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All I want for Christmas is…

2010 December 14
by Sarah Cook

It’s the Festive Season, so we are putting up tinsel on the collective BadRep Christmas tree and trying not to speculate too deeply on the reason why we lug a lot of greenery into the house during winter time (it’s not pagan, it’s traditional. Honest). We are also shopping for gifts. I like presents. I like selecting the right ones for my nearest and dearest so they know that I love them, and that I’ve spent at least some part of my life thinking about what would be most appropriate to give them. Hopefully they’ve done the same thing too, and we shall all be happy.  However, the process of actually getting those gifts is fraught with danger and turmoil of the gendered kind. Because at this time of the year, more so than perhaps any other, we see the division along the pink and blue lines where people are encouraged to think of Gifts For Him and Gifts For Her. A quick trawl through the websites of some of the UK’s most popular Christmas stores shows this wave of sexual stereotyping crashing on the shores of our present-buying choices.

There are desperately predictable pickings over at Our Favourite Chemist, “feminine” monstrosities at the shop now sadly departed from the high street – although with this sort of blatant sexism, perhaps good riddance? These include the despressing Christmas staple of “girl” versions of items once considered gender neutral but now given the familiar make-over of normal is for men, pink is for women. Even the world of silly gadgets is not immune to this disease – pink, fluffy, heart covered, plushie, watered down and washed up doo-dads of every Barbie-filled nightmare haunt the screen.

Pink controller for a PS2

Because otherwise women wouldn't know they were allowed to play computer games.

I’ve selected the girly items to avoid over-linking, but the ones for men are just as bad, though less eye-gougingly pastel. Department stores like Debenhams and Selfridges dole out the standard patter of perfume, chocolates, underwear, jewellery, handbags and ungents. (Expensive) stuff to eat and (expensive) stuff to wear. That’s what women want, clearly.

Now before anyone begins with the “But I am a woman and I like flowers/scent/bags/this maribou feather hat and gloves combo”. Yes. That is fine. Good. Carry on. There is nothing wrong with individuals liking things that are traditionally ascribed to their gender. Wearing pink does not make you a Bad Feminist (TM). But there is a whole heap wrong with assuming that someone must like those things because they are a woman. And that is just what is happening on the High Street right now. Millions of people are walking around choosing gifts sold to them under these headlines.

These are tropes so ingrained that it seems almost part of our social furniture. Girls get X and Boys get Y. Even at this time of goodwill to all, we seem unable to shake the idea that gender is biologically constructed and that our chromosomes deliver different desires so that shopping arcade Santas can conveniently wrap it all up in cis-tastic cerise and cyan. I appreciate that it is useful for businesses to be able to categorise gifts into different areas for ease of shopping, but this gendered nonsense has to stop. Not only is it reductive and ridiculous, it also makes the present less special, less unique to that supposedly unique person in your life because it’s just the same as what half of the population is supposed to want. Fortunately, for all of you frantic shoppers out there who unlike me probably have a family larger than four (yup, it’s just me, my parents and my brother) there is a solution. You could do what the biggest Christmas retailer has done and just browse by category. That’s right, Amazon, in a stroke of genius, have divided their goods up according to the type of item. Not For Girls or For Boys but, you know, For People. Who like things.

So I’ll be buying from them this year. And I suggest you do too.

19 Responses leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010

    This reminds me of one monstrosity I saw in a store once, the ‘Tomboy Tools’ range of pink DIY equipment.

  2. December 14, 2010

    This really bothers me too.. ironically though, the site that reminds me of this every-year is actually Amazon, when year after year I fall for the ploy of their gift suggestions ( ) only to find out that it’s all a convenient selection of stereotypes mostly divided along gender lines, but with some age stereotyping thrown in for good measure.

  3. Hodge permalink
    December 14, 2010


    – Um. My dad gets confused when he can’t find a tab on google chrome; my boyfriend is getting disturbingly into Puccini and my brother is a mystery to us all.

    Quite apart from anything else, when you look at the array of Manly and Womanly gifts, you do rather think the fictional Man and Woman must be complete knobs.

    • Custard permalink
      December 15, 2010

      YES. Gendered gift recommendations often seem to be the suckiest, token/shallow yet very expensive tat. Probably the stuff that’s impossible to convince people to buy for themselves.

  4. December 14, 2010

    It’s a big crock of poo. When you look at the categories, the only main difference is the substitution of gadgets for beauty – so all men and women like clothes, chocolate, experience days and scarves, but are definitely divided on gadgets and beauty. They have failed to recognise that half the beauty stuff IS a gadget (why do I need a revolving brush that curls and volumizes [sic] while it dries?) and most people, regardless of gender salivate at the thought of an iPad or HTC.

    I mean, while knowing that there is a gift set of my fave perfume is handy, most of these gift ideas are for the people like your step mum or grandma, because you either don’t know them that well, don’t care or they’re too old to need anything interesting as they’ve already bought it (with their no need for a mortgage and free education, humph). So while they are useful, they’re not exactly enlightening.

  5. December 14, 2010

    Sadly Amazon fall for it too. Hit their gifts link, and I see that Mum wants perfume and “easy listening”, while Dad wants electronics, golf gear and whisky. Similarly I should get my girlfriend hair straighteners and rom-coms, while my husband is clearly more interested in multi-tools and fitness equipment.


    • Custard permalink
      December 15, 2010

      Can’t tell if it’s just the catagory headings, or if you really do have both a husband and a girlfriend. In my head that’s a really happy image.

  6. Russell permalink
    December 14, 2010

    I seriously wanted that pink PS2 so bad. I looked everywhere for one but I think they’ve stopped making them. :(


    As offensive as gendering is when it comes to adult presents, this goes on all year round in toy shops everywhere, which often deliberately and with signage divide their product into “girl’s toys” and “boy’s toys”. I just love the message this is sending to the boy who wants a doll (I was going to use the example of trolls as I had a large collection of those as a lad but I don’t think they make them anymore, like pink PS2s D:), or the girl who loves Star Wars. Adults can find this sort of rubbish offensive. For kids it’s potentially developmentally damaging. I am (spoilers) an adult toy nerd and it makes me feel funny. So that is my contribution on a seperate but related point. Thank you.

    • Miranda permalink*
      December 14, 2010

      Absolutely agree on the toys. Hamleys has Girl and Boy floors. All the Hello Kitty is in Girl while Hulk is in Boy. I like both! :(

      This article takes a tentatively hopeful look at the problem.

      • Russell permalink
        December 14, 2010

        Hmmm. That article still takes a rather odd angle on things from my perspective though. For example it comes out rather strongly anti-Disney. Now, from my Straight White Male (TM) perspective, I LOVE Disney, both as a child and an adult. I love the fairytales, I love the princesses, I love the modern “Goth Disney” trend that’s appeared in video games. But the tack the article takes is that it’s bad for girls to like this, a very negative approach. Surely it’s okay for anyone to like these things, male or female, adult or child? In general it’s the same point as is made in the BR article, that we need to stop targetting product on gender lines, but I strongly believe it’s far more damaging when we start telling kids what they can or can’t like on the basis of their gender, especially if we’re going to start reversing things so that “feminist” kids aren’t allowed to like their princesses or He-Man or whatever.

        I just dated myself with that He-Man bit, didn’t I?

  7. Stephen B permalink
    December 14, 2010

    Pink Stinks are bloody brilliant.

    Argos on the other hand have an entire category of “pink gifts”. They are all pink. And all FOR HER. I do not know the precise reason why this colour needs a page all to itself at Christmas, but Green and Red are pissed and going to have words.

    • Russell permalink
      December 14, 2010

      I’ve heard blue is planning some sort of legal challenge. In a statement today, blue said:

      “I come in all sorts of feminine-friendly shades, including baby blue, royal blue and violet. So why is pink regarded as the supreme female colour? It’s just a shade of red really.”

      There are also campaigns stirring for baby blue to be renamed “bink”.

      • Jenni permalink
        December 15, 2010

        Was it on one of Hodge’s posts I read that little girls used to wear blue because it was thought ‘calming’ whereas little boys wore pink as it was like red and therefore more masculine? Just proves how weird it all is.

  8. December 14, 2010

    Outstanding..and let’s not forget the nauseating jewelry commercials rammed down our throats right now. Great post!

    • Sarah Cook permalink
      December 16, 2010

      Oh yes…

      Cos you aren’t a REAL WOMAN unless a man buys you this giant glittery thing and then trots you around places wearing it like some sort of portable ornament and wealth-display device.

      I’m sorry. I just had a moment.

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