolutely ablaze with pink. There were pink dolls. There were pink clothes. There was pink print and even the page was pink. I had no idea there were that many variations of a single color. I expect the catalogue printer went stark raving mad on this project, having to pour pot after pot of Fuchsia Temptation, Crafty Carnation, and Potted Petunia #3 into the press.
After I'd stopped writhing around on the floor, screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” I had another look through the catalogue. I was prepared to forgive the retailer (which I don't want to name in this space, so we'll call it Shears) that one lapse into bad stereotypes.
This is, after all, the 21st century. Surely my children could look forward to way cooler toys than I had? Robots and holograms and computer games? So I kept turning pages. The girls were shown with … kitchen sets. Sewing machines. And… baby dolls with strollers. The boys were shown with power tools. Cars and trucks. And in one amazingly bold bit of gender crossover, one piece of cookware yes, wait for it a toy barbecue.
I know what you're thinking: here she goes with some feminist rant pointing out that we've had female prime ministers, space shuttle pilots and national security advisors. But no, smug reader, I'm not, because 1) I have a son, and so actually I'm more concerned about what this does for him and 2) I snuck in those points just a minute ago and now don't have to resort to a rant. So, ha.
Am I worried about the effect that pink catalogue pages will have on my son? Well no, although I do plan to hand him a pair of sunglasses before he opens it, just as a safety precaution. I worry because the gender thing doesn't stop there.
We now have girl drinks usually refined cocktails, and usually pink, and boy drinks cheap beer by the keg full. There are men's razors and women's razors, because clearly the color of the handle makes a tremendous difference as to how close a shave you get.
Movies are classified as either “chick flicks” or “action movies.” Chick flicks are those that have dialogue, emotion and possibly even complex plots. The other kind involves cars and trucks, and things blowing up. We've even had a men's movie star recently call people of a certain political persuasion in the US “girlie men.”
All this means that my son is going to grow up in a world where the media image of the ideal man depicts someone who only understands power tools, and loud explosions the kind you make with dynamite, or the kind you make after drinking a lot of beer. So I'm thinking… getting him to apply himself in English class might be a bit of a struggle. Heck, even math class might be hard work.
Needless to say, I won't be buying from this catalogue any time soon. I want toys that will make him think, make him use his imagination, and of course most important of all, that I can play with too. Er, just to make sure they're okay of course.
And meantime, I'll tell him: if men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, it's because we've worked very hard to put them there.
I'm just not sure why.
To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.