In the UK and Ireland, it’s common practise to give, consume and generally partake in large chocolate eggs. You’re not allowed to eat them until Easter, but even then – you knew they were in the house. They range from being very posh and fancy to simply larger versions of your favourite chocolate bar. Either way, everyone gets to have one.
I recently went to my local supermarket to see what kinds of insane Easter Eggs I’d find this year, and my eyes saw these monstrosities in front of me.
“But Kimi,” you say, “It doesn’t say FOR BOYS or FOR GIRLS on either one, so a boy can pick up a Disney Princess one and a girl can pick up a Justice League one no problem.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s not the kids who are picking these eggs up, it’s the mothers and fathers who have been inundated with this stuff from before their kids were even anything more than a ball of cells. These Easter Eggs are coded with the telltale signs leading to one gender or the other. Blue. Pink. Straight, clean lines and stark colours. Soft, floaty sparkles and gentle gradients. The word Princess on the Disney Princess egg being the focal point of the actual chocolate’s packaging. Meanwhile the male orientated Justice League fails to give any nod to Wonder Woman, arguably one of the most important women in comic books ever. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought that the Justice League was a boys only club that featured only Batman and Superman.
You should all know by this point that gendered marketing is not great – it reinforces stereotypes, the gender binary and yet advertisers continue to do it because someone has it in their heads that this is the only way that units will move. It permeates how we consume and interact with popular culture. Geekdom is decidely not safe from it, especially not in our beloved toys and figures. We know all about the controversy around the lack of Rey toys when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit cinemas despite the film being decidedly centred around her. There continues to remain a lack of Black Widow toys and merchandise and we’ve yet to see whether Mark Ruffalo’s polite words about the lack of toys have reached any of those at Marvel/Disney.
Even grimmer still is the prospect that these toy sales are part of a vicious cycle that feed into media creation. Using a TV series/anime/cartoon/manga to sell units of toys is not unheard of – many a popular series is based on it ranging from Marvel Disc Wars, Bratz, Monster High to Yu-Gi-Oh. Paul Dini’s tell all interview of how network execs cancelled Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series based on one principle: executives were spurning female viewers because they believe girls and women don’t buy the shows’ toys. Boys bought toys and only boys bought toys. Girls didn’t buy toys therefore they weren’t worth investing in. But because girls didn’t see any toys that appealed to them, they didn’t buy. And so the cycle continues.
Similarly, one of my own personal peeves regarding toy sales and a televised product is that of the WWE’s belts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with wrestling, the WWE has a number of belts which the wrestlers regularly compete for. The belts have an air of prestige about them, or they’re supposed to at any rate.
This is the current WWE Championship, the biggest and most prestigious prize of them all.
Notice that the belt is a large weighty affair that features a considerable amount of gold and crystal. The side plates are customisable, intended to help emphasise the champion’s individuality. This is the guy who is at the top of the pile and the belt shows it. I would not like to mess with whoever is holding this belt. (For the record, at the time of writing it is a Mr. Triple H.) I hesitate to call it a masculine belt, but it does have qualities that are normally associated with masculinity.
It’s a similar affair for the Intercontinental Belt, the next prestigious belt down the line.
The design is more stylish, features a white strap and more of a white-ish gold. It’s my favourite of the current belt designs because it’s less blocky than the WWE Championship and it’s sleeker. The Intercontinental Champion is meant to be an up and comer who is on their way to the WWE Championship and it perfectly encapsulates that.
Belts then, are meant to have character. They’re meant to emphasise the kinds of qualities that champion has to have. So what does WWE have for its fighting ladies?
This monstrosity. The Divas Championship is a garish pink, with a big embossed butterfly that looks completely out of place on the belt itself, nevermind if you compare it to the previous two examples. The side plates look like they’ve been done by someone with their first bejewelling kit and the swirls are completely offputting. Everything looks cluttered and you’re just overwhelmed with the pink. It looks like a toy. It looks like an accessory rather than an actual symbolic prize.
This is the crux of the matter. WWE makes a fortune in licensing and making toys of its performers and properties. The boys are going to buy the men’s belts, no problem. But how do you get the girls to buy the Divas belt? The solution that WWE has come up with, was to make the belt look as toy-like as possible – which means that the current crop of WWE ladies are fighting for a belt that was intentionally made to sell to girls because (here we go again), girls don’t buy these things unless it’s specifically marketed to them.
It’s not like WWE is making a belt that is incapable of looking good but still displaying the kinds of traits its holder is meant to possess, the Women’s Championship of WWE’s developmental brand NXT is testament to that.
The NXT Women’s Championship belt is a cool silver on a black strap with lightly pink Swarovski-esque crystals. The belt looks flexible yet with some weight behind it, plus it’s very sleek. The pink is not garish but is the kind of mild nod to traditional feminine qualities that I have less of a problem with. The point being, it doesn’t look like a toy. It looks like a belt, a prize. Something worth fighting for.
These things are so ingrained, so deeply embedded in the way that these kinds of protests seem moot. But they aren’t. I want to emphasise that there is a constant need to talk about these things and to not let up on talking about them. It’s important to say that these things need to be changed and that we can work towards a more gender neutral norm that celebrates the differences and strengths in the sexes and genders, rather than reinforcing harmful stereotypes. We live in an age where thoughtful discourse can lead to productive and fruitful things happening. But these things are slow, and require time.
For now, I’ll buy the decidedly less gendered chocolate – no matter how much I want the Justice League surprise.