About Let Toys Be Toys

Let Toys Be Toys is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them.

Isn’t it time that shops stopped limiting children’s imagination by telling them what they ought to play with?

The answer is simple – we’re asking retailers, booksellers and manufacturers to sort and label toys and books by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let the children decide which toys they enjoy best.

About Let Toys Be Toys

We’re a grassroots campaign that grew out of a thread on parenting site Mumsnet which brought together parents frustrated by the increase in  marketing and promotion to children that pushed narrow stereotypes.

None of us is paid; there’s no budget. We do this because we think it matters for children. Find out why we think gendered marketing matters.

What we’ve achieved so far – retailers

Through our petition asking retailers to Let Toys Be Toys, our letters to retailers and the help of our amazing supporters on Twitter and Facebook , fifteen retailers have made changes, or promised to do so.  For example, The Entertainer,  Boots and Debenhams have all taken down  ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ toys signage in their stores, Marks and Spencer pledged to make all their toy ranges inclusive, and John Lewis removed boy/girl gift guides from their website, and after working with our sister campaign Let Clothes Be Clothes, changed their clothing product labelling to be more inclusive.

Catalogue - girls shown playing with toy prams

Only one catalogue (ELC) included any boys in images of baby dolls and prams.

Our 2016 survey in the run up to Christmas found no ‘boys’ or ‘girls signs in stores, and a 70% drop in gender labels and navigation on websites. Retailers are making great progress in moving away from directing children’s interests by gender.

However, our 2017 research into how children are represented in toy catalogues shows that children’s play is still represented in very stereotypical ways, with boys four times as likely to be shown playing with cars, and girls twelve times as likely to be shown with baby dolls.

For more detail on how retailers have responded see our Who’s doing what? page, and take a look at our Before and after gallery.

words used in TV toy ads featuring boys. Most prominent: battle, control, power, adventure, blast, build, action, launch, rescueIn 2015 we looked at the stereotypes in TV toy ads, and found a marked contrast in how girls’ and boys’ play is shown, and the language used.

In 2014 we surveyed toy retailer websites, and found a 46% reduction in the use of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ gender labelling in website navigation, compared with our initial survey in 2012.

In 2013 we launched our Toymark good practice award scheme, as a way of recognising and promoting book and toy retailers that are marketing their products inclusively to all children.  We have now awarded over 50 toy and bookshops in the UK.

You can find out more about the campaign’s tactics and approach, and how it works behind the scenes in this interview with the Advocacy Iceberg podcast.

What we’ve achieved – books

Our Let Books Be Books petition asks publishers to stop labelling story and activity books as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’. The launch of the petition for World Book Day 2014 gained widespread media coverage, and support from authors and media organisations. Usborne publishers announced they would no longer be publishing new titles labelled in this way, and nine other publishers have now followed suit.  The Independent newspaper pledged not to review any titles which are explicitly labelled ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’.

Find out more about our Let Books Be Books campaign.

Resources for schools

We have been working with teachers to develop lesson plans and other resources to help challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom, plus resources for people working in nurseries and other early years settings.


In March 2016, we were honoured to win the BRIO prize from the Lennart Ivarsson Scholarship Foundation. In March 2015, we won Westbourne Comms Change Opinion award for Advocacy, and in May of that same year received the Care2 Impact prize.  We were shortlisted for a National Diversity Award for Community Organisation in 2014, and in 2013, we won the Progressive Preschool Marketing Award.

Support us

If you agree that children should be free to decide for themselves how they want to play, here’s how you can help.