Let Toys Be Toys would like to put our support behind Laura Martin, who has twice written to Argos, asking them to present their toys in a more gender-inclusive fashion in their catalogue.
We would like to see Argos make a genuine effort to display their toys according to theme and function rather than gender, as is the case at present.
In a reply to Laura, Andrea Abbis, Toys Trading Manager, said Argos, “do not support the enforcement of stereotypes of any kind; not just by gender, but also race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.”
Their Autumn/Winter 2013 catalogue does little to support this statement when to comes to gender however; toys are indexed according to gender and the pages clearly differentiate by gender, with two distinct blocks of toys illustrated with almost entirely single-sex pictures of girls and boys respectively.
Gender stereotypes are entrenched throughout the latest Argos catalogue, in over 100 pages of toys. With few exceptions girls are shown playing with buggies, dolls and fashion toys, whilst boys are shown playing with toys such as guns, cars and action figures. As Laura Martin pointed out, very young children can’t read how toys are categorised, but will respond instantly to pictures. It’s obvious that children who see the current Argos catalogue are being sent strongly gendered messages.
Argos mentioned race in their reply, so to use race as a parallel – imagine the absurdity if 20 pages of pictures of black children followed 20 pages of photos of white children, each playing with different types of toy? Whilst it may not be the intention of Argos to limit toys to one gender only, it is disingenuous to suggest that this doesn’t happen. As Laura states in her letter, it only took a short browse of the catalogue for her daughter to be left in no doubt, “which toys were ‘for boys’… such as Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Octonauts, Thomas and Fireman Sam, which were previously favourites of hers. “
The effect of play on children’s choices
Argos themselves recently produced a report that draws a clear link between the play that adults enjoyed as children and their current careers.
To give some examples: Argos claimed that a toy in the “Sofia the first” range could develop the skills needed to become a “fashion/lifestyle stylist”. In their catalogue only girls play with these toys. Argos also claimed that the Nerf -Elite Rapidstrike CS18 may encourage the skills, courage, fairness and teamwork, needed to become a “policeman or woman”, predictably this toy is illustrated with a picture of a boy. (Of 16 Nerf blasters in the catalogue, only one shows an image of a girl).
There are two entirely separate pink and blue pages of dressing up outfits. No child could be in any doubt which kind of role play they are supposed to enjoy. Boys are action heroes who do things, girls are princesses who stand still and are admired.
Matching actions to words
If Argos are aware of the way in which toys hone the skills needed for certain careers, then they should also be aware of how important it is to show gender-inclusive images in their catalogue.
We would love to see Argos stand by the statements they made in reply to Laura. It’s easy to use the right words in reply to a letter, but to show that this was more than a PR exercise, Argos need to start with the use of gender-inclusive images and the categorisation of toys by theme instead of gender.