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Outrage at 'porn' pencil-cases

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 1 July, 2005 | By: Adi Bloom

WHSmith is selling cute pink products bearing the Playboy logo to girls with no idea what it means, reports Adi Bloom

In many ways it is like every other piece of school stationery for girls: it is pink, it is glittery, and it has a cute picture of a rabbit in the corner. But the rabbit on WHSmith's latest line of children's writing accessories is the Playboy bunny, emblem of Hugh Hefner's multi-million-dollar porn empire.

The Playboy products so enraged Eleanor Kirwan, an English teacher at Coloma convent girls' comprehensive, in south London, that she launched a campaign against the folders, notebooks and pencil-cases bearing the icon that her pupils have begun to bring into school.

"It's marketed at teenage girls," she said. "WHSmith stock it next to the Winnie-the-Pooh pencil-cases. They told me they want to give customers choice. But kids don't need that kind of choice."

Ms Kirwan decided to enlighten her pupils about the contents of Playboy magazine. Describing it diplomatically as "women with no clothes on for men's sexual pleasure", and then less diplomatically as "women being used as sexual objects", she attempted to educate girls about the unsavoury reality behind the Playboy glitter.

have been naively buying what they think is a cute pencil-case," she said. "They're shocked when they find out they're endorsing the porn industry.

"We've been talking about social-justice issues. Stick-thin, enormous-bosomed models prancing round in next to nothing give them another unrealistic image to live up to."

Fifteen-year-old pupil Mabel Ogakwu was convinced by this argument. "My initial reaction was that it's not like there are naked women on the stationery," she said. "But the bunny symbolises pornography."

Ms Kirwan has also circulated a petition. Two hundred pupils, teachers and members of the public have so far signed, and Andrew Pelling, her MP, has said that he will present it to Parliament.

When she picketed the Croydon branch of WHSmith last week, 12 placard-waving pupils went with her. Some others did say this is small fry, she said. "They asked why we can't campaign against Aids instead. But you can pick small battles and win them."

Julia Kenny, 15, who owns a David Beckham pencil-case, said: "You can make a difference, no matter how big or small the issue is. That kind of cutesy-wutesy pink, fluffy pencil-case tricks young girls. They should be encouraged to be intelligent, independent women, not just blonde sex toys with large breasts."

Ms Kirwan is seeking an interview with Kate Swann, chief executive of WHSmith, to urge her to withdraw the Playboy line.

But she says that those pupils who do not feel their feminist principles are compromised by using the glittery stationery should not be victimised:

"I don't want ceremonial burning, or children being shouted at because they don't share other people's opinions.

"It's important that we don't demonise the kids for having the stationery, rather than the stockists for creating it."

A spokeswoman for WHSmith said that the Playboy logo was a recognised fashion icon. "You can get that logo on bed-linen, keyrings and hair products. Children have a choice about what they buy, and most decisions are made by parents."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

To support the campaign go to www.coloma.croydon.sch.uk


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