Calling it out: Backwards, sexist propaganda of 2013

Let Toys Be Toys for Girls and Boys posted this image on its Facebook page:


This product was seen at the John Lewis store in High Wycombe. Not familiar with this UK institution, I looked it up to find it has almost 650,00 likes.

I imagine the day this product is on display in a museum, an artifact. People will look at it, baffled, not even understanding. Students will study how backwards the world was in 2013, wondering how and why our culture allowed and accepted sexism as if it were okay or funny or normal. Can you imagine a game showing a Caucasian brain battling an African brain along with a bunch of stereotyped categories?

Today, Salon posts: On Facebook, hating a religious or ethnic minority gets you banned, but hating half of humanity gets you Likes.” Women, Action, and Media wrote an open letter to Facebook detailing how pics of breastfeeding women get banned when images of rape don’t.

The latest global estimate from the United Nations Say No to Violence Campaign is that the percentage of women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetimes is now up to an unbearable 70%. In a world in which this many girls and women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, allowing content about raping and beating women to be shared, boasted and joked about contributes to the normalisation of domestic and sexual violence, creates an atmosphere in which perpetrators are more likely to believe they will go unpunished, and communicates to victims that they will not be taken seriously if they report.

Here’s an ex-girlfriend shooting target seen at an NRA convention this Spring.


Violence against women is epidemic. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale. Here’s some propaganda marketed to kids:

Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938



Africans circa 1931



Females circa 2013




It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?


Propaganda works in steps and stages. The product marketed may not be as extreme as a bloody, scantily clad woman, but it’s likely to be a sexualized female, one that is, remarkably, often advertised to kids.

So tell John Lewis to stop selling sexism or join Women, Action, and Media’s campaign and to get Facebook sponsors to stop promoting violence against women or post on Target’s site that you’re not buying its new doll. Please do something for your kids. Take action to end everyday sexism because it numbs all of us to the mass objectification of women.



20 thoughts on “Calling it out: Backwards, sexist propaganda of 2013

  1. I recently came across a strange posting in an online forum. It was a post by a man who said he was ’emotionally moved’ (not in these words) about an episode of a sitcom ‘despite being a man’ (exact words).
    As if men were expected to be unable to feel anything at all. Which is horrible.
    Oh and by the way, as long as it’s on a non-professional way women seem to be considered to have to like cooking, art and the like but on a professional level for some reason all that stuff only has men. Like. WHAT. We’re supposed to like all this but we can’t be professional about it? And men can’t like this stuff unless they’re professionals?
    I don’t get it at all.
    Also, books: Oh my gosh, I’m a person who reads, I stimulate my mind, whoever got a problem with that should do it like Gaston and fall off a roof. And guess what, none of the books on my shelf could ever be considered ‘chick lit’ because HELL YEAH I read a lot of books from a lot of genres. Right now, I’m reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

    • Hi Kara,

      YES it’s about status. Cooking if its for kids is feminine, but if you’re a great French chef, all of a sudden, abracadabra, cooking is masculine!


  2. The guys vs girls game has a blue and pink side, which means it’s one game, not two games in separate colors.

    So what in bloody hell are you complaining about?

    Here’s one of the (two) reviews:

    ”The idea is a good one, a gender based trivia game. However, there are not enough questions and only 2 categories – male/female so after one round, everyone knows the answers and it can’t be played again. Very poor value for money with nothing in the box but question cards”.

    An honest review, unlike this blog post.

    For you to have the audacity to compare girls and women of today to blacks and Jews in the 1930s is flat out disgusting.

    You were born into privilege. You went to best schools in the country, so for you for to make that stupid comparison makes me wonder if you lack any reading comprehension.

    • Hi Anonymous,

      I am complaining about the dualistic, oppositional stereotypes that males and females are put into.

      For my whole life, people have been telling me I have no right to compare sexism to racism. I remember a good friend of mine in high school telling me that a woman has never been lynched for being a woman. 90% of violence in the world happens against women. Women are raped, sexually assaulted all over the world. If you have some problem getting this, try reading “half the Sky.” Before 2001, few people took the gender apartheid of the Taliban seriously, as college kids protested the racial segregation of South Africa. Sexism is often looked at a cultural issue while racism is looked at as a political one.


  3. Speaking of sexism when it comes to animal characters, male is thought of as “generic” or the “default,” so gender-neutral animal characters are usually assumed to be male. Female is thought of as “special” and an animal character is only assumed to be female if it looks distinctly or stereotypically feminine. Female animal characters are “othered” with Teriary Sexual Characteristics like bows on the head and eyelashes (i.e. Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck) or a more humanoid body shape with human-shaped breasts (i.e. Minerva Mink from Animaniacs).

    • Hi Nebbie,

      Yes, I was thinking this even when I saw a TV clip about the sexism of the new Merida. The newscaster, who was sympathetic to the story kept using males as a reference point: Merida could shoot an arrow as well as a boy (how fucked up is that, especially for a kid to hear?) and then that she is a role model for girl, why not kids? Sexism is so embedded.


      • Do you think you’d like to make up a companion blog that focuses on the representation and stereotypes of female animal characters in fictional works (video games, cartoons, comics, animated movies, books, e.t.c.). When gender representation and stereotypes is mentioned, they usually mention human and to a lesser extent human-shaped (i.e. elves, fairies, human-shaped toys) characters, but this gender disparity in fiction applies to animal, alien, monster, fantasy and mythical creatures, and inanimate object (i.e. toys, food, cars, planes) characters just as much.

        • HI Nebbie,

          That’s Reel Girl’s mission. It’s just I’m one person who is also writing a book. I do what I can and appreciate your recs.


    • It’s funny but, for a lot of people in Spain, some of the male animal characters in The Jungle Book (the original book, or books based on the film, but not the film itself) are female. Nouns in Spanish are gendered, and snake and panther are femenine, so the translator used femenine adjectives and pronouns when talking about Bagheera or Kaa. I only discovered that they were male as an adult, and when I asked a few other people, they didn’t know either. And then, we decided that they were female. We loved them as females, so female they were.
      In a Russian adaptation of the book, Bagheera is female, too. I wondered sometimes if the same happened there.
      So, really, I don’t think that you have to write a character with a lot of “feminine” traits to make it clearly female, or realistic female. You only has to say that it is female. Bu I suppose that professional writers think otherwise.

      • Hi Abnoba,

        I have a Scandanavian neighbor who I wrote about on this blog who showed me all kinds of media for kids she grew up with where females are front and center. Unfortunately, in the USA, land of the free and the brave, females have to have eyelashes or pink bows. It sucks.


        • Speaking of female animal characters and stereotypically feminine gender markers, there are some female animal characters in American media that are devoid of “feminine” markers, like Blue and Green Puppy from Blue’s Clues.

          A few Disney female animal characters, including Joanna the Gianna and Marahute the eagle in The Rescuers Down Under, Sabor the leopard and the female gorillas, especially Terk in Tarzan, and Kevin the bird in Up, are devoid of such markers, often to the point of that they are mistaken for male.

          It’s like, if female characters don’t have “feminine” gender markers, like bows on he head, eyelashes, pink, purple, or lighter than male characters color scheme, humanoid body shapes, feminine-styled heads of hair, human-shaped breasts, they tend to be mistaken for male.

  4. It’s terrible, of course, and I’m very sorry that John Lewis (a great store) continues to carry this stuff. But you’re missing half the story. This sexism *works both ways*. These kinds of thing are detrimental to boys and men, their self-image and their ability to contribute equally to society.

    (FWIW, I’m a little worried the example from JL is a bit incongruous next to the historical examples of racist imagery you cite. Am I wrong to think the comparison slightly devalues those rather more extreme cases? Not that one couldn’t tour any department store in the UK and find comparable sexist examples, of course… Bratz being a case in point)

    • Hi Richard,

      I totally agree it works both ways, rigid gender boxes hurt everyone. The JL example points out a culture we all accept and take for granted and my point is these stereotyped generalizations perceived as okay are dangerous as history proves.


      • Also, Richard, what if those brains didnt rep men and women, but white and black people? Would you find that racist enough to be appalled? The black brain is thinking about fried chicken, sports, rap, drugs; the white brain is thinking about tennis, the stock market, the Great Gatsby, country tunes…do you see that game in stores?

          • “(and are not tied at all to negative stereotypes of women),”

            Who do you think you’re fooling. Yes, they are, “art, fashion, book club” are all tied to stereotypes of women as silly things with their cute but empty heads.

          • No, sorry, you’ve lost me. How is art for “empty heads”? I go to a book club for stimulating analysis of literature – it really isn’t “cute”. And while there are plenty of negative connotations for women around fashion – far, far too many – it’s also an expression of aesthetics, culture and big business.

            My point, indeed, being I’m horrified that men would be thought *not* to find all these things of interest…

          • I have blogged a lot about a gender stereotype that drives me crazy: girl are “artsy.” If this is true, why are most the great artists men? Girls are artsy when its about construction paper and Elmer’s glue, but when its shows at the MOMA or what art goes for the most money, or atists we study throughout history, all of a sudden, great artists are men. When the female brains lists “art, book club” I look at it like that. It’s not implying women are great writers and artists, but the most trivial kind of interest as is underscored by the “fashion” item added to the list.

          • Margot explained it to you but I’ll do it again:

            “How is art for “empty heads”? I go to a book club for stimulating analysis of literature – it really isn’t “cute”.”

            It’s not about the reality, it’s about the stereotype, the stereotype of women being better at art is a way of saying they can’t do exact sciences (you’ll not hear the praise of women as natural artists outside of the context of “explaining” why they “just aren’t” as good in math or science). The same goes for reading, when people talk about women reading a lot, they mean flimsy literature, we even have a word for designating literature written by women for women, “chick lit”, which carries a strong implication of “not real literature”.

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