Gender signs – what do independent toyshops think?

Over half of independent retailers say they think labelling toys for boys or girls is unnecessary or wrong – survey results. 


Post by Emily Griffiths.

In the survey, carried out by ToyShop UK and featured in Toy News magazine, just over half the retailers disagreed with labelling toys as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ toys, with a third (33%) seeing it as unnecessary, and just under a fifth (19%) seeing it as downright wrong.

What do the rest think?

Plenty of retailers do use gender signage – 44% say these signs are useful, saying that it’s what the customer expects, but only 4% see it as essential.

Says Victor Tan of ABC Zone in London, “Since our children are bombarded with gender stereotyping in their daily life anyway it’s more useful to categorise toys by gender.”

We don’t think the fact that these stereotypes are so pervasive is a good enough reason to reinforce them. Play should be a wonderful chance for children to explore the world and be themselves, free of unnecessary limits.

Organising toys by theme and type

Lego and construction toys labelled 'Construction'

Construction Toys at Morleys, Tooting, displayed with no need for gender labels. June 2013.

The best way to organise toys is to categorise by type or theme of toy, rather than by gender. Many independent retailers make a real effort to present and market toys to girls and boys, and we applaud them for doing so.

Sam Haggett from Moving Pictures agrees, stating, ‘Categorising by a shared theme like dress up, cars, wrestling, Star Wars or role play is fine. I do not feel that you need to head parts of your shop ‘boys’ or ‘girls’. Children will know what they like and will play with those items if they enjoy it.’

Why do some retailers dislike gender signs?

Carolyn Strand from Earlywhirly thinks that separating toys by gender is wrong, stating ‘we see no reason for doing so’ and that ‘overall, it’s bad for children’s development.’ Amanda Jones from Little Tiger Gifts agrees, stating ‘there are so many ways to categorise toys that I don’t think gender is necessary.’

Similarly, many retailers want children to be able to play with toys that develop their skills, regardless of gender. Linda Ladley from EcoToyStore says that they ‘focus on how [a toy] develops a child’, and Elaine Lambe from Littlesheep Learning agrees, says that ‘the only thing worse than putting toys into ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ categories is assigning stereotypical gender colours to something like a tea set which alienates children of the opposite gender.’

Time for change

We’re really happy to see so many retailers agreeing with Let Toys be Toys, many passionately so, and we applaud them for organising and displaying toys fairly within their stores. We’re disappointed though to hear that so many retailers do still find these outdated categories useful. Perhaps it’s time for everyone to think a bit more open-mindedly. This can benefit the retailers too.

Koolmami toys in Bristol displays toys by age.

Koolmami toys in Bristol displays toys by age.

For example, Rachel Alexander from Knot Toys changed the layout of her store based on customer feedback: ‘following a purchase by a friend – who bought a pirate ship for her three daughters – and a suggestion from a customer, who objected to our pirate toys being classed as boys toys and wanted to see girl pirates too, we re-categorised everything into style of toy rather than gender.’

Michael Hawkins from online toy and toyshop directory Toy Shop UK, who carried out the survey, said, ‘Every industry benefits from a good shake up now and then and we’re happy to help with some of the shaking’. We definitely agree.

For the full report on the survey, see page 24 of the May edition of Toy News.

See our Good practice toyshop gallery for more examples of how shops and online stores can display toys without gender labels.


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