Children may have different preferences, but even the most car-mad child doesn’t play with cars ALL the time. It’s important that children get a wide range of play experiences to help them develop different skills. So why can’t a session of crashing toy cars be followed by cooking up some plastic lunch?
And different styles of play don’t necessarily mean different toys. Children might approach the same toy but in a different way. For example one child may take two dinosaurs and set up a role play, another might engage the dinosaurs in a battle! But a dinosaur is not intrinsically a male or female toy. Allowing children a wide variety of toys enables them to explore their imagination, so there’s really no reason to mark off certain toys “for boys” and others “for girls”.
In homes and daycare settings boys and girls play together every day – why do toy retailers want to tell them they’re doing it wrong?
We’re not denying that there may be some innate differences between boys and girls. That’s a debate for another time.
But it’s worth noting that even those who champion gender differences recognise that there is a lot of overlap between the two sexes in their skills and interests. This means many boys will enjoy playing with dollhouses and buggies and many girls will like to play with construction toys and science kits, and many kids will enjoy both.
It’s also worth noting that much scientific research relating to gender toy preference refers to older children who have already picked up messages from society about what they should play with.
Whilst no-one is stopping children physically, these signs are telling children what they are supposed to like. They reinforce the very real social stigma attached to children playing with the “wrong toys”. A parent might be happy for their child to play with whatever they want, but they may be afraid of their children being teased by their peers. This is especially true when it comes to boys playing with “girls’” toys, eg. toy kitchens, buggies and dolls. As any parent of a son will know, the taunt of being called a “girl” or “gay” is a common one for young boys.
And of course many, if not most, toys are bought as gifts, often by people who don’t know the child well. Falling back on tired gender stereotypes may be an easy option, but a child may never find out if they would enjoy a particular kind of toy if they’re never offered it.
If no one takes any notice of the signs then why keep them?
We’ve found from the many comments of parents on Facebook that children are actually putting down toys they want because they are in the ‘wrong’ aisle. We want children to feel comfortable choosing any toy they want.
The marketing industry spends millions on influencing children’s choices and these signs are part of that process. They are a small but real part of the wider pressure on children to keep within their gender norms.
We think it does matter. A lot. Child psychologists have shown that the toys children play with develop certain skills and reinforce certain interests.
Boys are encouraged to play with construction toys that hone their spatial skills whilst the toys labelled for girls are geared towards domestic tasks. This is clearly reflected in the gender imbalance in adult society where women are under-represented in the STEM industries whilst men rarely tend to be the primary care-giver for their children. This is a waste of talent and potential.
Similarly, whilst toys aimed at boys encourage activity and adventure, many girls’ toys send the message that appearance is what matters. It’s no surprise that the vast majority of adults with eating disorders are women.
Nothing at all! But pink is just one colour amongst many, yet it seems to be the only one offered to girls. As with toys, we would like girls to have a more varied choice.
Retailers and manufacturers use colour-coding to indicate whether a toy is for a boy or a girl. Children know this and choose their toys accordingly. But as we have seen, what is available in the two different colours differs greatly and effectively restricts children’s choices. The reality is that very few boys will play with pink toys because they fear being teased. Let’s reduce this stigma by taking down the signs.
It’s also worth noting that blue used to be the conventional colour for girls whilst red was the colour for boys. There’s no scientific basis for girls liking pink!
‘Girl’ and ‘Boy’ categories simply don’t make sense – we’ve seen magic sets, musical instruments and games and puzzles under ‘Boys’, and arts and crafts and Olympic mascots under ‘Girls’. This can’t possibly help shoppers find what they want. We suggest that retailers just say what is item is, not who it is for, to help shoppers find what they are looking for.
Plenty of big retailers, on and offline, manage to display their stock without resorting to gender. See our retailers page for more details.
Many shoppers are frustrated by these silly generalisations about what boys and girls like, and are now looking elsewhere for shops sell without these stereotypes and which categorise their products according to theme and function rather than gender. We’ve awarded over 50 such retailers with our Toymark award for good practice; for a shop near you see our directory of recommended retailers.
If you’re not sure what to buy a child, it would be a good idea to contact the parents and find out the interests of the individual child rather than make assumptions based on the child’s gender.
We’re not actually asking for all signs to be taken down, just those that are based on gender. Signs indicating theme and function will still help relatives to find a suitable present.
A child can, and should, enjoy playing with a wide range of toys. Just because a girl likes playing with toy kitchens doesn’t mean she won’t like playing with aeroplanes. Each child is an individual with a variety of interests. Why cut their imagination in half ?
This isn’t about political correctness. This is about doing the right thing by our children and giving them a real and varied choice. We believe in equality, but this isn’t about making children the same. It’s about giving children the choice to be individuals.
Besides, we all have to start somewhere!
Over the last few decades, pink and blue have been increasingly used by marketers to offer a two-way choice to customers: feminine versus masculine. Most children and adults now understand this shorthand, and will generally believe that something in blue is aimed at boys and something in pink is for girls only. We would love the toy industry to make use of all the colours in the rainbow, meaning that pink and blue can return to being just two more colours for children to choose from.
Although we are generally known as ‘Let Toys Be Toys’, we added ‘for girls and boys’ at the start of the campaign to make it clear that we were focusing on gender issues and also to challenge the toy industry idea that a toy is either for a boy OR a girl, not for boys AND girls.
As time has gone on we have tried to be more inclusive with our language. We recognise that gender identity is diverse and complex. That said, when speaking to retailers (and sometimes the general public) we often use language they will recognise and use themselves, for the purposes of clarity and accessibility. You might, for example, hear us refer to a child in a toy advert as a boy or girl based on their appearance although of course their biological sex or gender identity is not actually apparent.