At least it’s not all pink
In a bit of a diversion from the usual subject matter for this blog I’d like to say just a few words about the gendering of toys.
Why today? Well, today I popped in to our local WH Smith’s shop. For those of you not in the UK, WH Smiths is a chain of newsagents/stationers with a shop on most high streets in the country. They sell toys and games too, the quantity varying from store to store. Today, however, I actually noticed that the toys were divided into those for boys and those for girls.
This is an unsettlingly common practice, and one that a lot of people are trying to change. Why can’t toys just be toys? Sure, you can have sections for construction toys, cars, dolls, domestic toys, and stuff like that, but why do you need to send a message that girls shouldn’t really be building Lego spaceships, or boys shouldn’t be playing with baby dolls?
I know the counter argument that kids show this sort of preference anyway without any encouragement from adults or marketing, but I’m not sure I buy that. Are we really sure we aren’t projecting the biases ourselves? Whole can of worms, that one.
Anyway, I decided in this case that I’d not just post a picture on Facebook to farm likes from people who I know largely agree with me on this, but I would also send an email to WH Smith. I did my best to avoid being ranty and make my point in a polite and reasonably concise way. In the spirit of self-congratulatory and self-righteous blogging, I reproduce the text of my mail here…
I was in your Wantage store today and noticed that your toy section was divided into two sections: “Boys’ Toys” and “Pre-School & Girls’
I am a strong believer that toys are just toys and if a boy wants to play with toy pet animals, or a girl wants to play with Star Wars Lego (as my 7-year-old daughter does) then either is fine and to be encouraged. I know that simply labelling a shelf as for boys or girls does not actually limit play, but it does send a message of what society expects of our children and reinforces stereotypes, adding to the weight of pressure that discourages girls from being scientists and engineers as well as keeping boys from the caring professions, home making, and so on.
WH Smith is definitely not the worst offender in this regard, but I would still urge you to rethink how toys are presented in your stores to children and to the people who buy toys for them. Surely in this day and age we should be beyond simple gender stereotypes and should be doing our best to encourage all forms of creative play to all children so they can grow up to fulfil their potential free from centuries-old biases.
Thanks for your time.
Incidentally, if you are eagle-eyed, you may notice that in the girls’ section in the picture above there is a build-your-own pirate ship kit, which kinda throws the argument a bit. Though I can picture the little boy being given one of those: “But it’s a girl’s toy! I don’t want it!”
And finally, here is a nice infographic to help you tell if a toy is for boys or girls.