Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion came down to meet Let Toys Be Toys campaigners at Whirligig, one of the first toyshops to be awarded the Let Toys Be Toys Toymark for their inclusive marketing approach. She explains why she supports the campaign.
Pink or blue. Visit a high street toy shop or browse a toy retailer’s website and you might come away with the impression that toys only come in two colours – princessy pink for girls and masculine blue for boys. Does this matter? The short answer is yes.
Pink tends to push girls towards a passive, decorative role, while blue qualities are more aligned with aggression and violence. Unfortunately, this gender stereotyping starts as soon as our babies are born. Babygrows for boys are often blue and adorned with diggers, fire engines, or other heavy machinery.
It’s not only the colour of toys that gender stereotypes young children. Boys’ toys are almost exclusively ‘butch’ – tractors, diggers, and action figures. Those marketed at their sisters are ‘girly’ – dolls, princesses and cuddly, cute soft toys.
Toys are crucial to learning and the type of toys our children play with really matters. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills. So both boys and girls are missing out when retailers predominantly market action, construction and technology toys to boys and social role play and arts and crafts toys to girls. Indicating to children that some forms of play are inappropriate to them because of their gender is life-limiting.
The ramifications of gender stereotyping in the early, formative years can be felt deeply in later life. As Early Years practitioner Leanne Shaw points out, “If girls are offered only princess clothes to dress up in, they will only act as princesses. They will be limited in their imagination, not having the opportunity to problem-solve how to put out the fire as a fire fighter, or to bandage up a limb as a doctor.”
The Let Toys Be Toys campaign is right to challenge retailers to stop limiting children’s interests, and it’s encouraging that a number of big toy brands including The Entertainer and Hamley’s have made the change. It’s a start and more need to follow.
Many independent retailers are ahead of the game. It is a joy to shop at Brighton creative toyshop Whirligig where the toys are organised by theme and function rather than along the tired gender stereotype lines of ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’. Children are encouraged to decide for themselves what is fun.
The young girl who today builds her own moving replica of Stephenson’s Rocket engine may be tomorrow’s leading engineer. And the young boy drawn to paint his own Russian dolls may become the Lucian Freud or David Hockney of his generation.
We owe our children that chance.
It will only happen if we let children be who they want to be. Starting with letting toys be just that, and no more.