“We Don’t Eat Peppa Pig
 Do We?”

I rather mischievously call venison sausages Bambi, and more recently have taken to naming any pork one as Peppa Pig. When shopping, and given a choice, my 3-year-old daughter generally chooses the Peppa Pig sausages. She didn’t know why they were Peppa Pig sausages, just that they were.

I was wondering when the first question about where meat comes from would happen. She understands that fruit comes from trees, vegetables are grown in the ground, and eggs are from chickens. I assumed that a knowing question about where chicken or lamb comes from would be first, as they don’t have a secret identity in the way beef/steak (cow), venison (deer), and pork/ham/bacon (pig) do. Chicken is chicken, and lamb is a baby sheep (awww).

So, while we shared a lunch of a ham & cheese rolls, my daughter asked me “Where does ham come from?”. From a pig, I answered. “How does it come from the pig?”.

While I may be disingenuous at times with my daughter, I never want to lie to her. So I set about telling her an admittedly sanitised and idealised explanation.

“Ham is actually a piece of pig who was raised to be our food. A farmer looks after a pig from when it’s little, gives it good food and treats it very nicely. When it is big, the farmer decides it’s time for the pig to die, and after it does it gets chopped up into pieces. The farmer sells them, people buy them, and we cook and eat them.”

She mulled that over for a moment and then carried on eating her ham roll, seemingly undisturbed.

I was quite glad to get this out of the way relatively early. I have friends who’s children have stopped eating meat when they realise what it is.

The other day, on our walk to nursery, my daughter had by this time made a few connections, and then asked me – “We don’t eat Peppa Pig
 do we?”.

It’s fair to say I don’t really like Peppa Pig. We’ve never seen the show, but the books are so poorly written I have refused to read them aloud any more. They are read the books at nursery from time to time. I also had a copywriting job where I went a little mad with all the Peppa and George tat I had to gush about. I understand the TV show is better, but I’m too preoccupied with showing her the likes of Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, and (currently) Dinosaur movies.

So I was very, very tempted to answer “Yes, we eat Peppa Pig”. But on consideration I replied “No, we don’t eat Peppa. Or George. Or their mummy or daddy.”

“But we do eat other pigs. Sausages, ham, bacon, are all from other pigs who are dead”.

Again, she pondered that for a moment, and then our walk to nursery continued.

I appreciate that as a society, we have become increasingly removed from the fact that meat is part of a dead animal. My wife has made a better go at facing this head on. When 7 months pregnant, she took it upon herself to skin, decapitate, and joint three wild rabbits that a friend had hunted – just to prove to herself that she could. We don’t have a photo of any of this, as I was hiding in the living room until the dead animals were transformed into meat, which I was then more than happy eat.

My daughter has the beginning of an understanding of where meat comes from, and so far it hasn’t conflicted with her love of cute animals. Or annoying ones like Peppa.

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LEGO Fusion: A new brick in the gender divide

LEGO’s new Fusion line may meld real & digital worlds, but it still divides our boys & girls.

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A LEGO ‘Universal Building Set’ ad from 1982, depicting a boy and girl playing together with the same LEGO. Crazy.

I had high hopes when I was alerted to ‘LEGO Fusion’. It was the word ‘fusion’, the combining of two distinct entities into one, that piqued my interest.

LEGO have rightly had a lot of flack for creating and marketing their product separately to boys and girls in recent years, especially given their history of previously being a universal toy. So would this new fusion line finally reunify the divided markets and be aimed at both?

The word fusion also brings to mind various scientific processes and ideas, most notably nuclear fusion. Could this be a line linked specifically to STEM fields, in which female inclusion and engagement remains an ongoing issue.

Don’t be silly.

Turns out the ‘fusion’ aspect is the connection of physical building with virtual construction, in the form of smartphone & tablet apps and associated physical sets. The virtual aspect appears to be inspired partly by The Sims and Civilisation – but mostly by Minecraft, the open world virtual brick building phenomenon. LEGO have stated that they wish they had invented Minecraft. In fact, it was created by a games designer from the Danish toymaker’s Nordic neighbour Sweden. Minecraft also has a large number of female enthusiasts (though evidence suggests they may often not admit to being female, given how women are often treated in online & gaming circles – but that’s another issue!).

So LEGO Fusion may not be the revolutionary science based line I imagined (I actually have no idea what that could be, but I was waiting to be dazzled), but still – it’s an innovation for the company to move its core product – bricks – into virtual space. Good for them. And it’s a concept clearly able to be enjoyed by boys and girls.

But then I saw this promotional video for it. It effectively conveys the blending of virtual and actual space, focusing on a child exploring the worlds that the line consists of.

First there’s Town Master, where you get to be a town planner/ruler. That’s followed by Battle Towers, a virtual war space where your constructed ‘Battle Tower’ has to fend off an enemy invasion. Then there’s Create & Race, where you build cars and race them. As ideas, they all look and sound pretty cool. But, there’s something important missing from the marketing hyperbole. Girls.

And then it happens.

Two girls are shown playing on the other side of the table from the boy. What are they doing – planning a town? Creating a battle tower? Engineering their own race car?

Nope.

The girls have their own app and set, within the gender ghetto of the LEGO Friends line. And what do the girls get to create in their fusion space? Their line is called Resort Designer, and they have to create… a dream beach resort.

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In LEGO Fusion, boys build towns and engineer machines, while girls get to build… a resort

So rather than fusion, we have division & limitation. Physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski memorably responded on Twitter to the LEGO Fusion ad with “Ick”.

Dr. Czerski continued “Obviously, all girls are interested in is holiday resorts, while boys get on with building our cities.”

The whole reason advertising exists is that it works. If it can persuade us to part with our cash for a product, then it stands to reason that the reality it depicts is also convincing.

There’s nothing stopping you – or I – from countering these messages ourselves to our kids, but we’ll never be able to fend them off entirely. The seed will be planted, that will potentially grow into deep rooted conviction that may see a girl choosing very early on in life not to embark on a life in science, technology, engineering or manufacturing, and may lead to an adult male choosing not employ a woman in one of these fields, because from childhood, without even realising it, they have learned that these areas are inherently male.

I don’t think LEGO is evil, that it is trying to socially engineer a world where women are directed to a pastel coloured inconsequential cul-de-sac while the men take care of the important stuff. They’re just trying to sell their plastic bricks. But doing it by entrenching gender segregation, and limiting the life choices of our girls, is simply wrong. I can’t say it plainer than that.

Imagine, if instead of gender, LEGO based their marketing around race. Imagine if the Fusion ads showed white people (as they do) playing with the Town, Racing, and Battle lines – and then depicted stereotyped minorities in and using sets based on sports, hospitality, or a factory? Imagine if they produced market research that showed that this was what the minorities in question wanted. That they were just supplying demand. It would rightly be labelled as racism.

Oh god, I do hope I haven’t given them a new marketing angle to try out…

Back in the real world, my daughter will continue to play with her hand-me-down LEGO, that hails from the time when it was a universal toy. And maybe when LEGO pulls back on the gender based madness, we’ll hand over some real money for new LEGO.

As long as it remains backwards compatible with the concept of universal building.

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The sold out, universally acclaimed, LEGO Ideas Research Institute. Hopefully not the last you’ll see of it.

One set I would have parted cash with was their much heralded Female Scientist set.

In a bad month of gender news for LEGO, they also revealed that this set, which I didn’t even get a chance to buy, is in fact a limited edition.

Currently sold out, while LEGO have said they are going to release more stock, there is no indication that this means they will actually manufacture any more.

If you – like me – think this obviously popular set should be mass produced, then please sign this petition created by Melissa Atkins Wardy (Author of “Redefining Girly”, owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Apparently, a new LEGO design must achieve sales of ÂŁ106,000 to break even. At ÂŁ15.99 a pop, this set needs to sell about 6,600 units – so the petition needs to reach at least that figure to show there’s a viable market for it (though the fact it achieved 10,000 public votes to get made in the first place should be enough!).

So please sign and share!

The Guardians have conquered the galaxy – now it’s time for a female superhero to do the same

If Marvel can turn their obscure cosmic superteam into a must-see movie, then there’s no excuse for them not to break the mould again to finally give us a great female superhero movie.

Captain_Marvel_Vol_8_1_TextlessGuardians of the Galaxy, adapted by Marvel from their post-millennial revamp of their 60’s cosmic superteam, has opened to glowing reviews, a $160 worldwide weekend box office gross, and delighted audiences (including this excited English at-home dad). It featured a couple of strong female roles, and while the lack of damsels in distress is great, we need more than empowered women in these flicks – we need female protagonists.

Well, are we seeing the beginning of that? The most likely candidate for a movie has long been mooted to be another cosmic character – Captain Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel,  who like the galactic guardians also had a successful makeover and relaunch in the comics – and is now Captain Marvel. But who could play the smart, confident, kick ass blonde space captain? Many names have been bandied about over the past few years, with a few firm favourites.

Joss Whedon, Avengers director and the self proclaimed Tom Hagen of the Marvel cinematic universe, offered a great hint recently, in response to the recent publicity stunt news that Thor was going to become a woman in the comics.

ICYMI, that’s Katee Sackhoff as ‘Captain’ Starbuck from the revamped version of Battlestar Galactica, of which Whedon is a big fan. Frankly, she would be awesome casting, and would likely get everyone from feminists to misanthropic geeks onside.

Well just to add to the intrigue, Sackhoff herself posted the following cryptic tweets over the weekend.

Even by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will probably be debunked. But #1 could be a face casting for a mask; #2 a close up detail of her red & gold costume, and #3 – a veil = Mar-VEL?!

Clutching at straws? Probably (yes). But we need really a decent female superhero movie, so I am latching on to any nuggets of hope that I can. Selfishly speaking, I need a decent female superhero movie in the next few years. My daughter is 2 1/2. By the time she is 8, I want to be able to take her to see an awesome superhero flick with a fantastic female protagonist.

5 years ago, I would NEVER have predicted there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, much less one as faithful yet mass market as this one. I hope that within 5 years Marvel can do something far less bold – female led fantasy movies are doing great box office – yet far more important.

And in case you’re in any doubt, here’s how awesome Katee Sackhoff would look as Captain Marvel.

**UPDATE**

Katee Sackhoff post the following tweet regarding the ‘secret project’.

Arse.

But a) doesn’t mean she won’t be cast in it, and b) we still need a Captain Marvel movie soon.

LEGO Adds New Female Scientist Toys After Fans Demand Them

As someone who was heavily involved in the campaign to raise awareness of this project, I’m stoked that they’re finally a reality. 😀

TIME

Young girls interested in science finally have some encouragement from LEGO.

The toy company is selling a new kit, the Research Institute, which features women in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs: a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist.

According to LEGO, the set was conceived by geoscientist Ellen Kooijman as a part of the LEGO Ideas series, sets that “are based on fans’ ideas voted up by the community, and have been chosen for release.”

As i09 notes, the addition comes a few months after a letter from a 7-year-old girl complaining about the opportunities for female figurines went viral.

“All the [LEGO] girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs,” Charlotte wrote, “but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.”

Unfortunately for Charlotte, there are no sharks


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Is Father’s Day for all dads, or just the ones with jobs?

Our playgroups put on new kiddy crafts each week. When a specific celebration comes around, they will usually revolve around that. So this week it was making Father’s Day cards.

Unlike the mums who were helping/directing their children to create them, I just let my daughter do her thing – it seemed odd commissioning one from her.

A 'shirt & tie' Father's Day card is still a thing
A ‘shirt & tie’ Father’s Day card is still a thing

What was also odd were the actual cards they were supposed to end up with. Two playgroups opted for the same concept – the front of the card had been cut and folded down to look like a shirt collar, and there was a cutout tie to glue into place. The inference was clear (despite the fact I have only ever worn a shirt & tie for weddings and funerals): A father’s role in the family revolves around having a job. This is also the role that retailers like to cast us in.

Gendered marketing to children is an issue I take great interest in, unhappy as I am about commercial interests defining, from even before birth, what they think a boy or girl should be. But what about gendered marketing to adults? How does that affect us?

I adore my current role in life as one of the growing army of stay-at-home dads. It has come about mostly from my long-held desire to do this, with financial circumstances supporting that choice (ie. My wife earning more than me). Frankly, it’s been a blast.

Out & about doing baby & toddler things with my daughter, I’ve gotten to know some dads, but mostly mums – and the fact is that in terms of being a parent I have far more in common with the at-home mums I meet than most working dads.

The offering around Mother’s Day tends to be all about ‘giving mum a break’ – from cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc. Brunches and pampering packages abound. What about Father’s Day? Traditional gifts revolve around either ‘work’ related gifts like smart socks, shirts, and ties, or ‘play’, things that are thought to keep men sane during the 9 to 5 – booze, sports, and gadgets. But there’s no sense that fathers like me – stay-at-home dads – also need a break from their routine and responsibilities.

By packaging the days in this way, retailers are reinforcing the idea that being the homemaker is a mother’s role, while that of breadwinner is still the father’s. I think these marketing driven definitions contribute to the guilt that many mothers feel about wanting to return to work, and lessen the chances of men admitting they would dearly love to be stay-at-home dads. Society follows suit – while we have the term ‘working mother’, the male equivalent would be recognised as ‘father’.  I’m a ‘stay-at-home dad’, but for female counterparts ‘mum’ seems to suffice as a label.

I have generally felt ambivalent about Father’s Day since childhood, and I continue to do so as a father. Perhaps because my birthday is also only a few days away, and it seems greedy to have 2 ‘special’ days in one week. My cynical side also tends to judge Father’s Day as a way to package and sell more stuff, much like Halloween.

We have no out of the ordinary plans for the day – I will spend it with my wife and daughter, like most other ideal Sundays.

Then again, perhaps there is a purpose to ‘Father’s Day’? It has serendipitously coincided with the start of the 2014 Football World Cup. I could cynically take advantage of it to watch a couple of back-to-back games? Reverting to stereotype, I am a dad that likes watching football.

And having a break from my routine and responsibilities.

Father's Day, stay at home dads, stay home dad, being a stay at home dad,
Another playgroup card. ClichĂ©d perhaps, but…

#WeWantLeia? We’re getting her! Princess Leia IS coming to the Disney Store

“#WeWant Leia” by Yakface.com

After earlier stating they had “no plans for Leia products at Disney Store“, Disney have caved to #WeWantLeia pressure. Time.com writer Eliana Dockterman managed to pin down a spokeperson from the elusive House of Mouse, to get a clear commitment to including our favourite Alderaanian Princess in the Disney Store’s currently male only Star Wars line up. Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told Time:

“We’re excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy.”

The article added:

‘Thompson also pointed out that there are Princess Leia-themed costumes and toys available on Amazon.com’

What, like these? Hopefully not an indication of the proposed Disney Store line…

Anyway, well done Natalie Wreyford! It all started with your tweet.

So it seems to be an about face – or at least an understanding – from the House of Mouse. The #WeWantLeia hashtag was proposed right here, with a comment from SuddenlyFeminist Dad. Perhaps the power of the force is insignificant next to the power of social media…

You want Princess Leia at the Disney Store? You may be waiting a while…

Disney Princesses. disney princess 1977, 1977 disney princess

A mini update to my earlier post about the lack of Leia in the Disney Store.

To recap:  Disney have owned Star Wars since 2012. But despite carrying a range of other Star Wars merchandise in the Disney Store, it doesnt sell any (hardly any) Princess Leia gear.

I wanted to know why, especially since my young daughter is into Star Wars and her favourite character is Princess Leia. Initial contact with Disney elicited a rather non-committal response, essentially ‘we have no information/plans regarding Princess Leia merchandise’.

Last week, the Disney Store UK informed me they had “escalated (my) query to the relevant departments”. Today, I received the latest response.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us, and for your patience while this was escalated to me.

No problem.

It is wonderful to hear your youngling is already such a huge Leia fan.

It IS wonderful my… hold on, my what? My ‘youngling’?

Interesting. It seems that the Disney Corporate Communications manual has been updated with Star Wars buzzwords – a youngling is a child undergoing Jedi training.

What’s also interesting is that ‘youngling’ is a gender neutral term. Star Wars is anything but gender neutral in the Disney Store – with it listed prominently in the ‘Boys’ tab, but nowhere to be seen in the ‘Girls’ one. The lack of Princess Leia product appears to be symptomatic of the Disney Store’s embedded gender segregation – Princesses are for girls, sci-fi & superheroes for boys.

At least the Jedi don’t divide their ‘younglings’ along gender lines. Anyway, moving on:

The current assortment of Star Wars product launched at Disney Store earlier this year is just the beginning of what is to come.

Well, that’s promising. So you’re going to sell Leia stuff right?

Disney Store designs products with all members of the family in mind, and we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come.

Great! Oh, hang on.

We know Disney “designs products with all members of the family in mind”. That doesn’t indicate whether they will design Star Wars products “with all members of the family in mind”.

Also, “we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come” doesn’t address whether they will add Leia to their Star Wars items on sale. No indication of when – or even if – they’ll get to Leia.

Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact us, and if you have any further queries please do let us know.

Thank you too, I will.

May the force be with you,

Well, certainly makes a nice change from “Have a wonderful day!” 😉

#WeWantLeia