Abbie loves her train set, but is fed up of being made to feel there’s something strange about a girl liking trains. Can you help us find her more loco-loving girls and women?
Abbie, 7, has always loved trains. Says Mum, Kim, “Abbie finds it difficult to focus on a hobby, doesn’t really ‘do’ imaginative play, and often needs something to occupy her mind. Her train set is the one toy she has been faithful to for the past 5 years, and it was a sad moment to see it go.”
Abbie felt ready for a ‘real model train set’ which she could build, drive and create scenery for, so they sat down together to view the options on the Toys R Us website. Says Kim, “All well and good until she noticed we hadn’t clicked the ‘girl’ selection at the side. Dutifully I clicked and lo and behold, the two more expensive options, more suited to her age group, disappeared, including the one she had her eye on.
“‘It doesn’t matter, you can still ask for it,’ I said. ‘Train sets can be for boys or girls. After all, you are a girl and you like trains.’ But too late. Not only has she now decided that she doesn’t want a train set any more as ‘even the shop says they are for boys,’ she is now also doubting her confidence in her choice of toy, to the point of questioning why she doesn’t like the things that ‘normal’ girls do.”
Why categorise toys by gender?
Kim wrote to Toys R Us, but after a long period with no reply, finally took the question to Toys R Us UK Managing Director Roger McLaughlan. Abbie has been repeatedly bullied in school for her interests in superheroes, trains and dinosaurs, things which some of her peers think are strictly for the boys.
Why are adults in the toy industry backing them up?
Mr McLaughlan took the time to speak to Kim directly, explaining their decision to use filters because they are useful to shoppers who otherwise wouldn’t know where to start. We think this underestimates the majority of friends and relatives who know more about the children they shop for than their age and sex, or take the time to ask parents or carers about children’s interests. It also does a disservice to children, whose interests range more widely than the narrow pink and blue boxes of gender stereotypes.
Girls love trains!
Trains are amazing – who wouldn’t think so? Can you help us reassure Abbie that there are lots of girls – and women – who love railways too. If you know a train-loving girl, or even a female railway engineer, please let us know. Tweet pics and stories to us @LetToysBeToys or email us email@example.com and we’ll collect them together and make sure to pass them on to her.
We thought Kim’s email to Toys R Us explained the story so well we’ve reproduced it here in full with her permission:
“Dear Mr Mclaughlan,
“Firstly I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my email, and I am hoping this matter can be resolved.On 4th September I emailed the following to your customer services department at Toys R Us in the hope that my comments and complaint would be taken seriously and that an apology and explanation would be issued. Unfortunately I have received neither acknowledgement nor reply and so have been forced to bring this matter to your attention, not only with regards to the original complaint, but also with regards to the appalling customer service I have received: namely being ignored as a valued and long term customer.
My original email read as follows:
“My daughter recently decided to sell her old wooden toy train set, bought from yourselves, now that she is the grand old age of 7.
She is a child who finds it difficult to focus on a hobby, doesn’t really ‘do’ imaginative play, and often needs something to occupy her mind. Her train set is the one toy she has been faithful to for the past 5 years, and it was a sad moment to see it go.
“On the selling of the train set, she informed me that she would like to pursue her hobby more seriously and get into a ‘real model train set’ which she could build, drive and create scenery for. Fantastic, I thought, Christmas is just around the corner, finally we have found something she can really get stuck into and enjoy. I left it a week, then another week, still the same reply, “I would like a real model train set from Santa”.
“So today we decided to do some research, not knowing anything about model railways myself, and decided that a Hornby set would be ideal for her to begin her hobby. With much excitement we logged onto your website, having not been let down in the past, and typed Hornby into the search box. Up came 5 sets, 3 of which were train sets, 1 in particular which she liked the look of. All well and good until she noticed we hadn’t clicked the ‘girl’ selection at the side. Dutifully I clicked the selection, she is a girl after all, and lo and behold, the 2 more expensive and more suited to her age group disappeared, including the one she had her eye on. “It doesn’t matter, you can still ask for it” I said, “train sets can be for boys or girls, after all, you are a girl and you like trains”. But too late, the damage had been done. Not only has she now decided that she doesn’t want a train set anymore as “even the shop says they are for boys”; she is now also doubting her confidence in her choice of toy, to the point of questioning why she doesn’t like the things that ‘normal’ girls do.
“I feel that when a major toy retailer is so openly subjecting our daughters (and sons) to stereotypes this obvious there really is no hope of these ideas ever being challenged or our children ever reaching their potential outside these stereotypes.
“My daughter has previously been bullied at school on numerous occasions, largely for liking dinosaurs and (shock horror) for wearing Spiderman sandals. She now refuses to wear the sandals due to the taunts she received, and the reason why I am emailing is to point out that this kind of gender separation of toys (not even stating all the train sets were for boys, just the better quality/more expensive/older age group ones) is in reality no better than the childhood bullying my daughter has suffered.
I would appreciate a response to this email, at the very least I would like an explanation which I can pass on to my daughter – a young girl who happens to love trains. Then maybe she will be able to rise above the marketing “experts” who label toys in this way and find it in herself to have the confidence to be who she is and play with what she likes regardless of whether it is in the boys or the girls section of the shop. I would also like an apology to her for causing her such self doubt and disappointment in something she was so excited about.
“Ironically I would also like to point out that I was interested in what “Let Toys be Toys” would think of this matter and I came across the following, where you yourself clearly state:
‘Where possible we merchandise toys by product category, so customers can easily see the extensive range of toys we offer. All learning toys, for example, are merchandised together. The same is true for all categories, including sports toys, pre-school toys, construction sets, bikes, dolls, action figures and crafts. Ultimately, it is our intention to offer the widest range of toys possible to our customers and let them choose the right toy for their child irrespective of gender.’ (http://lettoysbetoys.org.uk/toys-r-us-did-they-get-it/ accessed 26/09/2014)
“This statement is precisely what your website and our experience have gone against.
“I will be forwarding a copy of this email to Let Toys Be Toys and therefore would hope that as Managing Director you will not only deal with my complaint in a mutually acceptable way, but will also take on board my comments as a customer and apply them to your future marketing strategy.
“Again I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to your response.”