Insidious, saccharine, remorseless, nagging, repetitive and above all pink, pink, pink, PINK, PINK, PINK. Adverts directed at little girls - to be found on all commercial cable children's TV channels - have got to be some of the most relentless pieces of commercial propaganda ever produced.
I'm not a believer that sexual differences are wholly, or even mostly, the product of cultural conditioning. I think any fair-minded parent would admit that boys, on average, are more boisterous and aggressive than girls. (Down to testosterone apparently: I learnt from an Oxford endocrinologist that a one-year old boy has proportionately as much testosterone in his body as a fourteen-year old).
However, anyone fair-minded would also have to admit that these innate sexual differences can be widened or shaped through forms of conditioning, that is, how you treat children, what expectations you have for them. And children's TV advertising seems an extraordinarily determined project to describe the self-image of little girls.
I'm not sure I can express strongly enough how the sexes are segmented in children's TV ads: the word apartheid is justifiable. There is virtually no space whatsoever for little girls to define themselves as other than girly. Pink (of course), ponied, primped, vain, sweet, simpering, gossipy. Conversely, no adventure, vehicles, monsters, danger, or indeed anything outside the words comprising the preceding list. Incredibly confining in terms of expectations as to how girls are expected to behave, interrelate and amuse themselves. Sort of Taliban-lite.
It's fair to say that this advertising often plays in distinction to the programmes. One of our eldest's favourites is Dora the Explorer (below), a little girl with a pet monkey who goes on adventures into jungles and mountains usually to help an animal in some way. She's a girl who's doing something that either sex can do and which presumably appeals to either sex.
However, the Dora merchandising, as shown in the inevitable adverts, is led by some sort of doll's house that girls are encouraged to play with in their bedrooms, safe and sound. There's also some shitty hair-braiding thing you can do with a Dora model despite her hair (or any aspect of her appearance) never being raised as a feature in an episode (I feel qualified to make this judgement having overheard or glimpsed above a newspaper what must surely be the whole oeuvre). The merchandising is as stay-at-home-and-make-sure-you-look-nice as it could be, despite Dora spending just about all her time on the road (or jungle path).
Presumably manufacturers must find it effective and profitable to present girls in this way. Is it how little girls really want to see themselves and only commerce has an honest enough motivation to admit it (money talks and bullshit walks)? Is life just easier for toy-makers if they approach their markets in this segmented fashion? Do they find this the best way to establish insecurity and create wants that they can then set out to cater to and profit from? Are they just evil?
The onslaught of these adverts is oppressive enough. But finding the best way to respond to them would require some careful consideration: how do you manoeuvre your child towards the most natural appreciation of what it is to be a girl? Does such a thing exist? Should you even try? One could, of course, ban TV or at least everything apart from CBBC...but seriously. Anyway, all the other girls would be watching it so the peer pressure would be in place and building. I look forward to Brit's take on the subject - he now has something of an interest in the matter and if he hasn't developed an opinion yet, I feel sure one will eventually turn up.
In any event, I'm quite incredulous that this sort of thing appears to thrive in our day. Far from going mad, political correctness in this arena hasn't even begun to feel a bit eccentric. On the other hand, in about fifteen or twenty years time we can expect to have a feisty crop of feminists rebelling against the indoctrination of their childhoods. I look forward to welcoming back the dungaree - in any colour other than pink.
UPDATE: T just found this site: www.pinkstinks.co.uk. There's more to it than an intense dislike of pink: serious and justified concerns about the impact on girls of body image pressures and celebrity culture. I wish them the best of luck and will follow their campaign with interest.