ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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The Independent Culture
SO, Father Christmas has gone again, with his sacks of boys' toys that my son desired so deeply this year. This is what he wanted Father Christmas to bring him down the chimney: one Cloud Base (Captain Scarlet's headquarters); two Captain Scarlet cars; one Gordon the Express train for his railway set; and lots and lots of Transformers. You can buy Transformers from Woolworths: they're shiny, fiddly things - three inch lorries or fire engines - that can be manipulated by small boys' hands, almost magically, into other things, like dinosaurs with fierce gold spikes or robots with guns.

All the little boys at my son's nursery love Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds and Thomas the Tank Engine and Transformers. Captain Scarlet drives a fast car and fights the wicked Mysterons from Outer Space; Thunderbird rockets zoom high into the sky and blow the enemy up; Thomas the Tank engine has crashes and other exciting adventures, as does Gordon the Express train; Transformers offer endless possibilities for change and reinvention and exploration. Need I say more?

This is what my son's four-year-old friend wanted Father Christmas to bring her: one doll that cries real tears; one doll that drinks real milk out of a baby bottle; one miniature pushchair; and lots and lots of Polly Pockets. Polly Pockets are pretty, dinky, twinkly things - like a powder compact or an eye-shadow box - that can be opened up to reveal tiny little enclosed worlds for itsy-bitsy dollies to live in.

There is a sort of male version of a Polly Pocket, called a Mighty Max. Instead of a little pink plastic object with a sweet doll inside its domestic interior, this is a little black plastic object in the shape of a menacing spider with horrible insides. Mighty Max is a small boy hero who is caught inside the spider but fights his way out. My son had one, but unfortunately Mighty Max got sucked down the plug hole when he was in the bath fighting sharks. I suggested we got a Polly Pocket instead. 'Only girls have those,' he said with disgust.

His friend's mother tried to persuade her daughter that she might like a toy fire engine, but the idea didn't go down too well. This little girl wanted a new Polly Pocket, the one with a beautiful princess inside. In the end we both gave way, and our children got a few of the many things that they had asked Father Christmas to bring.

I don't know what all this means, exactly. I read my mother's copy of The Female Eunuch when I was 16, and then a few years later I read about post-feminism and New Men and all that stuff. I don't think that

the people who make the toys that our children see advertised on television every day are particularly interested in pre or post-

feminism. But they're very very good at their jobs. They give our children exactly what they seem to want.

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