Boys Rule. OK?

To celebrate the holiday season, this is a bit of a different post to usual. I can often be accused of asking rhetorical questions, but I offer this one in all sincerity.

I stand before you as a fully paid up (closet) member of both the Prude Society and the Angry Brigade. For years, I have railed, in my head and occasionally to friends, against the objectification of women and girls in clubs, on posters on the Underground escalators, on clothing, in the gender stereotyping of children’s toys. Individual protestors and campaigning groups alike have been barraged with accusations of prudishness, extremism, absence of fun etc etc, as they have argued against the widespread dissemination of such images which they have considered demeaning, or misrepresenting women.  Those who spoke up were made to feel in the minority and the implications was that they wanted to return to Victorian standards of decency. Yet the last few years have seen the development of a new kind of feminism in Britain which has taken on these issues and made real inroads into what is deemed acceptable and normal.

Groups such as Pink Stinks  campaign against the gender stereotyping so prevalent in consumer goods and the media. Widespread outrage from others brought about the withdrawal from sale of bras for prepubescent girls. Recently Disney were forced to back down over the makeover given to Princess Merida from the widely acclaimed film Brave. Shops have given in to pressure to consider the messages printed on t-shirts, taking off the shelves the worst offenders.

Much as it grieves me to say it, these are campaigns concerning “girls” toys, “girls” things; but there are also examples that come to mind about boys’ or men’s clothing being challenged, sometimes for overtly sexist messages, sometimes potentially inciting abusive behaviour or encouraging violence against women. Generally though the message on younger boys’ clothing has been considered more positive, one of outdoor action, saving the world, a fixation with heavy machinery and outer space, large animals or cheekiness. Search your local store online and you’ll see what I mean. It is argued that they promote more positive images and aspirations, support high self-esteem and encourage a sense of achievement.

But what are we to make of this t-shirt, for a 2-3 year old, which caught my attention when shopping in Tesco this week?boys3

If we are prepared to argue that slogans on t-shirts matter – that they lay down subtle and not-so-subtle messages to children as they form their own opinions and values – in a world where interpersonal violence is predominantly male to female, including children’s violence to parents, how do we stand on the suggestion that boys (in particular and therefore NOT girls, women or even men) are in charge? As I said, a fully paid up member – but perhaps it’s a thought worth putting out there!

Your comments welcomed.

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