Not a child’s play: Ending toy ‘apartheid’

Updated 18 December 2012
0

Not a child’s play: Ending toy ‘apartheid’

With firefighter kits for girls and baby dolls for boys, toys are breaking out of the gender ghetto thanks to retailers willing to brush aside some hard-to-shift stereotypes.
The latest to chip away at the toy apartheid, French supermarket Super-U, has printed a holiday season catalogue showing boys cradling dolls and girls piloting remote-controlled cars, billed as a first for the country.
“This is not activism,” said Thierry Desouches, the group’s head of external relations. “But it’s about keeping up with changes in society, with the shifting roles of men and women,” he told AFP.
“It’s about breaking down stereotypes — pink and ironing boards for girls, blue and cars for boys, it’s really too narrow.”
Retailer La Grande Recre has also brought in a line of gender-neutral DIY kits, kitchens and cleaning trolleys, aimed at boys and girls alike.
Sold in France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium and Morocco, the toys are packaged in orange, white or purple with no pink or blue in sight.
The line is doing well, says the chain’s sales director Franck Mathais, with sales of the toy vacuum cleaner up 40 percent in a year.
The French moves bring the country into line with a snowballing trend in Britain and the United States.
Last year a four-year-old American girl named Riley Maida shot to prominence for a YouTube video showing her rant against the tyranny of princess gear for girls, and superhero stuff for boys.
The clip, which went viral, summed up the frustration many families feel with what they perceive as forceful gender stereotyping by toy manufacturers.
In Britain, campaigners have claimed a string of victories in the past year or so.
London’s Harrods this summer unveiled a vast “gender-neutral” zone organized by theme instead of by gender, and last December the Hamleys toy store removed “boy” and “girl” signposts, replacing them with red and white ones.
Britain’s Early Learning Center, a leading toy retailer, was targeted in 2009 by a grassroots campaign dubbed “Pinkstinks” denouncing stereotyping in toys.
“Back then, the ELC had a double page spread on things people do, fireman, policeman etc, which were all boys except for a girl as an old-fashioned nurse,” said Emma Moore, who launched the drive with her sister Abi five years ago.
“The next page was all girls in princess dresses.”
Stung into action, the ELC’s website now pointedly shows girls playing with construction sets or dressed as firefighters and boys rocking baby dolls.
So how much is really changing?
Haude Constantin-Bienaime runs a day care center in the Paris suburbs that was the first in the country to adopt a policy on gender discrimination.
“Little children will try anything. It’s what we adults offer that influences them. And society is full of gender stereotypes,” she told AFP.
“This is one way to tackle stereotyping,” she said of the retailers’ moves. “But walk into a toy store and there’s still a very clear divide between games for boys and ones for girls.”
“There is movement but it is fairly superficial,” agreed Moore, who feels girls have most to lose from the current state of affairs.
“Boys get adventure, action, science and discovery. What girls get is very often a dumbed down version of that, or go and sit in front of a mirror.
“You still see a glut of toys which are about being pretty,” with make-up kits targeting toddlers as young as two. “Little girls are encouraged through play to become obsessed with what they look like.”
Pinkstinks uses Twitter and Facebook to name and shame bad practice — and often gets its own way, like recently when Sainsbury’s supermarket removed the “boy” and “girl” tags from a doctor’s and beautician’s outfits.
It has logged messages of support from all over the world, including every country in South America.
“We were first to verbalize what was actually bothering quite a few people,” said Moore. “As a culture, we are obsessed by gender but it didn’t used to be like this.”
“If you go back 20 or 30 years and look at toy catalogues it’s fascinating, you see pages of toys for children — not for boys and girls.”
She, like many campaigners, believes the core driver for splitting the market into his and hers is purely economic: You get to sell twice as much.
“I have no doubt there are differences between boys and girls — I can see it in my children and my nephews. But there is growing evidence that suggests the differences are fairly minute.”
“It’s just so boring, apart from being damaging!”


Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

Updated 25 May 2018
0

Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

  • The Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future
  • Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion

VENICE: In its debut appearance at Italy’s leading architecture fair on Thursday, Saudi Arabia unveiled a sweeping exhibition exploring the country’s progress over the past five decades. 

Holding its own among the 65 national pavilions at the 16th Venice Biennale’s International Architecture Exhibition, the Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future.

It is the first time the Kingdom has had a presence at the Venice event, which is considered one of the leading forums for international architecture and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe to the city.

At the heart of the display in the Venetian Arsenal — the historic shipyards that house some of the most prominent pavilions at the fair — a set of screens on opposite walls flash clips of Saudi cities showing people wandering along the Jeddah Corniche or drinking coffee at a Bujairy Park cafe in Riyadh.

The reels illustrate the way urban sprawl has unfolded across the Kingdom, where rapid urbanization resulting in settlement-driven growth has skipped over spaces in Saudi cities, leaving vast lots vacant between buildings.

With more than 40 percent of urban land unused, communities are dispersed, creating a sense of fragmentation between neighborhoods connected only by cars.

“The vacant lot is a highly prevalent typology in Saudi cities: anyone passing through them will notice the empty tracts of land everywhere,” said architect Turki Gazzaz, who co-created the pavilion space – which is named “Spaces in Between” — with his brother Abdulrahman Gazzaz.

The duo, who founded Jeddah-based architectural studio Bricklab, beat 70 other entries to secure the commission to create the Kingdom’s first biennale pavilion, which shows the role design can play in restoring the social and structural fabric of Saudi cities.

While outlets for creative expression have previously been limited in the Kingdom, attitudes toward design-led solutions are becoming increasingly favorable. 

“People are becoming more conscious about these critical issues that exist within our urban fabric … this is beginning to spill out into our society and affect it in a positive way,” Abdulrahman said.

Recent reforms rolled out under Vision 2030 have created a channel for creativity to fuel the country’s growth as it looks beyond the oil sector — a turning point highlighted by the pavilion’s use of resin, which is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

This has been mixed with sand — a material that both symbolizes Saudi Arabia and links it to the rest of the world — for the giant curved screens that frame the exhibition.

Inside, projections show digital maps of the Kingdom’s main cities, beginning with aerial perspectives that convey their fragmented growth before moving down to street-level snapshots of everyday life in the city.

These pictures have been drawn from social media and most are taken from cars, the dual axis of urban life for city-dwelling Saudis.

Below, old mobile phones, a walkie-talkie and broken motherboards are showcased beneath a glass panel of fragmented electronics to “create a conversation about consumer culture” and comment on the “virtual public space” that people increasingly congregate in at the expense of public places, said Abdulrahman.

Speaking to Arab News at the launch of the Saudi pavilion in Venice on Thursday, Dhay Al-Dhawyan, project manager at the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs, described the need to “humanize” Saudi cities, something Vision 2030, and the more immediate targets for 2020, are moving toward.

“We want to bring back city centers, walkability, accessibility, connectivity and rework the visual aspects of our cities to make them more lively and functional,” he said.

The overall theme at this year’s biennale is “Freespace,” selected by the Irish curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to encourage architects to explore how “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity” can contribute to the urban environment.

Tapping into this ethos, the Saudi pavilion curators have compiled a display that blurs the boundaries between development and desert, city border and boundless expanse.

In demographic terms, Saudi cities have always been diverse, but in many cases they lack the infrastructure to encourage interaction, said Jawaher Al-Sudairy, one of the exhibition curators and director of Nahda Center for Research as well as senior program manager at Harvard Kennedy School.

“There are public spaces, but they are under-utilized, so that’s where the conversation should be.”

Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion, which invites visitors to explore the evolution taking place in Saudi Arabia’s skyline and engage with the social shift underway as the Kingdom steps on to the world stage.

“We’re tackling a global issue here; this is not unique to Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, the other half of the female curatorial team at the exhibition.

In keeping with the spirit of the biennale, literature distributed at the Saudi pavilion errs on the side of the aloof and arty, but the experience created by the exhibition is firmly grounded and accessible.

The teams want visitors to identify with the issues raised, which have a global resonance in an era defined by rapid urban growth. “We’re more similar with other nations than we are different … and this is a great way to have a conversation that is not necessarily bound by national boundaries,” said Al-Solaiman, dean of the College of Design at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University.

“The Venice Biennale is an excellent platform to start a conversation around architecture and how were designing and building, and we want to have this discussion with other architects around the world.”

“Our participation in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an unprecedented moment for Saudi Arabia’s creative community. It’s an opportunity to bring pioneering Saudi thought to an international platform through our creative vernacular,” said Ahmed Mater, executive director of the Misk Art Institute, which organized the Saudi pavilion.

“Coupled with the allocation of an incredible pavilion space, we are very excited about our presentation this year at the Biennale Architettura, but are also looking forward to future years and presentations and what they will draw on from our own community.”

For Al-Sudairy, one of the most interesting projects on the horizon is the Riyadh Metro, which she believes will change a lot more than mobility in the capital. “I can’t wait to see how it changes the way people move around … it’s going to transform the city physically and socially.”

The Metro is one of many large-scale projects underway in the Kingdom that aims to bring a sense of cohesion to the country’s urban environments and unite diverse communities.

The Saudi pavilion opens to the public on Saturday, May 26.

 

The Saudi pavilion exhibition ‘Spaces in Between,’ above and top. (Valeria Mariani)