Has Santa ever left sexism under your Christmas tree? From gift sets and vouchers to Spanx pants and a chopping board, SARAH VINE lists the gifts men should NEVER buy for women and other writers reveal the presents that were total turkeys

A few years ago there was a very funny film doing the rounds on YouTube called The Doghouse.

A woman covers her eyes in anticipation of a special present from her husband. He hands it over, beaming. She rips off the paper. It is a vacuum cleaner. ‘This is my gift?’ she exclaims, in horror. ‘Yup,’ he replies, adding proudly, ‘It’s dual bag.’

This is the tense moment a woman unwraps a vaccum cleaner in The Doghouse. In the clip, she rips off the paper and exclaims: ‘This is my gift?’ Her partner proudly tells her ‘it’s a dual bag’

Cut to husband in some kind of underground laundry penitentiary. ‘Welcome to the doghouse,’ says an older, avuncular man, handing him a towel to fold. ‘But what, why am I here, I didn’t do anything!’ protests the husband. ‘D’you hear that, guys?’ says Avuncular. ‘Dual Bag here thinks he didn’t do anything wrong.’ Cue hollow laughter.

I imagine whoever dreamt up this Christmas’s Peloton advert is currently experiencing a similar set of circumstances. In case you don’t know, Peloton is an interactive exercise bike that allows users to stream live classes via a subscription service.

Nothing says ‘I couldn’t be BOTHERED’ more than one of those boxed tie and handkerchief sets, or a shower gel coffret or socks. Other banned presents should be sexy lingerie which tend to be designed for a Pussycat Doll

Despite the bikes being ruinously expensive (£2,000), the company was doing quite well (it counts as fans celebrities such as David Beckham and Hugh Jackman) — until, that is, almost $1.5 billion was wiped off its value.

The problem? Well, the aforementioned advert. Entitled ‘the gift that gives back’, it features — once again —an excited woman covering her eyes in anticipation of that special something. And there it is: a Peloton bike. Only this time, instead of horror and consternation, she is filled with girlish delight. During the course of the next year, she keeps a video diary — and gives it to her husband as a way of showing her gratitude.

Peloton is an interactive exercise bike that allows users to stream live classes via a subscription service and has been advertised with an excited woman covering her eyes in anticipation and then girlish delight in another sexist advert

‘A year ago I didn’t realise how much this would change me,’ she gushes, all puppy-dog eyes and glowing skin. He gazes manfully into the distance.

Fair to say it’s not gone down terribly well with the online sisterhood. The 30-second film has been variously described as ‘sexist’, ‘dystopian’ and ‘creepy’, a throwback to a bygone age. One American comedian, Eva Victor, has made a parody of it which ends with her serving her husband divorce papers. What was no doubt conceived as a heartwarming tale of marital devotion has ended up costing Peloton dear.

Now, my natural reaction whenever I read the words ‘online backlash’ is usually to roll my eyes. It doesn’t take much to ignite the passions of the perpetually offended.

But I have to admit even I found my feminist hackles rising when I watched the advert. It’s not just the infantilisation of a grown woman, her simpering, Stepford Wife desire to please, the passive-aggressive message, or even the fact that she’s clearly already as fit as a fiddle and doesn’t so much need an exercise bike for Christmas as a few slices of panettone.

The offending commercial shows a woman receiving a stationary bike from her husband on Christmas morning and then documenting her year-long fitness journey in a series of selfie clips that she compiles into a thank you video for her husband. Viewers trashed the ad on Twitter, calling it sexist, misogynistic, and cringeworthy

No, it’s the complete lack of self-awareness, warmth or even humour that makes this such a dud. It’s as joyless as a vegan sausage roll.

But perhaps more importantly, it completely misunderstands the point of presents. Which is that to be successful they must be inherently indulgent, something you really want but don’t actually need — and crucially WOULD NEVER BUY YOURSELF.

And I’m afraid exercise bikes, however flashy, fall into the vacuum cleaner category. Unlike handbags, shoes, jewellery, nice stationery, perfume, antiques, any form of cashmere and all the other things that one wants in life but doesn’t not need, exercise bikes are just not suitable present material.

There is an infantilisation of a grown woman, her simpering, a Stepford Wife (pictured, 2004 movie) desire to please, as well as a complete lack of self-awareness in adverts about womens presents

And, while I’m at it, neither are any of these . . .

1. Any sort of utensil, no matter how expensive.

2. Cosmetic surgery vouchers. Unless you want a scalpel in your back.

3. Any other vouchers. The only exception to this is if you have teenagers and you are a grandparent, but even then cash is preferable.

4. Gift sets. Nothing says ‘I couldn’t be BOTHERED’ more than one of those boxed tie and handkerchief sets, or a shower gel coffret.

5. Socks. We all need socks. But none of us wants to find them in our stockings.

6. Sexy lingerie. Fact: women like to buy their own lingerie, mostly because anything men buy tends to be a) about as classy as tinsel b) too small c) highly flammable and d) designed for a Pussycat Doll.

7. Improving books. Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all be delighted to receive the collected works of Milton, leather-bound. But we’d much prefer a beautiful pair of shoes. And since the boxes look very similar when wrapped, imagine the disappointment.

8. Anything you secretly want for yourself. Nope, she really does not want that 20 million piece Lego Death Star you’ve been dreaming of, or that set of golf irons.

9. Any form of anti-ageing cream EVEN IF WE ASK FOR IT. It’s a trap.

10. A Peloton exercise bike.

I got A CHOPPING BOARD — so I cut him out of my life

Jenni Murray, broadcaster

An exercise bike for Christmas? What sort of husband would dare deliver anything so insulting?

Maybe it would have been rather more appropriate if he had noticed his own physique had gone beyond its best and simply bought it for himself.

I would never have forgiven my husband if he had done such a thing. Just as I never forgave the old boyfriend I had adored for a short while in my late 20s when he made a similarly infuriating offering.

He was handsome, charming, attentive and very funny, but not too well versed in the sexual politics of the time. It was the late-Seventies, when everyone was talking about feminism and the new roles of men and women. Everyone but him.

His gift was large, rectangular and heavy. Would it be a beautiful book or a lovely painting? No! I tore off the wrapping paper to discover a huge wooden chopping board. Worse still was the explanation that it was to ‘enhance your skills in the kitchen’.

He never got to experience my culinary talents again after that Christmas. I had him out the door before the New Year!

Tummy-tucking undies? spanx, BUT NO SPANX

Monica Porter, journalist

A few years ago, I had a little fling with a rather cool, younger man.

At around the same time, I had started to gain some weight and it was slightly alarming.

I had got so nice and slim during my ‘misery months’ following the break-up with my long-term partner and, now that I was jolly again, the last thing I wanted was to put the pounds back on.

When a woman makes a joke about having to wear Spanx (file image) again, don’t follow up on it and give her a pair. Of course, when a woman makes a joke like that, she wants reassurance, to be told that she is lovely just the way she is

One day I noted, while getting into a slinky dress, that ‘my bum feels a bit bigger these days’. And with my customary jocularity, I added: ‘At this rate I’ll have to start wearing those Spanx things. You know, the knickers that pull in your fatty bits and make you thinner. Ha ha!’

Of course, when a woman makes a joke like that, she wants reassurance, to be told that she is lovely just the way she is. Even that cheesy standard: ‘You’ve put weight on? Then there’s more of you to love!’ would suffice.

What she doesn’t want is actually to be given a pair of those wretched Spanx for Christmas. But, reader, that’s exactly what this guy did.

And while I wanted to think that it was just his way of joking back with me, I was never quite sure that he didn’t believe I really needed them.

To make matters worse, the Spanx came wrapped in a package with a box of my favourite luxury chocolates.

Talk about sending mixed messages! I mean, did he want me to be thin, or happy?


Libby Purves, writer and broadcaster

A gift of hot pants says nothing more than a woman’s partner is a ‘fantasising pig’, says writer and broadcaster Libby Purves. Here Ally Brooke dons a pair of black denim shorts as she attends practice at the Dancing With The Stars studio

My one bitterness concerns a long- ago boyfriend who bought me some denim hot-pants, very Seventies Jilly Cooper style.

I knew why — but it was little to do with me or what I wanted. It was entirely because he had seen another — shapelier — woman wearing a pair.

Although they did fit me, I resented them because I knew what he was up to, the fantasising pig. I feared that it would be the thin end of the wedge, and that in no time at all he would be supplying me with a gymslip, a sexy nurse’s uniform, or a burlesque corset.

(Actually, the corset I wouldn’t mind so much — I once had a lesson in tassel-twirling, though I kept my cardie on.)

I do feel for people whose partners don’t know them very well. I am told that men suffer similar teeth-grinding moments when presented with a Bullworker bicep-trainer or muscle-vest.

Worst of all, I suspect, is to be given some hideous game, hobby or experience that only the giver wants. Just check in advance before buying that rather cumbersome StairMaster . . .

Thankfully, my husband, Paul, is irreproachable and never puts a festive foot wrong.

Needless to say, Mr Denim Knickers and I split soon after. Good riddance!

The Pussycat Dolls are photographed wearing skimpy hot pants and bodysuits for a performance on the X Factor on November 30


Bel Mooney, author, journalist and Daily Mail advice columnist

I’ve never been given a really sexist present — but there was one unromantic one which made me scowl on Christmas Day.

I must have been 25. The parcel was large and exciting. But my trembling fingers unwrapped . . . an electric blanket.

My (then) husband Jonathan beamed eagerly and said he knew I wanted to be kept warm. Warm? All a 25-year-old woman needs to keep her warm in bed is her loving man!

An electric blanket (pictured) symbolises domesticity and is not necessary for a woman who only needs her loving man to keep her warm, writes author Bel Mooney

It must be said that I had married a generous, loving guy. Usually he did just fine. But the more I gazed at the salmon-pink thing encased in plastic packaging, the more it blanketed my spirits in gloom.

A Cosihome electric blanket

Somehow it symbolised the domesticity I had willingly embraced when I married at 21. Who made the bed every day? Who took our sheets to the laundry, then ironed them? Who had sewed the bedspread and bedroom curtains for our first rented home? Who always remembered to fill the hot-water bottles? Me, me, me!

He must have seen through my robotic ‘thank you’, because he never made a mistake quite like that again.

In the 35 years of our marriage, I received wonderful gifts: pictures and other artworks, lovely jewellery, fine books, a dress bought in Venice, knitwear I’d admired in a shop window, a trip on the Orient Express. I have no complaints.

And, these days, an electric blanket is one of the most important things in life.

After all, neither jewellery nor books can keep a gal warm through winter.


Esther Rantzen, writer and presenter

Esther Rantzen has revealed the moment her husband opened his desk drawer to reveal two identical presents for her and his secretary

My late husband, documentary-maker Desmond Wilcox, used to give me the most marvellous sexist presents — so generous that I forgave the sexism and was thrilled.

(I categorise them as sexist because they were so extravagantly over-the-top, no woman would risk giving them to a man — it would offend his machismo too much!)

For instance, one year, Desi hired a plane to circle our home with a banner inscribed: ‘Desi loves Essie.’

Lovely — except that the pilot circled the wrong house.

The sexist presents I did not forgive were the mean ones I was given years before I met my husband.

I was very young and working as a sound effects assistant when I fell momentarily in love with a radio producer who was the worst present-giver in the world.

One Christmas, he opened his desk drawer to reveal two identical packages, one for his secretary and the other for me.

Red underwear (file image) can be a cheap and sexist gift for a woman. Ms Rantzen was also given a lipstick and nail varnish in an unflattering purple

Mine contained lipstick and nail varnish in the most unflattering shade of deep purple. I hope hers did, too.

The following Christmas he gave me some appalling transparent red nylon knickers embroidered: ‘No, no, no.’ A friend suggested I add another ‘No’ and return them.

So, cheap and sexist, unforgivable. But generous and sexist, we will tolerate.

As Zsa Zsa Gabor once said: ‘I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back.’


Linda Kelsey, author and journalist

My sexism radar is finely tuned, but I must confess I’ve always been thrilled with gifts of a domesticated variety.

That doesn’t put me in the category of little woman or surrendered wife, it just lets everyone know what I desire.

This year (in case anyone is stuck for inspiration), if Jamie Oliver’s new vegetarian cookbook, some super-sharp Japanese kitchen knives, a large, white, oval platter to replace my chipped one, and some tea towels from Williams Sonoma — on which I’ve had something of a crush for 20 years — should appear in my stocking, they would go down very nicely indeed, thank you.

 Linda Kelsey was given a battery-operated thing similar to a long-handled back brush, only with a vibrating pad at the end rather than bristles so I could massage my back and shoulders myself. The present contaiend the underlying message that he could no longer be bothered with the job (file image)

There was one present, though, from years back, that I remember with distaste. It was a gift from an ex of mine who used to give really lovely shoulder massages. He had truly healing hands.

One Christmas, however, he bought me a hideous, battery-operated thing similar to a long-handled back brush, only with a vibrating pad at the end rather than bristles so I could massage my back and shoulders myself.

The underlying message, as I saw it, was that he could no longer be bothered with the job — or me.

Of course I thanked him, but the death knell for that relationship had been sounded. We were over before the tinsel was up the following year — and the massager never made it out of the box. 

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