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Why? Simple question, but I’m still waiting for the answer

Newsnight’s arch-inquisitor Jeremy Paxman, established a reputation for fearless, journalistic integrity by simply asking a question.

Granted he asked that question 12 times, putting then Home Secretary Michael Howard under the kind of grilling normally only reserved for Welsh rarebit. It is an interview that went down in history (at least in journalistic circles)

But Paxman is a mere amateur. If you want to reduce an adult to quivering jelly, just get a child to relentlessly pose one simple question: Why?

Kids ask this question in the same way the Terminator pursued Sarah Connor:

Listen, and understand. That kid is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Ok perhaps not dead but certainly until they have a satisfactory answer (or the adult snaps and refuses to answer any more questions – threatening some hasty punishment in order to effect an escape…)

Last week I read a simply superb post by Kate Bachus – it’s called Lego, breasts and spaceships and its about the limitations the toy manufacturers put on young girls. I agree wholeheartedly.

As the father of a seven-year-old girl I’d just like to ask Lego one question. Repeatedly .

Why?

I’m sure we’d initially get an answer based on extensive marketing exercises and responding to customer demand

If we continued to ask Why?

I’m pretty sure we’d then hear something along the lines of parents liking to buy their little girls toys which appeal to their sensibilities, their nurturing instincts.

Let’s continue to ask why a few more times. We might then get a response based on extending market share and driving profits.

Not satisfied, lets continue to ask the question why? We might eventually add up with a more honest answer, of it being a fairly straightforward attempt to abandon principles in a bid for profit. Fair enough you might say they are a business at the end of the day.

True but what of the principles. If you’re unsure of what those principles used to be – refresh your memory with this.

Put simply – Lego’s brand image used to be about the ability to use your imagination to create something amazing.

Lego is just symptomatic of the way we pigeonhole our children. Girls = nurturing and caring. Boys all rough and tumble. Black and white, no shades of grey.

When I first read about Lego Friends – the product aimed squarely at girls – I posted the Instagram picture above. Let’s be clear, Lego aren’t alone in this type of marketing. Yes it’s a societal issue, but its always a bit disappointing to find that a brand that espouses (or seems to) a certain value, doesn’t actually believe in it afterall.

What this is, is an aspirational brake. It limits belief and narrows ambition. I’ve touched on this before

The points I tried to make in that post apply here too. Visibility and access. If all we do is reinforce gender roles, I think we do limit the aspirations of our kids.

Don’t believe me?

Before my daughter went to school, her interests were extremely diverse, from robots to Tom and Jerry, Doctor Who to football.

School should be about broadening horizons, instead it initially seemed to limit them. She often came home explaining how she could no longer like X as it was a boy’s thing.  Rather than seek to break this down, the school even had its toys segmented by perceived gender roles. Yes we did point this out to the school)

And yes, I realise it is the role of the parent to encourage their children to not pigeonhole themselves, to encourage them to reject peer pressure and to follow their passions, but it shouldn’t be the role of the school to undermine that.

This might all seem a bit right-on-and-modern-parenty, but shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to develop individual interests rather than that deemed to be simply gender appropriate.

In a bid to counteract the gender stereotyping,  Limor Fried of Adafruit created a Lego set designed to appeal to aspiration. She should be applauded for her move to create something which broadens horizons, highlights opportunity and makes kids aware of options. Her design was a direct response to the model created by Lego. Read the story here and then vote for the model here.

Also to be applauded is this Swedish toy catalogue, But It annoys me that things like this still make news – or rather the fact that something as simple as not reinforcing gender roles is actually worthy of news. Utopian I know, but it would be nice if we just let kids be kids, let them be interested in whatever takes their fancy.

Kate Bachus is right. We should be pissed. We should be annoyed. We should do this…

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