Princess in the Loo
© Amie Taylor 2015
Gender Stereotypes in the Children’s Entertainment Industry. What can we do?
Flashback to five years ago. I’m dressed as a princess and have locked myself in the loo at a village hall near Borehamwood, a small town not far from London. This is not the highlight of my career. A fiasco has unfolded and I’m standing on the loo seat, attempting to get signal to call my boss, regretting that I’m currently wearing a hooped skirt which rules out escaping out of the tiny toilet window.
Cut to five minutes before. I’m new in London and currently working as a Party Princess. It doesn’t feel like my finest hour, but it’s an incredibly well paid hour nonetheless. (By 2013 I have quit this job on principle. I’d rather be responsible for cultivating young storytellers, adventurers, atom-splitters or ukuleleists, but not necessarily princesses.) I’ve arrived at a little boy’s third birthday party – his parents have ordered the Princesses and Superheroes package. It’s the first party I’ve done for a boy, because believe it or not, Princess Parties are not overly popular with the boys. I introduce myself to the mum, pop in to the loo to change, and re-emerge a princess, to be greeted by the boy, who is positively excited to meet a ‘real’ princess . The mum however charges over to me with a thunderous glare:
“What are you wearing?”
“Um… A princess costume.”
“Because you ordered a Princess party.”
I feel like I’m back at school, you know that moment where you’ve just flicked a rubber at the back of someone’s head, and been caught by the teacher, and they’re asking the most stupid questions… like ‘Why did you do that?’ And you don’t know why you did it, you just did, but you know that’s not a good enough answer and you suspect it’s a trick question and they’re trying to catch you out. That’s how I felt.
“He is a boy. A BOY!”
I look to the boy child, who now looks confused.
“He doesn’t want a Princess. You are supposed to be Thor, the Superhero. Boy’s don’t like Princesses.”
She is speaking to me as though I’m an idiot, hot sweat begins to seep through the collar of my Princess dress. I will not cry.
“I’m so sorry,” My voice sounds like I might cry. But I will NOT! “There must have been a mix up at head office, or a misunderstanding. We don’t have superhero costumes.”
She looks as though she might punch me.
“Well you’d better organise one or you’re going to ruin a little boy’s third birthday party.”
And so I run to the loo, to solve what seems to be an impossible problem.
Soon after the party, I realised that she handled the situation really badly, Head Office were fairly incompetent and that actually, none of it was my fault, so I could stop feeling bad. Something I’ve also learned over the years, is that some parents are emotionally unequipped to handle spending £500 on their child’s birthday party*: nothing but NOTHING will be good enough, unless you hop up and down on a unicycle, singing Happy Birthday better than Marilyn Monroe whilst farting fireworks and confetti over the assembled party guests. Fact.
And now five years later, I look back to that moment and think less of poor, confused me, or angry red-faced her, and more of the baffled four year old boy – who was told, in no uncertain terms that Princesses were not for him. Would that be along with dolls, cookery and glitter? Probably.
How did we get to this place? How are we getting worse? Why are we telling kids what they can and can’t like? Can and can’t play with.
I’m writing this because I posted an image of two leaflets on my Facebook last Friday, they were an introduction to puberty, available in UK schools and at Health Centres – there was a pink one aimed at girls and a blue one at boys and the response on my newsfeed was huge, people shared all of their other gender stereotyped things with me both on the post and in private messages. We were all annoyed about it, and I started to question what we could do, cause it’s easy to feel hopeless, right? But I figure that something we could all do, that would take maybe five minutes, if research on manufacturers is required, is Tweet the companies that are making this stuff. I know there bigger battles to be fought and won, but fighting the little ones on the side is still always worth it. Being actively engaged is more difficult that being passive, isn’t it? But why not take a chance on that difficulty, that engagement? Let’s use our lives to make some changes that might make it better for other people.
Next time you’re eating McCoys, please remember that they are ‘MAN CRISPS’, as stated on the label. (@McCoys), or a Yorkie – it’s not for girls (@Nestle) – to be quite frank, I despise the way these products take the stereotypical qualities of male and female and apply them to their products. Consider the way we are marketed to constantly, and mostly, we just take it. Twitter is a tool, and for the first time ever we can contact huge corporations – quickly, easily and publicly. Because of this, there is more chance that ever that they may respond. So take a chance and Tweet.
When I was growing up 20 years ago Lego was blue, yellow, white and red – and now, you can get pink lego for girls – themed around ponies and princesses. And blue lego for boys which is all cars and monster trucks and Ninjago, whatever the blazes that is. Annoyed by this? I am. (@LEGO_Group)
A friend recently told me of pink princess ‘Well Done’ stickers for girls (as stated on the packet) and blue ones for boys (as stated on the packet.) She was irritated by this, as was I. (I don’t know who made the stickers, but the label will tell.)
Kinder Eggs? In 2013, Kinder released a line of blue eggs for boys and pink for girls. Find this annoying? Tweet: @FerreroRetailer.
I don’t know if it’ll make a difference, but I think calling things out each time we spot them is a step in the right direction, actively giving a little head nod to sexism and gender stereotypes and saying ‘That’s sexist that is’, or ‘That’s very gender stereotypical and could potentially be damaging to a child’s perceptions of their gender or ability in the future’ – whilst ideally mentioning it to those responsible, is far better than just acting like we can’t do anything about it, or think our voice won’t matter.
And maybe you do this, or feel like I’m stating the obvious, but I have realised that I’m quicker to moan to people than I am to take some action. So I’ll be better at that from now on.
And if you’re wondering what happened me to that loo in a village hall somewhere near Borehamwood (you’re probably not, I hope you’ve gone off to take some action against gender inequality). I had an assistant that day, Kylie, I’d never met her before, but when I told her of the dilemma, she had a solution. By sheer luck, her mum’s best friend owned the costume hire shop in Borehamwood, and delivered a superhero costume just in time for the start of the party, which Kylie wore, as I was already in full Princess attire. The mum still wasn’t happy and barricaded us in at the end, making us facilitate endless rounds of musical bumps until she decided we could go home. It was awful, however her little boy, who was quite lovely, got a Superhero AND a Princess at his party, which meant there was something for everyone. And he showed me his Fireman Sam socks, so I’m taking that as a sign he liked me best. But who knows, or cares really, as long as the choice is there to be made by the kids and not the adults with ingrained thoughts and reactions, that’s all that matters.
Please check out #LetToysBeToys
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This article was submitted to us at ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL for our first E-magazine issue which was launched on International Women’s Day March the 8th and released on the 7th of April 2015
This was a celebration of women whilst tackling important issues such as
Violence Against Women
Education for Girls
Equal Rights for Women
This article was selected as it used the creative art of writing to communicate an important issue, it was chosen with another 34 artists out of 2300 submissions from all over the world.