It came as something of a relief that my slow burning resentment of the sexism directed at my young daughter was finally vented at an outdoor retailer’s website. It could have been the sales assistant who once refused to give us blue trainers because “those are for boys”. It could have been a hysterical shredding of a “future footballers wife” T-shirt. Instead it is was fully angled at Halfords UK and my sheer disbelief at a product description.
A friend of mine posted a product link on Facebook. A sentence caught my eye. “The Bell Amigo Pink Hearts Bike Helmet is for lovely little girls who really enjoy playing on their bikes and looking really pretty when they do.” There was a split-second when I almost didn’t click. I knew I shouldn’t test myself. I knew it wouldn’t end well.
Being a mother comes with a feeling of constant low level frustration at the best of times. Each day I cycle my daughter to nursery. At drop-off we chat about her dream to be a pilot who flies a propeller plane. Come pick-up though, I’m reduced to seething frustration as she trills happily about the princess dress she wore and ignores my question “yes, but could you climb in it?” I’ve asked if there are other fancy dress options but each time am greeted with a pitiful glance. I know my daughter will be handed another wand to compensate for the fact that her mother is viewed as anti-pink. It can feel as if there’s a tsunami of highly stereotyped toys, clothes and films and the flotsam carried in its wake is covered in glitter and dinosaurs. My daughter’s bike helmet is actually pink. It even has butterflies on it. It’s not the pink that irks me. It’s the fact that there is only pink or only blue. At 20 months, I took her to the local cycle shop to buy a helmet and she stated categorically, “not the boys one” when I pulled down the two junior sized helmets. Not even two and yet she knew blue wasn’t meant for her.
Usually this pink-or-blue problem irritates me, yesterday, because of Halfords accompanying description, I felt searing rage.
While the girl’s helmet was described as protecting “lovely little heads”, the boy’s helmet was apparently aerodynamic and perfect for those action-packed adventures boys enjoy! The exact same product had been helpfully colour coded, then marketed in a way that implied my daughter’s male friends were ready to take on the world while she could cruise daintily along behind, handlebar streamers flapping in the wind.
I stopped caring about looking like a hysterical mother and lost all reason in the face of a website that implies my daughter is primarily valued for her appearance. In 2013, The Girls' Attitude Survey by Girlguiding found that 87% of girls and young women aged 11-21 felt they were judged more for their looks than their ability.
It’s not just our girls I’m worried about either: what about our boys? If boys must be action-packed, according to Halfords, when do they have the opportunity to learn how to become nurturing fathers and partners?
I live in hope that this moment is the marketing equivalent of jumping the shark and the “lovely little heads” line finally drives us all into some kind of anti-pink revolution that sweeps this crap into the broken toys basket where it belongs. In the meantime, I’ll be snapping that damned butterfly helmet on my daughter and hope her dreams of becoming a pilot aren’t crushed in a tidal wave of pink.