Our new research shows that the promotional images used in toy catalogues fall back on the same old tired stereotypes, with only a handful of boys shown with dolls, and girls accounting for just 11% of the children shown with cars or other vehicles.
Our research looked at six 2016 Christmas toy catalogues (Smyths toys, Argos, Tesco Toys, The Entertainer, Early Learning Centre and Toys R Us) to see what messages children and other shoppers were being offered about boys’ and girls’ play.
How boys and girls are shown
As we found in our TV ads research last year, manufacturers’ promotional material shows children’s play in a very stereotypical way.
- Only 11% of children playing with cars or other vehicles were girls, and those girls were almost always shown with pink versions of toys.
- 97% of children playing with guns/weapons and war toys were boys.
- Only 13% of children playing at ‘caregiving’ activities were boys. Only one catalogue included any boys playing with fashion or baby dolls (Early Learning Centre).
- Girls were twice as likely as boys to be shown playing with ‘household’ toys. (Though many toy kitchens were pictured with girls and boys playing together.)
- Girls were twice as likely to be shown with art, craft and music toys.
- Boys were more than twice as likely to be shown with construction toys.
It was particularly disappointing to see no boys at all with dolls in the Toys R Us catalogue – we’d been pleased to see boys with dolls in 2013.
No labels, but grouping by gender
While none of the catalogues we looked at used ‘Girls toys’ and ‘Boys toys’ labels, there were still visual cues and groupings which were driven more by gender associations than logic.
For example, in the Smyths catalogue the sections were not labelled by gender, but ‘Fashion and Dolls’ includes toy kitchens, Lego Friends/Elves and collectibles like Shopkins as well as fashion and baby dolls, all with a pink page tag in the corner. This grouping only makes sense if it really means ‘Girls toys’. This matches Smyths instore layout, with Lego Friends and Elves with fashion dolls.
Similarly, the ‘Cars and construction’ section has a blue page corner for navigation, and includes science toys such as chemistry sets and telescopes, weapons like Nerf blasters and ‘spy’ toys as well as vehicles and building sets such as the rest of the Lego.
It’s not hard to showcase toys in a balanced way. Interestingly, science toys were often good examples – perhaps because there’s been so much attention given to the importance of encouraging both boys’ and girls’ interest in science.
Retailers appear to be ahead of most toy companies on this area. For example, Tesco’s own photography for their catalogue covers shows a boy and a girl together, playing in less stereotyped ways.
Early Learning Centre, which primarily sells its own toy lines, and therefore has more control over product photography than other retailers, was the only catalogue to include images of boys playing with baby dolls, and had far more balanced numbers of boys and girls playing with vehicles.
Last year French supermarket chain Super U in France set up their own photoshoot to generate less stereotyped images of children for their catalogue – this (subtitled) video showcases what they did.
Time to step up
Toy retailers are showing it can be done better – it’s time for the toy industry to apply some creativity to how they develop, present and promote toys, and stop pushing the same tired old stereotypes.
We’d like to see:
- An end to gender grouping of toys either in store or in catalogues – eg Lego Friends and Elves with other lego, dressing up and role play all together.
- More product photography that shows boys and girls playing together, just like they do in real life, and includes children in a more balanced way – eg by including girls in images of vehicles, and playing with vehicles that aren’t pink.