Yesterday a Wellington man was shopping in Toyworld with his seven year old daughter. Beside the Lego backpack was a 'Deluxe Play Bunny Kit'. Nope, not a cute fluffy bunny, but a sexy-lady-Playboy-bunny-like bunny.
The first thing that struck me about this was the number of people that would have seen this costume before anyone thought to point out its inappropriateness in a children's toy shop. This costume would have arrived at this store, it was unpacked by someone, entered into their database, taken by someone to the shop floor, a space for it cleared among the other toys, then numerous staff and customers would have passed it throughout the following days, and NO ONE thought to question the appropriateness of it until yesterday?
I think that to a certain extent we are so steeped in a culture where sexualised stuff for kids is not seen as strange, that people have become somewhat blind to it.
Toyworld has claimed that stocking the costume was an error – and no one is debating that: sexy costumes in a kids toy shop can only ever be a huge error. However, I think it is a good opportunity for us to consider the mainstreaming of pornography. Playboy sell a huge range of products in New Zealand (for example, the Warehouse stocks 40 Playboy branded products). In this product diversification, what can easily be forgotten is Playboy's core business: pornography that exploits and objectifies women. Let's do all we can to ensure that our children don't have the opportunity to develop brand loyalty to such companies.
Toyworld have apologized "to anyone who was offended", and I was asked to comment on Radio New Zealand National this afternoon about the incident. If you would like to listen scroll through to 18:30:
NB: I am not anti-porn or anti-sex: I am anti-exploitation, and I am anti-the-sexualisation-of-children.
This is a guest post by New Zealand writer Sian Hannagan.
The title is ironic, I know what you do, you’re a scientist. Actually a brilliant scientist, doing amazing work in a field which is capturing global attention. I don’t think many people have missed the Rosetta Project and the big things coming from this. I mean, landing on a comet, awesome! The thing is, STEM field disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math, are all historically pretty male dominated spaces. They have an ongoing issue with being seen as exclusionary to women. This isn't your fault, and no one should blame you for decades of discrimination against women. But it is a thing and it is happening. We need to be aware of it.
Here’s the thing. I don’t hate your top. I wouldn't wear it myself, and if someone wore it around me, I might make a judgement about their character that may or may not be founded. But I support your right to wear that top and wear it with pride.
But, I also think you made a silly decision, which I think you know too. Because you apologised. You wore a top that you love, to an event you were excited about. You probably didn't think about it much. You dig the top, you feel good wearing it and it was a top you wanted to wear. So you wore it. It just happened that this event was a live televised event with journalists. There was a lot of scrutiny there, and you were there not just as yourself, but as someone representing your field.
So someone criticised your clothing, and that sucked. I get it. I really do, I mean, this kinda thing happens to women on a daily basis. They get told they are dressed dowdy, or unflattering or too sexy, or inappropriately. Everywhere a woman wears clothes, someone has something to say. And often those things don’t relate to her competence or her as a person. They relate solely to what she looks like. And that’s not okay. When you got criticised I bet you felt pretty crummy. I bet you felt like the work you did meant nothing in the face of that criticism, and that your essential value was being ignored in the face of what feels to you, to be superficial critique. Women deal with this every day. We get it. And we get these criticisms every day because the sexually idealised objectified image of the female form is ubiquitous: it is used through all aspects of life, to sell, to market and to be ogled. She appears everywhere, from advertising, to fashion…to men’s shirts.
Here’s the thing though, for those of us getting hot under the collar at this journalist for her apparent disregard for your scientific contributions - she didn't criticise your character or your previous work. She just pointed out that the top you wore, wasn't appropriate to the situation you wore it in. You were at your place of work, representing your chosen career, representing science to a wide audience that included women. It’s just when you’re publicly representing an industry known to be exclusionary to women, what you wear matters. A lot. Especially given a study conducted by Catalyst last month revealing 73 percent of women in tech-intensive industries felt like an outsider, compared to just 17 percent of men. I mentioned at the top of this article how this industry was perceived as being exclusionary to women, right? So, that. It would be like me wearing a top covered in penises to an erectile dysfunction conference. A bit on the nose.
So it came as no surprise that the top you wore – which is the textile equivalent of a sexy calendar, porn in the toilet or nude lady mug in the workplace, caught some criticism.
Here’s the awesome thing though. You totally saw what Rose Eveleth - Atlantic tech writer meant. You apologised and the world kept turning. Except it kinda didn’t.
What happened was a frenzied attack of the woman who made the comment, and feminism in general. I don’t know how many abusive threats Eveleth has received so far, but it’s a lot. And some of those include death wishes and sexist slurs. I mean, there is nothing like a sexist death wish to prove to women that they don’t need feminism anymore.
There are also some shitty memes going around, one comparing protest against rape to your shirt, and calling out feminists as hypocrites. Or the one that says sexism and objectification shouldn't count because SCIENCE (don’t get me started on how people in positions of power and subjective worth escape criticism and even prosecution because of their positions of power and subjective worth). I think it’s important to remember that this is only outrageous to the world at large because it’s a man (you) falling under scrutiny for fashion choices. This happens to women every day, in every career. You could say it happens to guys too (it probably does) but check out this guy.
I don’t hold you responsible for this; in fact I have sympathy that a lot of this vitriol is being spread in your name and in your defence. It must really suck to be associated with an attack on an individual woman and the movement which strives to stop these attacks from happening. Feminism wants to be standing right there with you, in awe at the song of a comet. So listen to us when we say, we see you for your worth, see us for ours – and wear your shirt on a different day.
Tags: Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project, clothing, sexism, feminism, Rose Eveleth
It is well-documented, and I am well aware of the fact that male sport receives far more coverage than female sport by our media. It is something that frustrates me, particularly because the disparity is so widely accepted by people. When the #everydaysexism in reaches ridiculous levels, I contact sports editors.
But even I was dumbfounded this morning when reading an article in one of our national newspapers reporting on the winners of the sportsperson of the year awards for college sport in Wellington. On first glance it appeared that it was an article only about the "Sportsman of the Year" - it was his him and his award named in the article title, and his achievements were listed first and dominated most of the article. I read through the article and I was surprised to realise that this was an article about BOTH the sportswoman and the sportsman awards.
Here is the article:
The journalist has relegated the female award to much lesser importance than the male award. This is despite the female winner being the ONLY person ever to win the award more than twice (a huge achievement in itself), having represented New Zealand in her sport, being awarded a USA University sports scholarship AND having an individual world ranking.
Both of these people should be hugely proud of their achievements and of winning these awards. It is likely that both of their families will cut out and save this newspaper article as a record of their achievement. Yet, for both families (and indeed everyone else reading it), this article gives a very clear message: The most important award of the evening was that won by the male. The sportswoman award is clearly secondary. On an individual level, this is disappointing. On a macro level such journalism has real flow-on effects to female sports participation in our communities.
I hate that my kids are STILL growing up in a world where female sporting achievements are STILL minimised. It is not that complex or difficult for sports journalists to take small steps in making a more equal and just world.
Rachel is a writer and educator whose fields of interest include sexuality education, gender, feminism and youth development.