Let toys be toys
18th December 2013
This week, Marks & Spencer announced it would make all its own-brand toys gender neutral by spring 2014 after complaints its marketing promoted gender stereotypes. M&S follows retailers like Debenhams, The Entertainer and Hobbycraft, who have already made changes to their packaging and signage.
I began to notice the problem a few years ago while working as a presenter on Newsround. Shops always separated their toy sections for boys and girls. Apparently boys should be playing with action figures, racing cars and dinosaurs and girls should be pretending to be princesses. Boys should be adventurous and girls should be nurturing. It was all so outdated. The amount of pink on the girls’ shelves made me nauseous. I just couldn’t understand why gender, rather than genre, should dictate marketing in the 21st century.
This year, when I told family and friends I was having a daughter, a few people commented on how our life would now be full of pink. After all, that’s the only colour many clothing and toy manufacturers make available for those buying for girls. As it turns out, I dress my baby girl in quite a bit of blue – not because I’m trying to make a political statement via my daughter – but because most of her cousins are boys and so her hand-me-downs are babygrows aimed at boys. I also happen to really like the colour blue.
When I was a kid, I never fitted the stereotype. I loved science, climbing trees, kicking my younger brother in the head AND making flowers from ribbon, colouring in and cooking. I was more into cars – my toys ones and counting real ones on the road - than my Barbie and Ken dolls.
Now I’m all grown up, I love cars and girly shoes (though men can wear heels if they want!) in equal measure. The only reason I have more shoes than cars is because they’re more affordable. I also enjoy watching my nephews cooking me invisible food in their play kitchen and I look forward to the day my daughter stuffs her doll into a dumper truck.
The campaign group Let Toys Be Toys says high street stores are less sexist this Christmas, but there is still a way to go. What we need now is for ALL toy manufacturers and retailers to grow up and change their products and marketing. The only message they should be sending out to kids is that they can be whoever they want to be.
Watch this brilliant advert for an engineering toy for girls that earned more than 7 million views in a week.