Parliamentary debate on toys and gender

toys gender stereotypes marketing advertising retailers manufacturers debate

Let Toys Be Toys were delighted to see the gender-specific marketing of toys debated in Parliament last week, tabled by Chi Onwurah, MP for Central Newcastle and Cabinet Office Shadow Minister.

It was great to see the campaign mentioned several times, and MPs from the three main parties expressing support for our aims.

“I can think of few questions which occupy parents of young children more than how they can reach their full potential……To quote the name of one of the foremost campaigning groups on this subject – why we need to let toys be toys.” Chi Onwurah MP


Chi Onwurah gave an impassioned speech at Westminster Hall on 5th February, on the limiting implications of gendered marketing of children’s toys and its increasing encroachment in recent years.

Chi, herself an electrical engineer, spoke about girls’ career choices and the continuing under-representation of women in STEM careers. Drawing a link between this and the early segregation of toys, she highlighted the frequent labelling of science toys as ‘boys’ toys’.

Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, Sir Peter Luff added his voice to the debate, saying;

“This is an immensely important subject….These kinds of issues do shape girls’ attitudes, particularly to STEM subjects and we must address them if we are to address the serious gender gap in engineering and science subjects.”

Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, Jenny Willott also showed her support;

“it’s wrong to limit children’s horizons from such an early age, they should be free to find out where their interests lie. Children learn through play, it’s how they develop skills and interests.”

The debate received overwhelmingly positive and widespread media coverage, with stories appearing on websites such as BBC News and Sky News.  Plenty of good discussion around the issue of gender-specific toy marketing was generated, with a few lively debates taking place on the radio the following day, including BBC Radio Wales’s Morning Call with Oliver and 5 Live Breakfast – the latter featuring a particularly pertinent contribution from Science Grrl‘s Anna  Zecharia.

Some papers chose to summarise differently, with one paper claiming that a Government minister had said “Parents who dress their daughters in pink and force them to play with dolls are holding back the economy” while another suggested the debate was about “…the theory that the colour pink makes women weak”.

On BBC Radio Newcastle right-wing political blogger Paul Staines (aka @GuidoFawkes) called the ministers “interfering busybodies”, oblivious to the fact that it is the interference in the lives of children that we are trying to stop, or as a user called E-J put it on Twitter:

But the final words on all of this must go – along with our heartfelt thanks for raising this issue in Parliament – to Chi Onwurah:

“With such a cross party consensus and active campaigning organisations such as Let Toys Be Toys, Pink Stinks , Science Grrrl and Everyday Sexism, I have hopes we will see real change.”

“This is not about saying that boys should be playing with cookery sets, or that girls should, or must, be playing with engineering sets, but about letting them and their parents have the choice, free from external pressures.”



  1. Lesley Carline

    Why have we gone backwards, I bought my 3 girls Lego and Meccano, toys were toys in the 70’s/80’s. I, and my daughter’s who are now mums themselves, are increasingly frustrated to see the toys on offer now, for example my 6 year old grandaughter recieved a popular ‘kitten’ brand toy house as a birthday present that contained a mirror and scales and I don’t mean food scales, although that would have been bad enough!

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