There’s been a lot of media attention to John Lewis’ announcement of a commitment to avoid gender stereotypes – here’s our take.
We think this is great news. We recognise that clothing raises different issues to toys and books, which is why we leave clothes to our sister campaign Let Clothes be Clothes. But this commitment fits really well with our campaign aim that parents and children should be able to choose what interests them, without being directed by gender.
John Lewis have been with the trend on taking gender out of toy retail. Over half the stores we surveyed in 2012 used ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ signage in toy sections – John Lewis was not one of them. Our 2016 survey found no such signs in UK stores. We were really pleased to note in 2016 that John Lewis had dropped their online ‘Toys for Girls’ and ‘Toys for Boys’ gift guides too. The use of gender labels and navigation on toy websites has dropped by 70% since 2012.
‘Gender neutral’ provokes a response
John Lewis actually changed their labelling some time ago – the announcement today is a public commitment to avoid stereotypes. Once again, it seems like it’s the use of the term ‘gender neutral’ that seems to provoke a strong knee-jerk response from people. We saw the same thing happen recently with the BBC 2 documentary No More Boys and Girls, mostly from people who hadn’t seen the programme.
Just as with toys, taking down signs and labels doesn’t stop boys being boys, and girls, girls. If we see the change as ‘boys and girls having a free choice of the clothes/books/toys they like’, it perhaps doesn’t worry people as much. And that’s all this is about.
“We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes and instead want to provide greater choice.” John Lewis
Not such a big deal for shoppers
Concerns that taking down ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signs in toy stores meant throwing everything in a pile were clearly unfounded. Fourteen retailers have taken down signs since our campaign began, and people are finding dolls just fine under a sign that says ‘dolls’ instead of ‘girls’. John Lewis kids’ clothing sections are largely already organised by clothing type anyway (eg nightwear, outdoor, school), and other stores already do this: eg Mountain Warehouse.
JL been doing this for a while. This Jan17 top is a great example. Bcoz Why wouldn’t girls also like dinosaurs that glow in the dark? pic.twitter.com/9qeVHtgOsl
— Leyla Yildirim (@leylahay) September 4, 2017
But quite a big deal for kids
Planning ranges by gender, whether it’s toys or clothing, can’t help but end up drawing on stereotypes about boys and girls, teaching children that boys and girls interests and abilities are totally different.
Designing for children should result in product ranges that cater for a variety of tastes and interests, from superheroes to sparkles (and maybe even both) allowing boys and girls alike to have fun, play in comfort, and be themselves.