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Let toys be toys

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Christmas is looming but is it now harder than ever to buy gender-neutral gifts for our children?

As I launched myself, bleary-eyed, into another week, I was bombarded by constant reminders that now December has begun it is ‘nearly’ Christmas.

My daughter is five in January and I’m acutely aware that this may be the first Christmas that she will remember in years to come.

And I always get a little insane around this time of the year and I expect  this time I’ll go even further overboard.

It seems that I am not alone.

Mega Monday‘, on 3 December, demonstrated that the heart of Christmas today, commercialism, is beating strong.

Recession or no, Visa Europe predicted 6.8 million online sales with £320m being spent, a 21 per cent  increase on the same time last year, making it the busiest shopping day ever.

By 11am John Lewis claimed it was receiving two orders a second and had more than doubled its total sales, while Marks and Spencers broke their sales per minute record by lunchtime.

I will be joining the masses and doing the bulk of my shopping online. But while the convenience of shopping from home is a draw, my main motivation is the variety provided by virtual shops.

When shopping for gender-neutral toys for children, variety really is something you have to hunt for.

Since having my daughter I have been appalled at the sexism and gender stereotyping that goes on.

The associated marketing to parents begins before you even give birth via the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ sections of Mothercare and the like but the children become direct targets frighteningly early.

It is so pervasive and subtle that it seems almost insurmountable.

Despite a conscious effort to teach my daughter that she can play with cars and boys can push pushchairs or that pink and blue are lovely colours, but what does she think about green or yellow – her regularly touted favourite colour - she has, to my dismay, informed me that boys like blue and girls like pink and that cars are ‘boys toy’s’ dolls, ‘girls toys’.

Most of the year this is an issue that has little direct impact on my shopping experience. But at Christmas, when stocking fillers are high on my list, being confronted by a wall of pink and blue, ‘helpfully’ labelled ‘girls toys’ and ‘boys toys’ is enough to set my blood boiling.

Girls, apparently, only want to play with dolls, fluffy animals and plastic cooking and cleaning equipment while their male counterparts are busy crashing cars, fighting with robots and sticking themselves together with all things gooey.

When you start looking at these shelves in more detail it is quite sickening how soon the brain-washing - for that is what this is - begins.

This is what inspired sisters Abi and Emma More to form Pink Stinks, in 2008. The organisation aims to work towards a gender-neutral environment for children to play in.

Alongside a number of campaigns, the website provides a useful resource for parents looking to find suitable, gender-neutral books, clothes and toys.

I am routinely frustrated by the lack of dolls that aren’t doused in pink and frills or espousing a life of make-up, fashion and shopping.

There is the slightly more to rufty tufty Lottie who is much more age-appropriate, but she is still heavy on the cutesy pinks and pastels.

It’s not just dolls; the spread of pink and blue effects even the most neutral of toys.

A few days ago 13 year-old Mckenna Pope started a petition on change.org to demand a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven from Hasbro for her chef-in-the-making brother.

Elsewhere toy catalogue Top Toys made headlines last week for mixing gender-stereotypes in their Swedish catalogue. The girls got guns while the boys had fun with dolls.

It came a long three years after the Swedish Advertising Standards Authority reprimanded them for a catalogue that ‘preserved an anachronistic view of the sexes’ and showing both boys and girls in a ‘disparaging way’.

Even Lego was accused of turning the clock back with the launch of their ‘Lego for girls’ range, Lego Friends, earlier this year. The colours, look and feel and perhaps more importantly branding and marketing pander to and perpetuate the belief that all girls want is pretty colours and hairdressing salons!

A blogger over at Gizmodo points out that the Lego pieces are standard ones in different colours and that we shouldn’t be so offended by it, arguing that, although he doesn’t like the branding, it might draw girls into playing with Lego.

I’d argue that that is part of the problem; by repeatedly force-feeding our children with these ridiculous ‘rules’ around toy use, we are creating a scenario where girls won’t play with anything that isn’t pink and boys wouldn’t be seen dead holding a doll.

We talk about gender differences, and it is a massive area of study. But with the toy world the way it is right now, and the cynical marketing that goes on from (pre)birth, it is practically impossible to know how much of those differences are down to nurture (or brainwashing) over nature.

Emma Moore, from Pink Stinks, has this to say :“The question which we constantly ask is ‘who benefits from this?’ because by segregating children’s play from the moment they’re born, we certainly don’t think that children do.

“This kind of marketing is purely that – a marketing tactic which boosts profits, and it’s high time we – as parents and consumers - voiced our concerns loudly and take our purchasing power elsewhere.

“Choose wisely this Christmas. Let toys be toys and kids be kids.”

  1. There is also a new campaign called ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ asking retailers in the UK and Ireland to stop promoting toys as ‘just for boys’ or ‘just for girls’ – with departments, signs, colour-coding and so on.

    The petition is here. and the campaign’s Facebook page is here .

    Please do join, like, sign and support the campaign!

    I hope that retailers will realise that they have a responsibility to their youngest customers, as they are helping to shape their opportunities to play. I don’t think it is necessarily even good for the profits of retailers to divide the whole world of play into ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ categories.

    If toy stores were arranged by themes they might not sell more Action men or more Barbie dolls than they would have done otherwise, but they wouldn’t sell less. Meanwhile they might sell more baby dolls, dolls houses, science toys, construction toys and arts and crafts if they broke these toys out of the pink/blue divide.

  2. Totally agree. I’m involved in a new campaign, also called ‘Let Toys be Toys’, only started very recently by a group of parents. There’s a fb and twitter page and a petition. A website will appear v.shortly. We’ve been on BBC TV and radio this week and have other media projects underway. Would be great if you could help out, spread the word, and help get as many people involved as possible; https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/pages/Let-Toys-Be-Toys-For-Girls-and-Boys/104658933034521

  3. sue tapply says:

    More on this issue in The Independent: Toys story! The battle of the sexes
    New campaign calls on shops to classify toys by theme, not gender

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/toys-story-the-battle-of-the-sexes-8395996.html

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