The 2014 Let Toys Be Toys Silliness Awards

It’s been another terrific year for the Let Toys Be Toys campaign and our offshoot, Lets Books Be Books, with some notable successes including Usborne and Ladybird Books, not to mention plenty of publicity and media attention.

Nonetheless every day we receive tweets and images from our supporters showing that our work is far from done. So, as last year’s Silliness Awards proved so popular, we have once again reviewed the year to bring you the most nonsensical, convoluted and downright ridiculous examples of gendered marketing that 2014 had to offer.

Award for killing the magic ☹

MagicThere’s no doubting that the world of magic has something of a sexist backstory (women were only allowed into conjurors’ clique The Magic Circle in 1991), but rather than helping consign this unfortunate bias to the dustbin of history, with no little sleight of hand, Marvin’s Magic decided instead to bring us a magic kit range aimed unequivocally at girls, called Mizz Magic. Ladies and gentlemen, before your very eyes, disappeared are swishing black capes, top hats and complicated strings of hankerchiefs, to be replaced by pink packaging and a range of products such as Secret Illusion Box and Secret Wand. Hey presto, Marvin, we have a winner!

Award for putting a sinister spin on ordinary household objects

Sellotape Pritt stickClearly not having read the caustic Amazon reviews of the quite legendary BiC For Her Ballpoint pen, we’ve had a number of entries in this category this year. There was bath gel, toothbrushes, and then there was Sellotape Just For Girls (“Girls sellotape! You know, for when that other ‘boys sellotape’ is too difficult! #Nonsense” tweeted @SkintLondon), but pipping them to the post was the even more enthusiastically gendered Pritt Just 4 Girls!, as reported by HuffPost back in March. Pritt Just 4 Girls! (“Colour & Glue in One”) – for of course what self-respecting girl could be expected to deal with bog-standard adhesive without a reassuring pink hue? Tacky. Yes indeed.

Award for the stuff of bad dreams

Top science bod Professor Alice Roberts brought this one to our attention in November:

Depicted in the advertising for these Snurk duvet sets are boys as pirates and astronauts and girls as princesses and ballerinas – and we all sleep easy that no stereotypes were challenged in the marketing of this product*.

Award for making a new annoying thing out of a thing that was perfectly fine to begin with

origamiThis award is in the tradition of last year’s Jenga Girl Talk and that pink globe, which in turn bring to mind Saturday Night Live’s spoof (but eerily prescient) Chess for Girls. This year it was the turn of dear old origami, the ancient and quietly impressive art of paper-folding where birds, butterflies and the like are painstakingly created out of scraps of card. A refreshingly ungendered pastime you might think. But no, origami it seems is in need of gender tweaking. The result: Origami for Her and Origami for Him, where you can make anything you want – as long as it conforms to someone’s idea of what ‘men and boys’ or ‘girls of all ages’ should be interested in.

Award for leaving a bad taste in the mouth

PombearFrom those pesky pink and blue Kinder eggs to the sexist pickles that were shared on our FB page, and gendered ham, this year we’ve certainly had our fill of manufacturers trying to make out that food should be packaged differently for boys and girls or men and women. But our winner for sheer sickliness has to be these ‘Only for boys’ and ‘Only for girls’ German versions of Pom Bears crisps, which come in two flavours, ‘wild paprika’ and ‘sweet paprika’ – no prizes for guessing who gets what.

Award for blinkered vision

binocularsThere are some times when the uselessness and sheer insultingness of the pointlessly gendered product hits you squarely in the eyes – and this is particularly the case with the Girly Girl Binoculars from Wild Republic…



Special Award for missing the point completely

This gong goes to the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who earlier this month saw fit to pour scorn on the aims of campaigners who seek to end the gender divide in toys (as reported in The Independent):

The Australian Prime Minister has dismissed a campaign against gendered toys, saying people should “let boys be boys and let girls be girls”.

Tony Abbott put the No Gender December campaign, similar to Britain’s Let Toys Be Toys, down to “political correctness”.

tonyabbott-1Now, as we’re sure that we don’t need us to remind you, the desire to let boys be boys and girls be girls, whatever and however that may be, lies at the very heart of our campaign and we can reassure Mr Abbott that we are in full agreement on this point.

The ‘Know Your Place Kids’ Award

A special mention in this category goes to Smyths Toys with their dogged insistence that only girls are nurses and only boys are doctors (and with scant regard for the facts – GMC figures show that in 2012 55% of medical students were female):

But the award for the most jaw-droppingly sexist toy packaging we’ve seen this year goes to this delightful range of It’s Girl Stuff dollies, handed out by Santa at a chain of garden centres.  C’mon girls – make sure your hair looks good before you do the cleaning! It wouldn’t do for anyone to see you not looking your best… while you SCRUB THE FLOOR…  Because preening and cleaning sum up every thing a girl could wish for.

And that, folks, brings us to the end of our award season, and all that remains for us is to wish you all a very Happy New Year, and here’s hoping that 2015 will bring fewer glaring examples of the sexist and the silly for us to consider this time next year.


*However, kudos to John Lewis for including these duvet sets in their recent Children’s Rooms catalogue and managing to mix things up a bit:



  1. Ron

    I just read your article about gender in toy marketing for 2014. I agree very much with your comments but have a question of my own. I wonder about your own agenda since every product discussed showed a bias toward girls, except in the few cases in which both boy and girl versions were shown. Is this a feminist rant or are we actually talking about gender equality? If we are looking for gender equality this article seems to be only looking at the proximate issues, not the ultimate ones. This is equivalent to having cough drops to cure a cold. The real issue lies much deeper than the color or packaging of a product “the cough drop”. The real answers are much more difficult and ingrained in our society but that doesn’t mean they are insurmountable. In the end my point is that your article, however correct, is only a bandaid in the larger picture of actual gender equality. I hope for a better tomorrow for all people, boys and girls, men and women, and all the myriad of people who fall on different points of that spectrum.

    • Hi Ron,
      The article aims to be a fairly lighthearted look at some of the most ridiculous examples of gendered marketing – these do tend to bias towards the ‘crazy pink’. Do please share any equally daft ‘Boys’ examples you’ve seen: since M&S and Next have thankfully removed their ‘Boy stuff’ ranges we haven’t seen any really extreme examples this year. As this discussion shows, we and our supporters recognise that the limits placed on boys’ choices are just as much a problem:

      The Let Toys Be Toys campaign aims to highlight how sexist marketing to children connects with the serious inequalities we see in wider life: We hope that by getting people to think about the importance of what we tell children about girls and boys, men and women, we can try and work towards that better tomorrow.

  2. Alan

    How about a new campaign to let kids play with whatever toys THEY want ….. neither pushing them towards traditional stereotypes nor trying to disuade them from choosing those stereotypes if the child itself wants them?

    • Hi Alan,
      No new campaign required. Take a look at what Let Toys Be Toys is asking for:

      There’s nothing wrong with a girl choosing a doll or a boy choosing a car – those are both great toys, for boys and girls. Where we have a problem is if either child is only ever offered one of those, or feels that one of them is ‘off limits’.

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