Early Learning Emergency – revisited – one year on

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 …

ELC report cardSo 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.


Sugar and spice and all things nicely stereotyped

It’s that time of year again. Christmas catalogues are dropping on door mats, and packaging up a nice bit of gender stereotyping seems to be as high on the Christmas menu as it ever has been.

Susan Whitehouse wrote to us recently, after the Cancer Research catalogue she received literally “sickened” her: with gender stereotyping like this, who needs the Disney princesses?

“For the Fashionistas and Creative spirits in your lives”

Fairies, crowns, embroidered, ribbons, tea sets, knitting needles and sequins.

“For sporty gadget fans and wannabe scientists”

Robots, detectives, power, torch, mechanical, monster and puppets.

No prizes for guessing which page is for girls and which for boys? In fact they don’t even bother trying to be subtle about it.

The Cancer Research Christmas catalogue

We might be forgiven for thinking this was a catalogue from the last century, but unfortunately not. Insulted?  We are! how many of the scientists working on a cure for cancer are women? I don’t have the answer but I’d wager there are a fair few. The Women in STEM group that I met recently would have a thing or two to say about this that’s for sure.  Loaded with messages, is this really how we want to label our girls? Fashionistas? At the age of four?

Ahhhhh Boots – I can admit that I didn’t have high hopes for you, and I’d be right!

The top ten toys for “little princesses”* – that’s ‘girls’ to you and me – include toys to make dreams come true, toys for budding fashion fans, Hello Kitty chocolate (we’ll come back to these shortly) a selection of Disney Princesses and a baby doll. Over the page, Miko make-up (with a similar looking cat to the aforementioned Hello Kitty) is marketed along with a picture of a little girl, no older than four years old. With the words “little girls who love accessories and grown-up make-up”. Grown up make-up? For four year olds! That’ll be for the fashionistas right? And on the next page another selection of make-up called “glitter babes” with some choice adjectives again including “sparkly, celebrity, spangly, trendy and gorgeous”.

For Boys –  allowed to be called boys clearly: Scary, Speedy and Sporty describes the top ten toys. Lego is clearly FOR BOYS, and Playmobil, whilst featuring a girl in the picture, is in the ‘boys’ section, or immediately following the Boys’ page, and therefore off the radar for girls.

Boots Christmas catalogue

Whatever happened to simply TOYS?

We’ve been thinking about the Early Learning Centre as the one year anniversary approaches of our first campaign the “Early Learning Emergency”, and hearing from you too about how it continues to simply not live up to its logo or name, or indeed the new tv ad.

So in response, and with determination, maybe we can all encourage our four, five, six, seven year olds, and enable them – through play – to forget fashion, prettiness and sparkly celebrity gorgeousness. To search inside their fashionista self, and to release the real-girl … the free, alive, loud, challenging, funny, quirky true and wonderful **_________ girl inside.

I’ll end with a link to this fantastic performance by Katie Makkai on the dreaded “prettiness” epidemic.

*their words not mine

**insert your own adjective

***the film contains strong language

We’ll be back soon with more on the ELC …

Wired – You’re Fired

There’s been a lot of rumblings around the latest cover from Wired Magazine over the last couple of weeks. I read Wired every month and was appalled instantly when I saw it. So I complained to the editor. Didn’t get a response but was pleased to see that somebody did. Here’s the blog from Cindy Royal (with he infamous cover shot) and the response from Chris Anderson – the Editor of Wired.

Here’s his response:


I’m the editor of Wired, and thank you for your post; I take your points. This is an issue we wrestle with all the time, and it reflects a combination of things, ranging from not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover (every month we cover test a list of names to see which ones people know well enough to want to read about them), to your sense that if we go outside the tech industry for women that this somehow doesn’t count.

First, I have to correct one point: this cover story was not about tissue engineering, it was about *breast* tissue engineering. Of all the covers with cleavage out there, it’s hard to find one more editorially justified than that.

Second, this problem goes beyond women: we have trouble putting *people* on the cover. It’s the same reason: they have to sell, and what sells for us is either big ideas (sans people) or well-known, likable people with interesting things to say. The problem is that there aren’t enough geek celebrities, so we often end up going with celebrity geeks instead. Our Gates and Zuckerberg cover didn’t sell as well as our Will Ferrell cover. I’m glad we did both, but at the end of the day, we have to work on the newsstand to be a profitable business.

But we do take risks with people we really admire. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Martha Stewart, both as a businessperson and media innovator, to say nothing of her presence in the DIY movement. So we put her on the cover, heading an issue focused on her passion, and included . I knew that it would’t sell well (it didn’t), but did it anyway, including a Q&A with her. But you don’t count that one, because it’s “jokey, thematic”.

So when we put women on the cover, it must be only be for serious profiles? Okay, then I could use some help with suggestions. We love up-and-comers, but they don’t sell magazines if they don’t already have a relatively high profile and are leading a company people want to read about. For instance, Carol Bartz is a great CEO, but I just don’t think a “wither Yahoo” cover would work right now. I know this sounds like a chicken-and-egg situation, but the time is long gone since people needed magazine covers to become famous. Witness our Julia Allison cover, which was entirely about her accomplishments in self-promotion, which we applauded as a key 21st Century skill. But you don’t like that one because she has “come hither looks.”

Finally, I’m glad you liked our feature on Caterina Fake, but do you really think it would have worked as a cover? Hunch is still a small startup, yet to prove itself, and Caterina left the company a couple months later. I think if we had put her on the cover, we would have been accused of hyping Hunch beyond its due in the first month, and then clueless the next month when she left.

In other words, suggestions please!

This was my response to Cindy’s blog:

Dear Cindy

I was so pleased to see your blog re Wired and the cover they have chosen this month. And I am completely in agreement with you.

I also wrote a stinking letter to the editor the moment I saw the cover – in fact I didn’t even read the article – I don’t care if it’s about boobs and boobs only. I just think the cover is wrong and gratuitous and offensive.

So I was ‘pleased’ that the Editor has finally decided to grace us with a response. I am sure we are not the only ones who have complained. I found at least one other woman on Linkedin who felt the same.

So, his response. Well I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I am disappointed.

“this is an issue we wrestle with all the time” – what? Whether or not to put some tits on the cover??

“it reflects a combination of things, ranging from not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover” – great so let’s put some tits on the cover shall we that will sort things out!!??

“Of all the covers with cleavage out there, it’s hard to find one more editorially justified than that.”

It’s like saying – we’ve done an article on child porn so that justifies putting some child porn on the cover!

Or we’ve done an article on torture victims so let’s put some torture on the front cover. Good grief!

I can’t really be bothered to go on with it but I guess you might feel slightly the same. My relationship with Wired is hanging on a tiny thread and it might be dead. I am shocked that so called ‘intelligent’ people still don’t see the point.I  publish a magazine in the UK for charities. We too have a nightmare with our cover shots. We have about 50 quid to sort ours out. I reckon Wired’s budget must be about 100 times that.

I’m still so insulted by this.

Sadly I was of the opinion that Wired magazine offered us information, entertainment, education on an equal basis (although even before this cover that’s debatable). The editor’s letter just confirms that we have a million miles to travel yet before we can actually realise that dream.

I currently can’t find the energy to ‘give him suggestions’. Except perhaps use your brain and earn your money. And stop making excuses for degrading women and alienating your readers.

Would be good to hear your thoughts on how to respond. Thanks so much for your blog.

Cindy then responded as follows:

Thanks for your email. Based on the comments I have been getting, most people, both men and women, thought the cover was inappropriate and a cheap shot.

I agree that Anderson’s response was initially off-putting. In an email, after my response, he said this “In the meantime, I’d love to brainstorm some names with you. I can’t promise we’ll get them on the cover, but just commissioning more features about women would be a start. This is a chronic problem in the the tech industry, but I agree with you that we should work hard to fight it. You’ve got the Editor’s ear, so I suspect your time won’t be wasted.”

So, at least he acknowledges that they have to try harder. But my experience is that they already have pat answers to why they will or won’t do certain things. I’m skeptical at best.

But I am encouraged by simply the attention that this is generating. That’s got to be good… right? While I have gotten a few mean-spirited comments, for the most part, the discourse has been civil and overwhelmingly supportive.

I love what you said below, that Wired should use their brains and earn their money. It’s such an easy thing to throw it off on someone else, only to shoot down every idea that someone sends. I don’t have the time or energy for that either. But, you are doing great work with your publication, and that’s where your energy needs to go.

Thanks so much for writing and supporting the piece.

And then the group called Women That Tech are also on the case.

Hey There:
I have boobs and I’m proud of them :). But when magazines like Wired, who focus on technology and innovation, Photoshop a pair of perky boobs to highlight their lead story on tissue regeneration, it irks me. Does it irk you too?

I feel like Wired is just using our boobs to sell their magazine to their target audience – men. And hey T&A sells, right? Putting men’s genitals on the cover would never have sold. I wonder how many times this photo was cropped under the watchful eye of Wired Editor Chris Anderson, to find just the right angle to ensure that the issue did not have to be covered in plastic before it hit mailboxes? I understand that Wired needs good covers to sell their magazine so that they can stay in business, but this was a lame move by Wired.

Wired, like many other tech focused magazines and blogs, often ignores their female readership and takes very few steps to cultivate us. I’m tired of it. Will you help me compile a list of suggestions to WIRED Magazine Editors about how they can connect with more women in tech and women entrepreneurs? Just hit reply and email me your ideas and suggestions. Easy peasy!

Chris Anderson over at Wired has asked for suggestions of women in the space they should cover. But I think he needs extra advice like how Wired should engage and connect with more women readers in our space. There’s a ton of us out there, but Anderson and others at Wired clearly have not gotten it. Let’s help them out a bit. He says he’s ready to listen. Email me ideas and I will compile them, credit you (or if you prefer, you can remain anonymous), and send it directly to Chris and the other editors at Wired. I will also post an article that includes our collective ideas.

You can find out more about Women Who Tech on Facebook.

My suggestions however to Wired – really? They need suggestions do they?? How hard can it be!

1. Stop using degrading images of women on your covers

2. Have some respect for your women readers

3. Try harder and earn your money

Apologies for the length of this one but it’s so important to challenge this kind of lazy and damaging journalism. The more of us that do, the better chance we stand of making any changes.

Back to school – but in which decade?

“Back to school” has been and gone, and while we’ve been away this summer we’ve had friends and supporters on our Facebook page letting us know of the back to school horrors they’ve encountered, and indeed complained about in some of our high street stationery outlets.

Paperchase. You may have seen the internet ‘stink’ around this one, including quite possibly the rudest head of marketing on the face of the earth – well – one of them anyway. But really – is it such hilarious irony making the pink side of the back to school range “bake to school” complete with images of cakes and baking and 70s girls in pinafore dresses – whilst the blue side get sharks and adventure. Are our six year olds able to laugh hysterically at the so-called irony? Well, we think not. Whilst the original complainant found herself locked in a war of words with the aforementioned rudest head of marketing on the face of the earth, we actually felt the need to support her, and reiterate to Paperchase the importance of her original complaint. Which is what we did in this letter – as yet, with no response.

But it gets worse.

Scribbler. Words totally fail us on this alleged (once again) “ironic” humour – where quite unbelievably, in a shop which sells back to school stationery and products for children, we have badges, presumably for girls / women, with the words “cum queen”, “slag”, “fancy a tit wank” on them.  The list goes on, ready to be worn with pride for the benefit of who? Teenage boys? Grown men? The mind boggles. When Vicky Wharton wrote to complain, she was told that they wouldn’t be taken off the shelves because “they were humorous”. Again we are rolling around with the hilarity of it all, I can’t imagine for a moment that racist or homophobic language on badges would be considered humorous. Or that any parent finding their daughter wearing one would think it was funny? Can you?

Badges by Scribbler

We spoke to a journalist recently, who told us that she had heard a 13 year old boy refer to his girlfriend as “his gash”. But now retailers are “empowering” our young women to label themselves, all in the name of having a good laugh, as objects in the most offensive and derogatory manner, and quite frankly, that stinks. As this sort of language slips unnoticed into our everyday vocabulary, as even Stephen Fry ‘bitch-slaps’ his iphone, or Jim Jeffries thinks rape jokes are ‘not a problem’, but racist ones are, and as M&S sub lets part of its property to Hooters, as boys refer to their girfriends as ‘their gash’, and where anyone that dares speak up about it is accused of not having a sense of humour (at best) – well why not come at it from the other angle?  I defy any parent of a teenager to tell us that they would like to see their daughters walking around in a badge that says “cum queen”.

So Scribbler – don’t use that old chestnut “we only give people what they want to buy” – take some god-damned responsibility, and think hard about the impact this vileness might have on our young people and get it off the shelves.

Or don’t you care?

Back to school

The new school year has arrived with a bump and I’ve had a dose of writer’s block. So here goes with some brief updates and a hint of what’s to come from Pinkstinks.

Over the summer we’ve been following a few stories in the press which have been shining examples of how our celebrity culture outcasts anyone who dares to be different. I was chuffed to hear Angelina Jolie‘s response to some of the press’s savage reporting on the clothes that her daughter Shiloh wears and her hair cut. The girl is 4 years old. Jolie was forced into making a public statement about it in fact, which seems absurd, but the reporting was so horrendous I suspect she felt she had little choice. In doing so I think that she made a valuable and even brave public statement which will have touched many more people than I expect she thought it might. So in case you’re reading this Angelina – if you could get in touch we’d love to work with you.

While my sister and I were away over the summer we were excited to meet up with the founder of Princess Free Zone – one of the many organisations across the World which we’ve come across whilst working on the campaign. Michele came to Rochester, NY, where we were visiting family, from her home in Atlanta, Georgia. We spent a wonderful three hours (under some evergreens in a campsite) sharing our stories so far and talking over our plans for the future. She’s determined and she’s great fun so please offer all the support you can to her project. It’s going to be big. Most importantly we want, and need, to build these alliances across the world if we are ever going to be able to make a meaningful dent in all this nonsense going on around us. So, Michele – look forward to working with you in the future and that trip to London.

This week GirlGuidingUK launched their 2010 research into girls’ attitudes towards to a range of topics such Health and Well-being, Society, Culture and Community. There are some interesting findings in there both positive and negative – many of the negatives having been reported widely in the press. Girls worry about the pressure to look sexy springs to mind. The reports are well worth a read.

Girlguiding UK continue to do excellent work on reporting the experience of girls today but an article in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section highlighted a very valid point. Considering how girls react to, and are affected by, the pressures around them, in isolation of boys’ feelings towards to the same pressures leaves a gaping hole. That’s not to say that girls don’t face some particularly extreme pressures. But it’s foolish to think that it’s only girls who are affected by what they see around them.

We’ve often been asked why we focus mainly on products which are aimed at girls and have had many parents asking us to broaden our work into marketing messages which are aimed at boys. We made a conscious decision to remain firmly where we currently are, not least because we don’t have the resources to do more at the moment. But it’s important, I think, to point out that while we do focus on the ‘culture of pink’, the impact of it is felt by both girls and boys. What does it say to boys about what girls are like is a crucial question and one that we aim to address.

We are cranking up our activity following the summer break so please keep in touch and watch this space for more news to come.

Coming soon – The Paperchase Saga. Ah yes … it’s a goodie …

Off-side rule for girls…

Kim Little is top goal scorer of the year

Hooray, England are out of the world cup. Well, not really hooray, as I love a bit of football, love supporting England and was really looking forward to it, like many of us. But now we’re out, and in such spectacularly disappointing style, the press are full swing into the autopsy and it’s been interesting to compare and contrast the achievements of our men to that of our women’s team.

Yesterday those achievements were celebrated at the 12th FA Women’s Football Awards. Kim Little received most honours for being top goal scorer as well as many others including Natasha Dowie, Katie Chapman and Jordan Nobbs (seen below) who was young player of the year.

We’d like to add our congratulations to these women and to shout from the roof-tops about their successes as well as to the inspirational Hope Powell, Lewisham born,  for receiving her CBE in this years Queen’s honours list. So great to have so many role models for our girls to aspire to be… a bit more of this and a little less of the ‘Future WAG’ or ‘WAG in training’ t.shirts wouldn’t go amiss, how about Future Football Manager, or Future Young player of the year instead?

Hilarious.... isn't it?

Ironic, or just plain sad really, that our highstreets are plastered in the *hilarious WKD ads. (Dare I mention them in case I get the usual onslaught  accusing me of not having a sense of humour…yawn yawn (see Guardian piece today, including string of vitriol below),

Well, I do dare, because the plain fact of the matter is, is that whilst we’re busily being told how stupid we all are in the ads… Sport England’s Active People survey in 2008 tells us that 260,000 women and 1.1 million girls play some form of football in England and that there are 26 million females playing across the world, of which 4.1 million are playing affiliated football – this is a 54% growth since the year 2000 (FIFA Big Count 2006) and I’d wager that those numbers have risen since then too.

Young Player of the Year - Jordan Nobbs

So, whilst you ‘ad lads’ are all having a laugh at the expense of the girls (offside rule blue ad) and even the WAGS (the orange ad) whilst supping your neon alcopops… there are loads of us ‘girls’ who know exactly what off-side is thanks…. and it’s our job to remind you that we exist. So before you have a go at me for daring to speak up about how pathetic, the ads are…

I’d focus on reminding our ‘lads’ where the back of the net was first…. no?

More than we bargain for on our highstreets

I think I did a walk around the high street blog about two years ago. Today, after being faced with Mary, Abby and Jane, I thought I’d do one again.  As we recover from the Danny Dyer ‘scandal’ – in case you missed it, this is where that lovable cad Danny, in his agony column in Zoo magazine, advised a correspondent to ‘cut the face’ of his girlfriend, I mean ex-girlfriend, in order that no-one else will want to have her’ – the prevalence of this sort of image of women seems ever more ubiquitous and it’s not just the Zoos or Nuts of this world that love to exploit it.

So – who are Mary, Abby and Jane? I have no idea, but rest assured, once you’ve had a shower with new Lynx ‘Rise’, they could be yours. There is a distinct aura of Zoo about them. And by the looks of things, they’re available. Aren’t all women supposed to be? But of course … it’s all a bit of harmless fun. Isn’t it?

What bothers me about this image (it’s HUGE by the way), is how symptomatic it is of the current and growing acceptability of plastering the majority of our public spaces – spaces inhabited by me, my kids, their mates, with suggestive images which objectify women in order to sell products. And no, this is not about giving the consumer ‘what they want’. No consumer ever asked for this. It was created, in order to shock, titillate and sell more shower gel.

When I walk through quaint little Blackheath village, there’s a fashion shop, which sells only men’s clothing, but which currently sports a huge image of a woman in Calvin Kline underwear all over the front window. I didn’t ask for that either and it’s certainly not advertising anything that is available inside the shop because they don’t sell women’s underwear. So tell me, why is it there?

Diesel recently plastered huge, neon ‘ironic’ Sex Sells signs, all over their shop windows. It’s our cue to laugh when we read the small print ‘but unfortunately we only sell jeans’. Well I didn’t ask for that either Diesel. I’d rather just see the jeans and I’d also rather my seven-year-old son wasn’t confronted with these images, compounding the likelihood that he’ll be desensitised to what he sees around him and conditioned to think that the objectification of women is not only acceptable, but it’s normal.

Manufacturers, publishers and retailers are fond of arguing that they only sell what people want – supply and demand – but that’s rubbish. I just don’t buy it. Because I know that behind the scenes is a sophisticated mob of marketers, advertisers and profit hunters. They create and shape the market. However, we believe they REALLY DO have a responsibility to ensure they don’t promote images which are damaging and offensive – either to me or, most importantly of all, to my children. Why is my public space for sale to the highest bidder?

And it seems, we’re not the only ones who take issue. Yesterday, a top United Nations

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official encouraged advertisers to join efforts to stamp out violence against women, calling on the industry to help defy destructive gender stereotypes. Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, pointed to studies which have shown that negative stereotyping, including the depiction of women as sex objects, exacerbates gender discrimination. Women have been portrayed in demeaning or damaging ways on billboards, magazines, television and magazines, he added. “We need to put an end to persistent negative assumptions about the role of men and women in society. And we need to turn away from limited and one-dimensional gender portrayals in mass media.”

Zoo might only give the punters what they want, but it’s been recently proven, and not before time, by the hideous Danny Dyer incident, that that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, or just a bit of saucy innocent fun. Says Kiyo Akasaka to the advertising industry, “Imagine what you could do by combining your ideas, technology and entrepreneurship to the mission of eliminating violence against women.” Just try.

So next time I walk past the men’s shop in Blackheath, I might just pop my face through the door and challenge it, because until we do, that tired old argument that we’re only giving people what they want will get pulled out again and again. And eventually we’ll hear it so many times, that we’ll start to bloody well believe it ourselves.