An exchange between Nancy Smallwood and the marketing guy from a stationery store called Paperchase has been making the rounds: She complained to the company about its gendered products and received a what she calls a "rude" response.
It's tough to pick sides on this one: Smallwood wasn't shopping in the store, she merely walked the store windows and saw that Paperchase's back-to-school products included pictures of girls wearing aprons and baking-oriented stationery, while the boys had shark-themed paper products. Her written complaint was not aggressive, merely disappointed.
Paperchase's Robert Warden wrote back:
Thank you for your email. However you rather miss the point... we are more than aware of the gender stereotypes and were making an ironic point by using archive mail-order catalogue photos from the 1970s...
When we are trying to sell stationery (please note spelling) there are images that appeal to boys and images that appeal to girls - and we have had a very successful season with the designs that we chose. So presumably the majority of our customers approved of the products.
Smallwood writes, "that's no way to talk to your customer!" The back and forth went on for a while, you can get up to speed here.
Here are the questions which must be asked:
— When kiddie products reinforce gender stereotypes in an "ironic" way, don't they still reinforce gender stereotypes?
— Wouldn't any "irony" go over the kids' heads?
— If the "majority" of your customers "approve" does that mean you're doing something right?
— Is Warden's letter really rude, or did he handle a perhaps-trivial-compared-to-the-big-picture complaint well?
— Does Smallwood have a right to a polite answer to her valid question?
Honestly, I'm torn. But then again, I like cupcakes and sharks.
Rude, Rude Response From Paperchase's Marketing Director Robert Warden [Nancy Smallwood]