Remember when the uproar over the "pinkification" of girls' goods - items that pushed the value of appearance and submissive behaviour - centred simply on Easy-Bake ovens, tween training bras and coquettish Disney princesses?
That stuff was tame compared with what's on the market now.
Not only are children being targeted from birth - hot-pink credit-card-shaped dummies branded "Ima Spender", soft stiletto booties for babies - but the goods are rolling out of factories at warp speed.
"It's getting worse and it's very ironic," the author of Delusions of Gender, psychologist Cordelia Fine, says. "The very time in history when we're congratulating ourselves on a person's sex finally being of no importance in what hopes they have for their lives and what career they might have ... and [this is] being thoroughly undermined by the childhood culture that relentlessly segregates the sexes. They're [now] seated on [gendered goods], playing with them, carrying them, riding them and eating off them."
Indeed, last year alone saw the release of four pinkified versions of classic games featuring the sort of accessories - and accompanying messages - that would make Betty Friedan weep. The box housing the pink Designer's Edition of Scrabble spelt out the word "fashion" and a pink Monopoly set for the buying and selling of boutiques instead of houses (in order to build shopping malls) came packaged in a jewellery box, complete with purse, high heel and hairdryer playing pieces.
a pink Monopoly set for the buying and selling of boutiques instead of houses came packaged in a jewellery box, complete with purse, high heel and hairdryer playing pieces
Overseas, the backlash has been swift and steady.
In Britain, the Pink Stinks campaign, which lobbies against a culture of girls' products that promote narrowly defined aspirations and unhealthy body obsession, recently celebrated the removal of a neon-pink globe of the world, created by the Early Learning Centre, from the shop's catalogue.
In stark contrast, local childhood activists say they're struggling to publicise the dangers of gender stereotyping.
"I think we're all so busy with [fighting] the pornographers," says Maggie Hamilton, author of What's Happening to Our Girls?, by way of explaining the lack of local targeted campaigns such as Pink Stinks.
"I give numerous talks to children and teachers and have these things [baby stilettos] for show and tell but there's only a few of us fighting this stuff, so you tend to go for the most serious, which is of course pornography and violence."
Those on the frontline battling the early onset of gender bias - day-care workers - are struggling with the fallout: parents oblivious to its inherent dangers.
"I've heard parents come in and say [of boys], 'Why are they playing with the doll? It's only for girls,"' says Josephine Scianni, supervisor at Botany Bay Preschool in Sydney, who regularly sees female preschoolers wearing make-up.
Julie Gale, of the lobby group Kids Free 2B Kids, worries about parents who don't consider the messages that gendered goods convey.
"If you're defining girls as pretty little fluffy princesses ... it minimises the imagination and tells them, 'This is what we do,' she says. "We're imposing stereotypes from the word go and that doesn't really free us up to choose whatever our self-expression wants to be, whether it's to muck around in the dirt, climb trees, pretend to be an artist, whatever."
There are signs, though, that the next generation of parents will be more
open-minded. One four-year-old boy at Botany Bay Preschool, Scianni says, struts around in a pink T-shirt that reads "Tough enough to wear pink".
And Cordelia Fine's school-age son recently "insisted" on buying a pair of pink trainers "as a political statement", even after she pushed for him to pick navy or beige, out of fear that he'd be bullied.
"Of course I thought everyone would think I was this crazy feminist mother sacrificing him to the cause," she says, laughing. "But it's been a comfort to me [that he hasn't been teased]. That surprises me and it's a very positive sign."
- Hard-wired sex differences are "grossly exaggerated", says author Cordelia Fine.
- Critics argue that sterotypically female toys — such as princess games, Barbies and stilettos — can inhibit outdoor play and imagination.
- Girls as young as seven battle anxiety and depression from being inundated with body-focused products.