Marks & Spencer has changed the name of the favourite childhood sweet Midget Gems to avoid offending people with dwarfism.
The retailer dropped the term midget and has rebranded the sweets Mini Gems after a leading disability studies academic warned it that the word can be “highly problematic”.
Dr Erin Pritchard, a lecturer in Disability and Education at Liverpool Hope University, has condemned the term midget as a form of hate speech which is deeply insulting to people with dwarfism.
The academic, who herself has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, has criticised other UK retailers, including Tesco, for continuing to use the word.
Dr Pritchard said: “The word midget is a form of hate speech and contributes to the prejudice that people with dwarfism experience on a daily basis.
“Having spoken with various firms about the use of the word midget, it’s clear that many companies are simply unaware of just how offensive the term is, and I’ve had to explain to them why it’s such an issue.”
M&S ‘willing to listen’
Dr Pritchard told The Telegraph: “I’m grateful that M&S has been willing to listen to the concerns of people with dwarfism and has gone ahead with the rebranding. There was initially some reluctance, but I pointed out that if they were going to persist in naming them midget gems then why not call other sweets by similarly offensive names?”
She has also called for other products which use the word midget to be rebranded and has asked Amazon to remove novelty items from sale which use the term, such as I Love Midgets key rings and T-shirts.
“If companies still use the word in their products and branding they should stop now. It’s offensive and unacceptable to disabled people,” she said, though she acknowledged it would be impossible to rename products no longer in production, such as the iconic car the MG Midget or the Daihatsu Midget mini van.
An M&S spokesman confirmed the name change, adding: “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 Pritchard, we introduced new mini gem packaging last year, which has since been rolled out to all of our stores.”
Another firm has also dropped the word midget from its gems.
The vegan-friendly firm Free From Fellows, whose products are stocked in places such as Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, WH Smith and Boots, made the change following Dr Pritcahrd’s intervention.
But she says other major supermarkets have so far failed to respond to her request.
Need for ‘better awareness’
Dr Pritchard – who also appears in Channel 4’s Dating with Dwarfism, in which she talks about some of the relationship issues experienced by those with the condition – adds: “It is truly baffling that, in this day and age, a number of British retailers are still able to use this disablist hate speech to market their products.
“Last October was Dwarfism Awareness Month, and I took to Twitter to tag numerous supermarkets and sweet companies in a tweet asking them when they would be removing the word midget from their products.
“Only Free from Fellows responded. At this point, M&S had already written to me stating that they would remove the name.
“For me, this highlights the need for better awareness about just how problematic the word midget really is.”
Word’s ‘dehumanising’ origins
In her recent book Disability Hate Speech, Dr Pritchard argues that the word midget should be seen as a form of hate speech due to its origins in Victorian freak shows.
“Often referred to by people with dwarfism as the m-word, it is a term derived from the word midge, meaning gnat or sandfly,” she wrote in Big Issue North. “Its origin automatically dehumanises people like me. It was a term popularised during the Victorian freak show, where many disabled people, including people with dwarfism, were oppressed and exploited.”
After being contacted by The Telegraph about Dr Pritchard’s approach, Tesco released a statement saying it would be "reviewing" the name of its Midget Gems, with a view to changing it to something else.
A Tesco Spokesperson said: “Everyone is welcome at Tesco and we would not want any of our products to cause offence. We are grateful to Dr Pritchard for bringing this to our attention and we will be reviewing the name of this product.”
Foods that changed their names