It’s a year since we launched our Early Learning Emergency campaign which tackled the gender stereotyping which is evident everywhere you look by the high street giant, the Early Learning Centre. That campaign made every national newspaper in the UK, TV, radio and blogs galore, and ended up in print in 43 countries around the world. Surely the Early Learning Centre must have noticed that we touched on a subject which stirred up a huge amount of emotion and which gathered support from thousands and thousands of parents, teachers and children around the world?
To celebrate the anniversary we thought we’d go back and see if we could detect any changes made by the retailer in terms of products, labeling and the store experience. In other words let’s see if they’ve learned anything over the last year …
So here’s the Early Learning Centre report card. We’ve used the dressing up clothes pages as a barometer here. These pages are especially powerful in terms of the imagery, language and the products on offer to girls and boys as they define the boundaries between each and plant those all important ideas about what the future might hold for them.
Last year we pointed out the ELC Christmas catalogue was hugely segregated in terms of the way it portrayed girls and boys. Girls were seen in passive roles throughout and were noticeably absent or playing only small parts in any action, adventure and discovery type pages.
In particular we noticed that the dressing up clothes were so outrageously gender specific that girls were pictured only as princesses and fairies (with an old fashioned nurse being the only exception) while boys were pictured as super heroes, a range of professionals and as adventurers. Last year in the spread entitled ‘things people do’, there was one girl (old fashioned nurse) and 7 boys all playing at different professions (police officer, firefighter etc).
This year there has been some significant positive change! Things people do is now called ‘ when I grow up’ and guess what? There are now girls being a police officer, a fire fighter and a vet (blue not pink) alongside the boys.
We are thrilled about this. And it’s a great start as well as clear recognition of the points we made this time last year and most importantly action!
The language used within the catalogue was a real problem last year. Time and time again the word pretty being used to describe girls. Pretty princesses, pretty in front of the mirror, pretty, pretty, pretty. What does this tell a girl about what she’s worth?
Well this year, again there has been an effort to move away from this adjective. While there is still an abundance of pink princess dresses and sparkles the language in the catalogue has changed. I struggled to find the word pretty this time. Instead, the wording is very carefully gender neutral – even in the most pink pages – it’s your child and not your daughter who is being encouraged to play and make believe.
So again, a good effort but still more to do and further to go.
The product lines still have a way to go. We are very disturbed by the vanity mirrors which are sold as toys for three years and older. Placing a three year old child in front of a mirror is nothing short of sexualisation of girls. We have to see it as this and we need to remove this from catalogues and stores across the retail world.
Sadly as well, the in-store experience remains a highly gendered segregated affair. In my local store I was hid hard by the prominence of these so called vanity mirrors – of which I counted at least three different models – stacked high and in prominent position.
So, in summary we are really pleased that the Early Learning Centre has taken on board some of our concerns and have made a really good start in making their catalogue more inclusive and more positive for girls and boys.
So we are awarding them a C+ this time round.
“Good effort ELC. You still have a long way to go but we are pleased that you are listening the concerns of parents and taking positive steps forward.”
Today’s papers were full of the news that the Government is launching an inquiry tomorrow which will examine whether new rules need are needed to prevent retailers stocking inappropriate items to pre-teens. So this is just the start. We think that ELC along with all other retailers need to take responsibility and live up to these responsibilities. We’ll be following these developments closely and look forward to being a part of that process.