Last week Marks and Spencer announced that they were rebranding their popular Midget Gems to Mini Gems, following a campaign by an activist and lecturer in disability studies, who argued the word ‘midget’ is a form of hate speech.
Dr Erin Pritchard who teaches at Liverpool Hope University – has achondroplasia, a condition which stunts growth – had previously approached supermarkets and confectionery makers about changing the name of the sweet, raising her concerns that the use of the word “midget” is seen as derogatory for little people.
However, has the name change gone too far? The reactions on social media are mixed, with some defending Marks and Sparks’ decision for the name change and others calling for a boycott over it.
M&S’s Mini Gems are made with real fruit juice and glucose syrup, instead of the traditional beef or pork gelatine, meaning that it is safe for vegetarians and people following a halal diet to eat.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the first use of the term “midget” was in 1816.
In her recent book Disability Hate Speech, Dr Pritchard argues the word midget should be seen as a form of hate speech due to its origins in Victorian freak shows.
In 2020, Dr Pritchard wrote an article for Big Issue North, where she notes the term – that has no medical connotations – is derived from the word “midge”, meaning gnat or sandfly.
She said: “Its origin automatically dehumanises people like me. It was a term popularized during the Victorian freak show, where many disabled people, including people with dwarfism, were oppressed and exploited.”
She added: “It seems that whilst freak shows began to fade away at the turn of the 20th century, much of their problematic legacy lives on.
“‘Midget’ is a word used freely by the media, as well as a name used for various products, including Midget Gems. The use of the term on many branded items allows its presence to be maintained within society.
“It is not hard to imagine that had these sweets been given another name associated with a derogatory term which refers to another minority group that they would have been either removed or renamed.
“The constant use of the word in the media and on products allows its popularity to flourish, which has implications for people with dwarfism in society.”
An M&S spokeswoman said: “We are committed to being an inclusive retailer – from how we support our colleagues, through to the products we offer and the way we market them to our 32 million customers.
“Following suggestions from our colleagues and the insights shared by Dr Erin Pritchard, we introduced new Mini Gem packaging last year, which has since been rolled out to all of our stores.”
Other retailers are following suit, with sweet producer Mondelez has said its Maynards Bassetts brand of Midget Gems would soon be re-named Mini Gems and Tesco is set to review the name of their chewy treat.
Vegan-friendly firm Free From Fellows, whose products are on shelves at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, WH Smith and Boots, has also scrapped the name ‘Midget Gems’.
However, people have been outspoken on social media that the rename is just an attempt for M&S –and other retailers – to cash in on “wokeness” and “appease the left”, saying that the “woke brigade has gone too far”.
One woman from Keighley, said: “They’ve been called Midget Gems forever why the change all of a sudden? Surely nobody’s going to be offended by the name of a sweet! Seriously they’re taking the mick now, get a grip, people.”
A man from Keighley also added: “I’m sick to the back teeth of this offence culture now. I for one will be taking no notice or action of any ridiculous woke b******t.”
Another said: “the names of sweets offend you then you should be thankful that’s your only problem. People around the world have problems getting enough water each day or live in warzones.”
Others chimed in with “more woke crap”, “what next?”, and “nothing surprises me anymore.”
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.