Nov 21

Should Toys be Gender Specific?

This Christmas, a group of people are lobbying major retailers to remove overt gendering from the toys that they sell. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign is hoping to stop retailers from grouping products as “Boy’s Toys” and “Girl’s Toys”, as they believe that these labels help to reinforce gender stereotypes. They also hope to reduce the prevalence of pink and blue colour schemes being used to market toys for specific genders.

Some parents do not agree with the campaign, as they feel that it is a trivial issue which is taking attention away from bigger problems. However, learning development experts continue to promote the idea that the toys which a child plays with before the age of 5 will help to shape their development. For example, building block toys help children to develop problem-solving skills and spatial awareness skills which are useful for practical tasks and jobs in later life. On the other hand, toy kitchens are ideal for helping children to build their cognitive skills. It is therefore important that children are able to play with a wide range of different toys.

Many adults also argue that the campaign is irrelevant because their male child will always choose the toy truck, whilst their daughter will always choose the doll. Nonetheless, a large number of studies have been carried out which suggest that children do not show a gender preference for toys until they have been in a position to learn about the gendered ideas of society.

When children accompany their parents to the shops and see that toys are divided into two distinct aisles, they understand the cues which are being given to them. Following an experience like this, the child is then more likely to choose a toy which they believe is right for their gender. In one experiment, researchers placed a selection of miscellaneous toys into “girl boxes” and “boy boxes”, before letting children pick which toys they wanted to play with. Girls predominantly choose toys from the “girl box”, whilst boys choose items from the “boy box”.

Leading sociologists and gender specialists are keen to support the campaign, arguing that imposing rigid labels onto toys could be harmful for child development. Assigning gendered labels to toys can increase feelings of anxiety amongst children who may be worried about playing with the wrong toy. Before 3, children are likely to play with whatever toy is put in front of them. Any gender cues that they pick up on will come from their parents or others in the room. Negative cues from adults about the appropriateness of toys will be picked up by infants. Older children will start to take their cues from other things, such as the colour scheme of the product. There is strong gender development phase between the ages of 3 and 5, and interactions during this time period can have a lasting effect. Experts believe that gender anxiety during this phase may have psychological effects for years to come.

Campaigners also argue that giving toys a gendered colour scheme is a trick that was invented by marketers as a way to sell more products. Colour schemes were only introduced in the last 20 – 30 years to fit into gender stereotypes. Marketers realised that they could encourage families with multiple children to buy new toys if they were able to ascribe gender to certain objects. It is now possible to buy different versions of the same toy in both pink and blue, depending on the gender of the child that the toy is being purchased for.

Regardless of whether the campaign succeeds or not, there is still a stigma which needs to be overcome. If adults are unable to change their opinions about specific toys and games being right for specific genders, then it is unlikely that toys will stop holding such deep meaning to children. A male child wearing a princess dress is still likely to draw comments from people, even though it may be socially acceptable for a female child to dress up in a superhero costume. Any change in children’s toys needs to be accompanied by a widespread shift in the adult mindset in regards to gender issues.

Nov 01

Gender-based Violence

Gender-based violence is violence which takes place primarily because of the gender or perceived gender of the victim. The term also covers crimes which are disproportionately committed against people of a particular gender. A gender-based crime may be committed against a person who is still in utero.

Gender-based violence is a big issue in the UK and around the world and is often an act of power or control. It is used to humiliate and dominate a person, so that the perpetrators can continue to have undue influence over the individual or individuals that are being targeted. Acts such as rape in war are also used as a way to dehumanise subjects.

Gender-based violence is sometimes referred to as Violence against Women, as these types of crimes have historically occurred against women. In recent years, the definition has been expanded to cover anyone who is experiencing crime due to their gender. As transgender issues have become more mainstream in recent years, there has been an increase in trans individuals reporting incidents of gender-based violence. The increase in reporting may suggest that trans individuals feel more confident about reporting gender-based crimes to the police which also helps when a victim wants to start legal action for criminal injury compensation.

Trans rights activists have previously argued that trans people under-reported gender-based incidents to the police due to a lack of acceptance within the law enforcement community. Although the situation is starting to improve, prejudices still lead to under reporting.

On a global scale, gender-based violence can be categorised in two ways:

  1. Violence by an individual (or group).
  2. Violence which is committed by the state (or sanctioned by the ruling bodies).

Examples of violence committed by individuals include;

  • rape,
  • sexual harassment,
  • sexual coercion,
  • forced prostitution,
  • domestic violence,
  • prenatal selection,
  • female infanticide.

In some places, the state (or ruling group) may allow (or fail to control) acts of gender-based violence. Examples of these acts of violence include;

  • female genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision),
  • forced abortion,
  • forced sterilisation,
  • forced marriage,
  • forced pregnancy,
  • honour based killings,
  • sexual slavery,
  • war rape.

China’s One Child policy could be considered as a form of state-enabled gender-based violence, because evidence shows that citizens are more likely to abandon or commit infanticide of female children.

There are many other examples of gender-based violence, including examples where women are subject to practices which force them to alter their appearance so that they conform to pre-determined beauty standards. Examples include; force-feeding and genital mutilation. Alternatively, acts of gender-based violence may be committed with the intention of disfiguring women, so that they no longer conform to societal beauty standards. These are acts of power and control.

Marital rape is an example of gender-based violence which was outlawed in the United Kingdom in 1991. Before that men were permitted to have sex with their wife without their explicit permission. The marriage license was considered to be adequate consent in these situations. Although women could technically commit spousal rape against their husbands, the issue was primarily faced by women who struggled to defend themselves against people who were physically stronger than they were. In most cases, it would be easier for men to prevent unwanted sex acts within marriage due to physiological differences.

Social Impacts of Gender-Based Violence

In areas where gender-based violence is prevalent, the groups which are being targeted may completely lack a voice. For example, women are effectively silenced in many areas because they are routinely affected by gender-based violence. In these areas, it is much harder for women to get positions of power or high-paying job roles. Groups that are victimised are unable to contribute socially, politically and economically to their community. This can make it even harder for these groups to change the system and end the cycle of violence.

Gender-based violence may also increase the strain on health resources. For example, HIV/AIDS rates are much higher in areas with high levels of gender-based violence against women. It is difficult to prevent the spread of these diseases when women are regularly infected as part of the cycle of violence. Children who are born as a result of gender-based violence may also be neglected or may subsequently be harmed by the abuser.

Oct 22

Gender Pay Gaps in the UK

The phrase Gender Pay Gap refers to the average difference between the earnings of men and the earnings of women in one particular state or industry sector. This can be reported as raw unadjusted figures, or it can be reported as adjusted figures which take into account certain unavoidable factors. These factors include the lower earnings which are received whilst a woman is on maternity leave and fact that women often work fewer hours as they are primary care givers. However, even when these external factors are adjusted for, it is still possible to see the existence of a gender pay gap in the United Kingdom. As of 2017, Britain still has the fifth largest gender pay gap in the European Union.

New figures have shown that the gender pay gap in the UK has fallen to its lowest level ever, however there is still a gap of around 9% between men and women. This has fallen from a rate of just over 17% in 1994, when record keeping began. If the gap continues to narrow at a similar rate, it may still be decades before the adjusted gender pay gap in the United Kingdom is completely closed.

One of the main factors affecting the gender pay gap in the UK is occupational segregation. Women are less likely to be employed in managerial roles or high-paying professional roles. The number of men who are employed in these roles has helped to keep the average pay gap higher. These roles are also more likely to have received pay rises in the last couple of years, compared to many of the roles which are paying minimum wage or living wage.

Figures from a separate study which was conducted by the Chartered Institute of Management also suggest that women in managerial roles are paid an average of £12000 less than men, per annum. This takes into account all of the benefits and salary perks (such as car users allowance) which are also offered to management level staff. Some studies into the gender pay gap do not count bonuses and salary perks, and there have been a number of cases where contractual benefits have been used as a way of circumnavigating pay equality rules.

Data from the UK shows that there are certain industries where the pay gap is much larger than the national average. A pay gap of over 30% exists amongst full-time adult workers employed in town planning, vehicle assembly and music. Huge pay gaps can also be seen in other industries, such as the media. Recent revelations from the BBC show that male TV stars and radio personalities are routinely paid thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of pounds more than their female counterparts. Data from other media organisations and from the film industry suggest that men are valued more highly in media roles where contract negotiations are required. The differences are not as overt in media roles which follow a set pay grade and are not subject to regular renegotiations. A similar effect can also be seen when looking at sports prize money. Prize money in male events is normally worth tens of thousands of pounds more than it is in women’s events.

Further analysis of the gender pay gap in the UK appears to suggest that they gap is also affected by age, with a generational sliding scale. Women between the ages of 55 – 65 experience a gender pay gap which is around three times more significant than women between the ages of 25 – 35. It remains to be seen as to whether the smaller gap will propagate through the system as the women who are currently 25 – 35 continue to age.

New legislation which is coming into force in 2018 means that all companies which employ more than 250 people will be required to publish their gender pay figures. These figures should also include any bonus payments that were awarded to staff members outside of their normal pay arrangement. It is hoped that this legislation will make company pay structures more transparent and will empower more people to challenge irregularities. It is also hoped that this will encourage companies to be more mindful about the amount that their pay their employees.