Don’t Buy Her Flowers.com launched earlier this year and is already gaining a reputation as the go-to website for a thoughtful alternative to the usual “new parent” gift.
Founder Steph Douglas talks to No Pink Please…
‘When I had my first baby, I received eight bunches of flowers. We didn’t have a lot of space and we certainly didn’t own multiple vases. I had to give them away or bin the least fresh to make way for the most recent. I also felt completely overwhelmed with everything – the baby, the visitors, the bodily functions – and trying to arrange flowers and then dispose of them was all a bit much, however pathetic that sounds. I found that other parents felt the same and Don’t Buy Her Flowers was born.’
“Don’t Buy Her Flowers” is such a great concept. You write a lovely piece in your “Sisterhood” blog on the story behind the company - but tell us more!? How did you take such a quirky idea and turn it into an actual business?
It really started after having my babies and 1) realising it was a little harder than I had thought it would be and 2) getting lots of flowers! I started to send friends a few bits in a jiffy bag when they had a baby and if they lived nearby I cooked something and left it on their doorstep. They sent the most effusive thank you messages and I realised that there could be something in it. Those first months are tough and knowing someone is thinking of you, has an idea that you might be finding it tough, is really powerful. I started researching what already exists and found that this was a unique idea so I wrote a business plan. I worked on the idea really quietly, but when I started to tell people about it they all said ‘that would be brilliant’ like it was a no-brainer. When we got buy in from COOK founder Edward Perry to sell their vouchers, that was a big boost. He’s runs a hugely successful business and is a father of three and he loved it. The biggest lesson was taking baby steps. Focusing on one job at a time, getting that done and moving on to the next. Suddenly you’re closer to actually doing it.
My son was born prematurely and I was not prepared at all, I remember trying to talk my husband through what toiletries I needed from the hospital bed, your “Care and Essentials package” would have been a dream! Did you discuss the contents of the packages with friends or your readers beforehand? Or were you always clear on what they should contain?
Once I’d looked at lots of samples and products and had a clear idea I discussed it with friends. I knew I wanted each product to add value – you know when you buy a gift pack of toiletries and it has something like bath salts in that no one uses? I wanted each product to offer something – comfort, escape, enjoyment or just useful (I’m thinking especially of the dry shampoo for useful). All the packages encourage a mum to take ten minutes to herself because I know mums are rubbish at that. I know we’ve got it right because I get a lot of feedback of mums crying when they open their packages. It’s like in showing some care for you, someone gives you permission to stop and go ‘crikey, this is quite a big deal’. Having babies is awesome, but it’s a mental and physical rollercoaster and we need to look after each other!
Any plans to introduce a “New Dad’s” package? My husband suggests whiskey, matchsticks (for the eyes) and an instruction manual on correctly re-fastening a sleepsuit (babies, not his) at 4am?
Obviously the men are important too, but women go through so much that I think they deserve the TLC. Frankly, if mum feels looked after she’ll probably be calmer and that’s a gift to all new dads everywhere! The Date Night In is a gift for both parents – candles, wine or champagne, truffles and massage oil – the idea being everyone is a bit knackered and you need time together but going out probably isn’t an option for a while. I’m sure there is a market for Dad’s (other than terrible ‘joke’ gifts that I’ve seen) but I’m focused on the mums for now!
Your blog is a brilliantly honest account of motherhood and parenting, you are so open and frank -was it a conscious decision to write so truthfully from the beginning?
Since having babies it’s other people’s honesty – especially about those first months – that I found hugely reassuring and it’s where the whole idea of Sisterhood came in for me. You can feel so alone and in a fog but once I started talking openly to friends and we realised we all found it tough or felt angry at our partners, or had complete meltdown moments in public, it becomes funny. So much of motherhood is ridiculous and once you realise everyone else is also muddling through, it makes everyone feel better. I’ve written a couple of posts about sex and cringed a bit at the idea of my parents reading them, but my mum (mother of six) will just send me an email saying ‘fabulous darling. Spot on’.
Do you feel your sisterhood of readers have helped spread the word on “Don’t Buy Her Flowers”?
Definitely – when I launched the website crashed when everyone went on the site and shared it! Everyone has been so lovely and so supportive, which has been brilliant. Most women are far nicer and supportive of each other than we get credit for.
As a mother to a son and a daughter, what has your experience been- have you found gender a big influence in your parenting?
I don’t think our parenting has been any different at this stage. Mabel just wants to do everything her big brother does – she’s way more physical than he was at the same age and often has a black eye where she’s launched herself off something so I’d say we’re less wary because she’s our second rather than more because she’s a girl.
What about your views on gender segregation in kid’s clothes? With only 21 months between them is Mabel wearing her brother’s hand me downs? Does she have strong opinions on her wardrobe?
Mabel is two and a half and that strong opinion has come out. She likes to mix prints and mostly look like a little Helena Bonham Carter. She has this big orange skirt that she has been known to wear a few days running including to bed. She has recently got in to the princess thing, but I’m told is a phase. She wears a few of Buster’s old tshirts, but I’m one of six with lots of nieces and nephews - all the cousins are on rotation for the clothes so as soon as someone has grown out of something it’s shipped off! I suppose I am influenced by what is available in the shops, but I don’t have a strong opinion – I kind of want the kids to feel comfortable and confident and choose for themselves. I was never a girly girl and that definitely follows through if I choose Mabel’s clothes.
I imagine they play happily with a variety of toys at home, but have you noticed any external influences? Do you feel they are drawn to certain toys because they deem it “for girls” or “for boys”?
They play with each others toys, so Mabel will be in a princess dress having a sword fight. Buster is four and a few times I’ve heard him say ‘I don’t want that, it’s for girls’ but then this week he’s decided pink is his favourite colour. I think they’re hugely influenced by nursery and the other kids around them, especially the ones that have older brothers and sisters. I’ve been told that the boy/girl divide seems to really take over at school. I suppose you have to trust that you can bring them up to have a mind of their own and be happy in their own skin.
Who inspires you creatively?
My family – sorry if that’s too obvious! But the idea all came from the experience of having the kids, and Doug has been right behind me with the business so it wouldn’t have happened if not for them.
And who inspires you in business?
I went to a Mother’s Meeting session with Linzi Boyd, who is an entrepreneur and has a book called Brand Famous. She has an infectious enthusiasm and great ‘get on with it’ attitude, but is also willing to share her knowledge. I think business owners that want to inspire and share what they’ve learned are brilliant. Most have tonnes of passion and a just f*cking do it attitude.
What’s next for Don’t Buy Her Flowers?
The sales and feedback have been brilliant so far – beyond what we were expecting. Anyone I’ve spoken to that runs a business has said just stay focused. It’s easy to be influenced by other people or worry about not moving quickly enough – add more products, do more campaigns, but we’re still establishing who we are and have so many more people to reach so I want to stay focused on that.
Anorak Magazine, the ‘happy mag for kids’ is aimed at boys and girls aged between 6 and 12 years old. Gloriously age-appropriate, featuring wonderful illustration and creative ideas, it has brought magic back into the kid’s magazine market.
Cathy Olmedillas, the founder of Anorak talks to No Pink Please...
Prior to launching Anorak in 2006 your background was fashion and publishing, why the change, please tell us more?
The simple answer is: I became a Mum! The magazines I worked at (The Face/Sleazenation) were not really Mum-friendly as they involve a fair amount of partying, so I took a year out to look after my son. I changed career a year later to become a producer but I missed the magazine world a lot. I had the idea of launching Anorak when I realised the kids magazine market was poorly served.
What is the ethos behind Anorak?
Its ethos is to encourage kids to learn while having fun and to revel in their natural talent for creativity.
How did you move from an idea, to actually producing the magazine?
This took ages, at least a good year. I talked to everyone around me about it. I went to see distributors who all rejected it as they didn't think a unisex magazine with no plastic toys on the cover would work. So, undeterred, we did a dummy and went to see Borders. They immediately placed an order. A friend of mine who has her own PR agency wrote a press release about the launch, Tate saw it and placed an order too. With these two initial orders, we could go ahead and get printing!
Tell us about the Anorak team? How do you choose the wonderful illustrators you use, the inspiring blog content? Do you have kids on the publishing team?
The creative team is small – Anna is our chief designer, Jurg our chief illustrator and we have Sorrel who does the sub-editing. We have an extended family of great illustrators who come on board every issue. I pick them, write the main feature and the stories and marry these with the illustrator that I think will best bring the story to life. It’s a fairly subjective process, I love illustration and I feel lucky to be working with such talent.
The blog content is a mixture of news, illustration goodness, great things to do and anything that catches my eye when I am out and about. My Anorak radar is always on!
Kids do take part in Anorak’s editorial as we have a team of Little Editors who review all our books and take part in drawing missions.
Your content is gloriously age-appropriate, inspiring imagination and play for all kids. Do you think the commercial market encourages children to grow up too quickly?
Well, thank you! The kids market is indeed very segmented, as it is interested in creating safe things that rely on formula and focus groups findings.
I am just interested in producing a great kid’s mag. Age or gender don’t come into play. Good stories and great drawings should inspire everyone, not just one distinct age group. It’s also about creating something that last, and not a throw-away product. There are enough throw-away stuff around! Broadly we target any kids over 6 because they need to be confident readers to enjoy the magazine fully. But many buy it and come back to it, our readers grow with it and that fills me with a lot of pride.
Does your own child inspire or contribute to the magazine’s theme or to the blog?
Ah yes – O is a massive inspiration behind Anorak, from its concept to its content. Not sure I would have launched a kids mag if I hadn’t become a Mum. He writes stories for it and creates word searches, and has made me promise not to stop doing Anorak until he reaches the age of 18 so he can take over!
What are you views on gender segregation in children’s literature? Did you always aim to make Anorak gender-neutral?
I love this question! I had not planned for it to be that way, it just naturally happened. I went to see distributors who all pointed out that it wouldn't work because it is unisex. I then became conscious that I was making a gender-neutral magazine. Of course it was seen as problematic because in the kid’s magazine world, it’s either about Barbie or Batman.
I am not sure when this gap was created, because I don't remember reading any glittery pink magazines when I was a kid. I read tons of Disney comics (Donald and Mickey), The Famous Five, The Pink Panther, all of which were gender neutral. I loved my Barbie, but there is no way I wanted to be like her! She was just a doll I could knit cool clothes for, not a role model!!
But there are now greater choices than when I first launched Anorak 6 years ago. This is mainly driven by parents who don’t want their kids to consume culture that is polarising. This divide makes no sense to me as it limits both sides to very distinct roles, instead of encouraging kids to explore.
There is still a long way to go. As an example, only last week, I was told by a publisher interested in publishing one of our books that I would need to review the colour palette of the cover because it had pink in it and that would put off boys!!
What would you say to a child who felt they could not read a specific book or magazine because it was aimed at their opposite gender?
Aha I’d say ‘don't be silly, just read it!’ I’d give them the example of my son not initially too keen on reading “Daisy and the Trouble with ….“ books by Nick Sharratt because he thought it was a book for girls only. He ended up reading the entire series! You never know until you try, as they say!
Tell us about your fan base? You publish 4 times a year and your magazines are considered collectable – I’d say adults love the magazine as much as the kids right?
So I hear! Many parents have been in touch to mention that they read it first and then hand it over to their children, which never fails to make me giggle! Our readers are aged 6+ and they are from all over the world. They love great drawings, silly stories and bad jokes.
Do you have a favourite issue or story?
This is tough because we have produced 34 editions, which translates into over 170 stories. Not easy to pick one out of that! If I had to pick one from this year, the DREAMS issue was really fun to put together, as I got to interview a dreams expert.
Who inspires you?
My son. Monty Python. All the illustrators I work with.
What’s next for Anorak?
We have just launched our 34th edition, and we are working hard at launching an iPad app before Christmas! I am super excited about that, because it means we get to have fun with animations and sounds. It also means we can serve better our growing international audience, who bemoan the ever rising costs of postage.
Then, in March, there will another kids magazines, this one aimed at the under 5. It will be unisex, naturally, and beautifully illustrated. All will be revealed soon!
You've wangled a child-free hour to have coffee with your friend, Jess, at her favourite cafe. It's buzzing with people and she's raving about the gourmet cupcake menu. You're debating the virtues of Lemon Fizz versus Cayenne Chocolate.
A bedraggled mum struggles through the door with her double buggy and pitches up at a table nearby, toddler in tow. You go back to ruminating over the cakes, when your friend holds up the menu to hide her face, and whispers:
'Look. He's got a pink baby doll. It is a boy, right?'
You love Jess, she always means well, even when she thinks she's whispering. The child in question has shaggy, blonde hair and is wearing blue dungarees, a tractor-print t-shirt and a Dennis the Menace backpack. Yep, probably a boy, you nod.
'Do you think his aunty bought him that, just to spite his mum?' Jess says.
'I dunno,' you say. 'My friend's son wants a mermaid Barbie for his birthday and she's scared to tell her husband.'
'Really?' she limps her hand.
'You know Jess, if my Marcus was desperate for a baby doll, I'd probably get him one.'
'Yeah, well you're a soft touch,' she says.
You attempt to give the fellow mum a smile, but she's getting ready to breastfeed her baby, so you divert your eyes.
'Oh my God, urgh!' squeals your friend. You can't help but follow her horrified gaze. The toddler has lifted his top up and is pretending to breastfeed his doll. Other people nearby are also staring and you feel kind of embarrassed for the mum.
Be honest with yourself. How would you react in real life? Are you a wanton radical, demanding facebook stop taking down photos of mums breastfeeding?
Are you campaigning for "good old-fashioned values" and think sticking one's boob in a baby's mouth should be done in the privacy of one's home (and never past the age of six months, thank youvery much)?
Or do you like to think you're way more liberal than you are in reality (totally me!)?
Because, although I breastfed my daughter until she was three, I remember several mortifying bus rides where she'd loudly demand "mummy-milk" while I tried to remind her "it's only for bedtime, darling". Where do you stand on public breastfeeding? More importantly, where do you stand on kids pretending to breastfeed their dolls/teddies/monkies/pandas/Elmos?
And is your opinion the same for both girls and boys?
Pushing against 'traditionalist' naysayers
Mostly it feels like the tide's been turning, yet we're often sucked back to the Victorian era (if you'll pardon the pun). For example, in 2009 the Breast Milk Baby doll hit our shelves, winning awards and simultaneously creating uproar in the US.
82% of 20,340 people polled said they would not buy the doll. Comments online included: "Only a child molester would come up with this" and "what next, dolls that teach intercourse?"
*head in my hands*
Fox News broadcasted "it will promote teen pregnancy" and their Dr Manny Alvarez, who encourages mothers to breastfeed, said it may "inadvertently traumatize them [young girls]". I'm serious! Many Americans wanted it banned.
But, guess what? It wasn't just causing controversy in theUS. Here in theUK, the Daily Mail waded in with the headline: "Now the Breastapo are using toys to brainwash our children", written by a bottle feeding mum.
I mean, come on! I'm sorry, but this doll was the very first breastfeeding doll, EVER. All dolls before it came with bottles (and still do). Nobody is brainwashing children. Scratch that and read just how much toy manufacturers and marketers are brainwashing us all in the biggest Gender Bias Debate of our generation.
But, did I think the doll was a bit odd when I first saw the advert?
And that tiny initial reaction speaks volumes about our society. How many other breastfeeding mothers' thought the breastfeeding doll was weird when it first came out? Plenty, I'll bet.
Isn't it bad enough in our 'evolved' societies that mothers are still judged just as much for breastfeeding in public, as for choosing to exclusively bottle feed? Because, the truth is, however you decide to feed your baby, it's hard enough without being shunned. But the main question is...
Why are children judged for playing outwith their gender, especially boys? And, more importantly, why are parents (including me) pandering to this peer pressure?
Research has shown that gender-stereotyped toy preferences occur in children as young as eighteen months. I don't remember my son being that young, but I did notice he began restricting himself once he hit pre-school. Now that he's eight, he refuses to play with his female friends in the playground when they're playing "girly" games.
His definition of "girly" is "fairies, princesses (but not Frozen), One Direction songs and pink stuff".
Would I buy a doll like the Breast Milk Baby?
If my children were younger and wanted the Breast Milk Baby, I know I'd have bought my daughter one if she was desperate. It's no freakier than any other noise-making, excreting baby doll. (For the sake of fairness and full disclosure, we gave our daughter one such crying, bottle-feeding doll way back in 2004. She'd requested the icky thing for her third birthday and would not be persuaded otherwise.)
Both my son and daughter, their male and female friends and cousins have all played with it. But would I have bought one for my son? In particular, the Breast Milk Baby doll?
I don't really know for sure, because we had all sorts of pink paraphernalia lying around the house already. We were lucky; we didn't have to take such proactive decisions. We had a girl first.
Here's a thing: I know where I stand on all other breastfeeding issues and seeing kids, boy or girl, pretending to breastfeed has never bothered me. I think it's super cute.
Instead of being the ardent freethinker I am with peoples' rights, I'd have argued... can't he play at breastfeeding with any old toy? Read: I'm embarrassed to be out in public with my son cuddling a doll that responds to a flowery apron with loud sucking noises.
It's the noise, drawing unwanted attention - I think.
Is this another one of my gender bias crimes?
What I do know is: a young boy faux breastfeeding with a (batteries not required) baby doll or soft toy is simply a child imitating a nurturing role, which is bound to make him a more caring son, sibling and dad.
It does not mean he's 'gay' or a 'freak' or anything. And don't get me started on the ridiculous notion that real or pretend breastfeeding (in public or anywhere) promotes sexualisation of children! Back in 2011-12 plenty of bloggers put to that idiotic notion to rest, for example Jamie Lynne Grumet's post on her blog I am not the Babysitter.
Have you noticed a child, especially a boy, pretending to breastfeed (a doll, stuffed rabbit, teddy bear, whatever), what was your reaction?
I'd love to chat with you about this in the comments below.
Jeda Pearl is a freelance writer and content creator. She loves working with words and championing people who are passionate about their business. She moonlights as a mum of two. Connect with her at www.jedapearl.com
Some friends had a rather alarming visit to the Natural History museum recently. They have a four year old daughter, who is a bright, bold, and delightful child. She may be going through a post-Frozen princess phase, but as she demonstrated on a recent visit to our place, will also enthusiastically stage a river raid of Noah's Ark by Spider-Man and Hulk to rescue the animals from the clutches of supervillains Annihilus and the Joker. Sitting inside the marketing category of 'Girl' isn't for her.
So her parents were surprised horrified at the obligatory visit to the museum gift shop, after carefully inspecting the science toys on display, the four year old girl sighed and lamented how all the toys were only for boys.
They considered this a bit of a wake up call, as this is definitely not the way they wanted to bring her up. It indicates the scale of the problem with gendered marketing. As parents, we do what we can to instil our children with positive & empowering messages and influences, to encourage them to discover what will engage & inspire them. But gendered marketing is so threaded into our everyday life – shops, TV, magazines, peers – that its effects will probably permeate through whatever defences we put up.
People like myself and others can rail against this. We may even convince the occasional retailer or manufacturer to change they way they define their products. One thing some companies are doing is introducing 'girl' versions of toys – you know the sort of thing, tool boxes, toy crossbows, and even science kits, that instead of being 'normal' colours, are pink. Some people hail these as an ingenious solution to problem. But to me it simply reinforces the 'pink is for girls' mentality. Girls may play with the perfume factory science kit, but what happens when they see an item that isn't pink? They assume it's for boys and ignore it. What do boys take away from this? That only pink things are girl things. And while they may feel that everything else is for them, they too are also excluded from the likes of baby dolls and kitchen sets.
While we have this mentality, there will be countless stories where a girl decides a career isn't for her because it's not presented as such, or a boy may think being home with a baby is for mothers only. Children may just privately carry on in this way of thinking their entire lives, perhaps then perpetuating it when they become adults. Who knows, perhaps they'll move into toy & children's clothes marketing.
There's nothing stopping me as a father to encourage my daughter to also play with toys that are not in the 'pink aisle', and to wear clothes from the boy's section as well as the girl's. But it's easy for me to be an idealist. My daughter is not even three. As she gets older, she will become more aware of the marketing as she seeks out her own media, and companies will be able to advertise to her directly. The peer group pressure upon her to conform to the identity portrayed in these messages will also grow.
The retailers and manufacturers in question like to say they are only feeding demand, but if our children can grow up with the belief that science – and any tech or engineering role - is only for boys, something is very wrong.
I can only hope that the colour palette of childhood in retail evolves. That pink and pastels stop being the exclusive domain of our girls, that the whole spectrum is opened up for all, that brands I love such as Lego, Star Wars, and Marvel & DC stop positioning themselves as a girl free zone, and domestic & nursery toys are made to appeal to boys too. Luckily, there are entrepreneurial companies spotting the gap in the market for something beyond pink and blue.
Whenever my daughter runs around the playground in her beloved superhero or robot tops, I always hope that boys and girls see this and have their assumptions challenged (today she is tearing around in a pirate outfit with a superhero cape!). And I dearly hope her love of all kinds of colours, toys, and interests continues, and doesn't get directed down the pink aisle.
Because I had four brother-in-laws, I was utterly convinced my first baby would be a boy. Which made me really crave a girl. There. I said it. No mother is supposed admit such a thing, are they?
But as I write this now, I'm trying to claw back through the fog of thirteen years. Why was I so desperate for a girl? It wasn't just the relief that twenty-three hours of labour was over (one for each year of my life!). Nor any affinity with 'baby pink' - bleugh. You know, I'm actually struggling to put my finger on it... Maybe it was because I was barely 23 when she was born, so still a girl myself. Having a daughter wasn't so scary somehow.
She arrived: fascinating and curious and loud. We were in awe and in love. I won't bore you with the shell shock and wonder. If you've been there, you'll know you spend weeks just watching them sleep. If you've yet to be, it's a crazy flung into parenthood, amazing and exhausting all at once.
Our daughter proceeded to wear a careful selection of clothes. Tasteful and funky gifts mixed it up with cool unisex hand-me-downs (like my old Made in Edinburgh t-shirt that had somehow survived five babies), crates of my grandmother's 1980s knitting and blue-striped Petit Bateau babygrows, plus other steals from local nearly-new sales.
With her hazel eyes and dark quiff, she suited bold brights, many of which her brother wore five years later. Travelling about town in a navy blue buggy - there was a severe lack of choice back then - strangers would tell me what a lovely little boy I had. Five years later, her brother chugged along in his paisley-lined, fur-trimmed buggy, blonde curls bouncing. Oh how I loved that buggy! It was a deliberate and selfish purchase, by the away, made after he was born. Cut to a street near you today and you'll find all sorts of plum, lime and tangerine patterned prams - it is sooooo not fair! But I digress...
What's so great about having a daughter before a son?
I admit, it's a bit of a controversial title. If you're taking an overt, gender-free stance of resistance, then it doesn't really apply. I wish you luck, because it will be a breeze until they step into the school playground.
My two have a big age gap between them and, to be brutally honest, if we'd had our son first I doubt we'd have ensured to give him such a diverse mix of 'girly' toys that we have in our home now. And neither would I have dressed him in anything from the girls side of the store. In my defence, our dressing-up box does have four different sets of fairy wings and several princess dresses. But would they have been there if he'd been an only child? ...my defence crumbles!
I like to think I'd have bought him a baby doll though, if he really wanted one. In theory his dad and I are modern, open-minded parents, but the reality? Like most, we value other peoples' opinions and have our own gender biases, however misguided. So we'd not have anywhere near our daughter's collection of babes-in-arms and their paraphernalia. What about fashion dolls? I hear you cry. Well, you can actually get a host of stylish (and totally ripped) male love interests - we have a select few our son plays with. I know fashion dolls raise a host of their own issues, enough for scientific research, never mind an in-depth, soul searching blog post! So I'll have to tackle that another time.
For us, having a daughter first meant there were already swathes of feminine-stereotyped toys in the house for our son to wade through, hair bobbles and clips to experiment with, dresses and sparkle to muck about in. But it turns out, he rarely chose to.
It's not fair for boys
No one blinks an eye when a girl brandishes swords or space guns. It's easy (and encouraged) to give trains, tools and garages to pre-school girls - we want to make sure they know they can do whatever boys do, equality and all that jazz. But give your son a set of My Little Ponies or send him to ballet class? No way!
Why is that?
Why is that okay?
The stereotypes are out there, assaulting all us daily. We let our daughters grow their hair to their waist, but boys must keep their's short-ish. At least until the teenage years.
Girls can get away with wearing any colour and style they like: dungaree and tutu combo? Hell yeah! But pink is boys' kryptonite and most wear dresses maybe once in their life. Girls can play with any toy weapon they fancy, wearing the 'tomboy' label as a badge of honour. But boys? They don't have the same luxury.
All is not lost! For example, Let Toys Be Toys are successfully petitioning retailers across theUK, persuading companies, supermarkets and national department stores to take down gender specific signage. With political, scientific, literary and educational backing, they launched a second petition: Let Books Be Books. GuardianWitness joined in the twitter hashtag #BoysReadGirls, where boys and men of all ages are posting photos of themselves enjoying books with female lead characters. The campaign has garnered further support from authors, laureates, with promises to cease printing, selling and reviewing gender labelled books from publishers, booksellers and national newspapers.
But what about us girls?
Times are changing, with a new wave of feminist and equality organisations rising up across the globe, tackling patriarchal societies, violence against women, misogyny and gender inequality. Social media and the internet is enabling a great force for good.
Over here in the West we like to think we're ahead of the curve, but actually the UKand USAgovernments are lagging in 67th and 84th places respectively. We're well behind numerous African, South American, and European countries, with only 22.6% of women in UK parliament, and 18.3% in theUSA.Rwanda tops the bill with 63.8% women in governance.
Despite the unsettling low statistics of female leaders, board members, and such, I reckon many average parents happen to be leaning towards feminism and equality, even if they don't realise it themselves.
We've still got a long way to go, but if we begin to make a conscientious effort with our own children and gently challenge our family and friends' preconceptions, then a gradual shift of balance can take shape. My kids are way past their infancy, but I refuse to say it's too late for our small family unit to make small, effective adjustments. It has to start somewhere, before it can grow.
Are you making any changes? What tips can you share?
Jeda Pearl is a freelance writer and content creator. She loves working with words and championing people who are passionate about their business. She moonlights as a mum of two. Connect with her at www.jedapearl.com
Images: Matthew Thomson photography
Slugs and Snails the original unisex tights brand, talk to No Pink Please about design inspirations, parenthood and future plans…
What is the ethos behind the brand Slugs and Snails?
As parents of two little boys we want products that are totally kid friendly, practical and long lasting but also as a brand we want to show people that buying eco friendly and worker friendly products isn't as costly as people think. The only footprints we want Slugs to leave behind are happy muddy ones, not ones that destroy the planet.
What inspired you to launch the brand?
When our first son was born the boys clothing market was limited to say the least, we wanted him to have bright colours and comfortable clothes that didn't have rigid structures and hinder his expanding belly and curious little legs.
What was your background prior to launching Slugs and Snails?
My background was in Law and I was working towards taking my Bar exams to finish qualifying as a Barrister.
Do your own children inspire your designs?
Absolutely, and all our designs are done by us, we don't have any outside designers, in fact our trucks design "Loader" was created by Noah one morning on the way to Kindergarten.
Any parenting tips for introducing gender equality and respect, body confidence etc to our own children?
Children don’t naturally define themselves by their gender, it's 100% an adult and marketing ideology. Think like a child, they love colour, they love quirky images with character so just let them be kids, uninhibited. Try and avoid telling them things are for boys or girls, everything should just be for kids, happy, funny little kids. We are rebranding our tights to remove the "boys" emphasis as we just love the fact that our products can be worn by either gender and shared between siblings without any issue.
What other childrenswear brands do you admire?
Wow, that’s a tough one, I am totally a kidswear junkie I love the Scandinavian brands because they are so gender neutral and bold but all my kids cardigans come from Bonnie Baby, they are amazing quality. I love Oeuf they have some fabulous eco friendly products, but my all time favourite is probably Modeerska Huset, my kids live in their stuff (when they are not wearing our that is!)
What does the future hold for Slugs and Snails?
We are moving into producing products to wear with our tights, this Autumn we have amazing dungaree shorts coming which were totally inspired by my own 80's childhood. We also have some retro organic cotton tops and hoodies with pixie hoods to die for! Long term we would love to be the go to eco friendly "kids" brand who are known for lasting quality that doesn’t cost the earth (quite literally).
Why are we so saturated with gender biases and what can we do about it?
Do you sometime feel like your choices and your children are being shoehorned into certain roles? Or are you simply just overwhelmed with whole shop aisles swathed in one colour?
Maybe it's the divided toy departments with products at polarised extremes, or the gender-loaded titles lining bookstore shelves, but it's reached tipping point for me.
Take a gander down any department store's toy aisles and you'll find boys' toys and books are all about adventure, science, weapons, monsters and superheroes, with the girls' a haze of pink frivolity, beauty, crafts, shopping and homemaking? How come they're so divided - who decided this is the way it should be?
The prevalence of today's loveable Santa Claus icon, for example, can be traced back to Coca-Cola's thirty year-long ad campaign, but working out where the 'pink for girls and blue for boys' mantra originated is a little more complex.
For centuries, up until the early 1900s, all children wore white dresses (bleachable equals easy clean) until the age of six or seven, when they also got their very first haircut. As coloured garments gradually arrived for younger children, a healthy diversity became available, with pinks and blues being encouraged as flattering for different hair and eye colours, regardless of gender.
Historian Jo Paoletti unearths these details in her book Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. During her research she found numerous instances of pre-WW2 articles stating blue was a dainty colour and more suitable for girls, with pink being a strong colour, so better for boys. The reverse was established in the 1940s, probably influenced by French fashion. Despite a twenty year break of unisex clothes, sparked by the 1960s women's liberation movement, marketers turned back to the pink/blue division with the rise of consumerism and prenatal testing in the 1980s. Having gendered clothes meant less hand-me-downs and more purchases.
A seven year old captures the mood of her generation
Do you sometimes feel like your son or daughter is being dictated to? That they will feel something is wrong with them if they're drawn to the colour and products of the opposite sex? It's like boys are allergic to one colour - they know to steer clear of the shelves slathered in pink (my son included).
Even Lego, the original ungendered toy company, got in on it. Let me tell you, my daughter was not the only girl unimpressed when their Friends line hit the shelves. At the beginning of 2014, Sociological Images shared an opinionated letter from Charlotte, age seven, asking Lego why there were so few girl characters available and why they didn't have jobs or go on adventures, like the boys. It's had almost 3,100 retweets to date.
Lego responded at the time, saying " we have dramatically increased the number of girls who are choosing to build."
However, that same month, the Huffington Post featured an image of a 1981 Lego advert, which also went viral. It called out today's advertisers and toy manufacturers and made today's Lego offering seem sadly hypocritical. I must mention that this image originally hit the internet back in 2009 in Gwen Sharp's post on Sociological Images.
Rachel Giordano, the girl in the advert, is now grown up and was interviewed on Women You Should Know. She was startled by the Lego Friends line and said: "In 1981, Legos were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it’s the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender."
I've weighed-in pretty heavy on Lego here, but we're actually big Lego fans, having inherited crate-loads of the family stash from the 80s. Though most shops opt to sell the popular branded, gendered and movie-related products, we're lucky to have several boxes of random bricks, which even the adults enjoy!
Much to our daughter's annoyance it remains in our son's room - his room is a bit bigger and he's younger, so has slightly less stuff (only slightly!). The collection has grown over the past few years, because he's been given more every birthday and Christmas, but the current ranges have been less desirable to my daughter since she graduated from Duplo.
All is not lost! Much to our delight, Lego just announced their Research Institute Set. The concept was created by geochemist Dr Ellen Kooijman and includes a palaeontologist, a chemist and an astronomer, all female, no pink. Kooijman's idea beat six other projects, all of whom received over 10,000 votes on their Ideas platform, which entitles them to be considered by their board of marketing representatives and set designers. I'm sure parents, feminists and enthusiasts around the globe will welcome this as a serious move forward in the right direction.
Accepting our foibles and making a change
When researching this topic, I discovered that gender-stereotyped toy preferences occur in children as young as eighteen months. Did you know it was that young? That was news to me. With a twelve year old daughter and seven year old son at the time of writing, I found the segregation was more prevalent from pre-school onwards.
But in a world where we are bombarded by gender roles from birth, I must hold my hands up and admit that I too have been guilty of perpetuating them.
I never banned fashion dolls from crossing my threshold, I didn't seek out 'girly' stuff for my son (we already had a houseful of his big sister's), I didn't force him to wear fairy wings, or even bother encouraging him for that matter.
But, I also refused to judge him when he did.
There's a great uprising of voices and groups, like the Let Toys Be Toys & Books Be Books campaigners who are successfully persuading a host of companies, supermarkets, national stores, publishers, booksellers and more to stop their gendered marketing.
But what about us parents at home? It doesn't have to be so radical. Could it be more a case of questioning our actions, before making that purchase, or saying those words?
No need to paint your son's room pink (unless he's wants to). Or deny your daughter princess stuff. What else can we offer them? Make sure there are tool belts and baby dolls in the house for any child we have?
So what small changes am I making?
Listening when my daughter asks why she always has to have the pink plate and giving it to my son more often.
Encouraging him to try my statement necklaces, when his eyes light up at all that sparkle. Saying it's okay, boys can wear jewellery / make-up / nail varnish, it doesn't mean he will turn into a girl.
My daughter, at twelve, is pretty sussed on all this. She claims she's not a girly girl and asks where all the female leaders and main characters are. She's so gung ho about it, I've had to tell her to back down a bit because her younger brother is starting to feel like it's his fault!
She had a good selection of trains and tools and dungarees growing up and knows she can be whoever and do whatever she wants, be that plumbing or raising a family or both. I need to make sure my son feels the same. That seems a bit harder for boys.
Let's hope this gender-neutral thang ain't no passing fad, but a trend that sticks like honey. A re-saturation, if you will, that becomes second nature and a reality of tolerance for children across the globe.
Jeda Pearl is a freelance writer and content creator. She loves working with words and championing people who are passionate about their business. She moonlights as a mum of two. Connect with her at www.jedapearl.com
Welcome to No Pink Please and thank you for taking the time to discover us.
The idea grew shortly before the birth of my son. As motherhood approached, I found myself disheartened by the separation of boys and girls clothing on the commercial market. Early shopping trips showed such expectations for him to be a certain, stereotypical way. He may embrace these, but I would like him to have the opportunity to explore, to grow up with the confidence to make his own choices. So No Pink Please was born, hoping to offer an alternative, another choice to the gendered marketing so apparent on our high streets.
Our aim is to sell unique, independent brands whose ethos resonates with ours. Brands that create fun, unisex designs, whose clothing is age-appropriate and inspires playful young minds!
I believe our children should be allowed the opportunity to grow up without being immediately judged by their gender. The name No Pink Please should be taken as tongue'n'cheek. It’s not about banning girls from wearing dresses or pink, or not allowing boys toy cars or trucks. It’s about allowing them the freedom to fulfil their full potential whatever path they choose.
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