To say 2016 has been a turbulent year is something of an understatement, but we at Let Toys Be Toys have been able to take heart from successes including Buster Books becoming the 10th publisher to agree to #LetBooksBeBooks back in January, and being awarded the BRIO Prize in February in recognition of our work for the benefit and development of children and young people. Most encouragingly of all, our research at the end of this year found that boy/girl signage in the toy aisles seems to be well on the way out. We’ve also had plenty of media coverage and ever more engagement from our fantastic supporters. So in a nod to everyone who has tweeted us and contacted us with pictures and stories of sexist and stereotyped toys, we bring you our annual silliness awards…
Award for managing expectations
It has to be said that the magazine world is not known for busting stereotypes, still stuck as it often seems to be in a rigidly divided world of men’s and women’s ‘interest’ titles. However, these two US titles are particularly depressing examples of an unnecessary push to create different expectations and force girls and boys into different ‘worlds’. In this universe, boys are encouraged to explore a future with a range of options including astronaut, artist, firefighter or chef, while girls concentrate on achieving ‘dream hair’. Thanks to @annehelen, and sarcastic thanks to Monarch publishing and the Boy Scouts of America. For some inspiring examples of how magazines for kids can be done, take a look at our magazine review blog.
Award for literally putting girls and boys into boxes
At BM Stores, not content with the mere notion of boxing kids in with pink and blue stereotypes, you can buy a storage bench to put all that blue boys stuff in – or is it for the boys themselves? “@bmstores Not sure boys will fit in it. Could we use to store daughter’s toys instead?” commented @day_jess.
Meanwhile, more tedious blue and pink stereotypes on show on these ‘boy stuff’ and ‘girl stuff’ tins. “Literally everything on the boy’s tin is currently sitting on my desk, owned by me. So ridiculous, these tins” commented @sheawong.
Annual award for pointless repackaging
The Rubik’s cube is an excellent puzzle and a classic toy. Difficult to improve on it, you might think, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try. Here an Amazon search by @MsTT_EnglishY11 uncovered a ‘Boys Speed cube’, which one might assume to be a somehow more whizzy update on the original. Closer inspection reveals it looks exactly like every other Rubik’s cube.
Award for pushing faith to its limits
‘Bible stories for girls’ and ‘Bible stories for boys’ we are wearily familiar with and were highlighted in last year’s silliness blog. But this bible rebranding really takes the wafer. ‘Finally, a bible just for boys!’, it thunders. Yes, at last all that offputting girly god stuff has been cast into the wilderness in favour of ‘gross and gory Bible stuff’ and ‘interesting and humorous Bible facts’. Intriguingly, boys can also ‘learn how to become more like Jesus mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially,’ conjuring up images of the Messiah giving sermons on how to use beard oil and what conversational gambits you should use at cocktail parties. Brought to us by @revkatebottley, who said, ‘Because the bible isn’t patriarchal enough as it is apparently’.
Award for heartless stereotyping
These skeleton PJs on sale this Halloween at Lidl are something of a template for lazy gender stereotyping. The boys’ version is blue and girls’ version is pink. So far, so drearily predictable, but wait, there’s an added twist. The girls’ pyjamas feature a heart (actually two hearts – one in roughly the spot where you would expect a heart to be, the other inexplicably in the knee region). The boys’ skeleton, though, is devoid of a heart and instead draped with spiders and webs. Scary, in more than one way.
Award for minding the Gap
And we certainly minded the Gap this year, when our biggest Twitter kerfuffle of 2016 was prompted by this marketing email from the high-street clothing giant. ‘The little scholar’ was contrasted with ‘the social butterfly’, starting young with the notions that boys are brainy and can aspire to being Einstein (‘Your future starts here’), whereas girls should stick to being decorative (‘the talk of the playground’). Our tweet clearly struck a chord with those fed up with seeing this kind of marketing. More than one eagle-eyed commentator also spotted that Gap had apparently and very ironically misspelled Einstein on its t-shirt. Kudos to Let Clothes Be Clothes, our allies campaigning to see the back of this nonsense.
And so, as we wave goodbye to 2016 and hopefully some of the above kind of nonsense too, it only remains for us to wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to more positive change in 2017.
Guest blog by Janetta Willis (@jettawillis)