Home > Musings, Off-Topic > At least it’s not all pink

At least it’s not all pink

February 14, 2014

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.

Umm, isn't Lego, like, for everyone?

Umm, isn’t Lego, like, for everyone?

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’
Toys”.

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.

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Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,
  1. Tim
    February 15, 2014 at 1:20 am

    As the father of two young girls*, thank you for taking the time to contact them. This is a ridiculous way to categorise toys, and it would certainly stop me from shopping in whsmiths.

    *of course the gender of my children is irrelevant; this kind of display has a negative and limiting effect on all our kids.

  2. Rob
    February 15, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for commenting, Tim. I agree, this sort of thing limits boys as well as girls. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of response I get from Smiths. I’ll blog about whatever they say/do as and when.

  3. February 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Best not go to Smyths then – they have whole aisles that are either pink or ‘army style’

    • Rob
      February 18, 2014 at 10:47 pm

      There’s plenty of other places like that around, though particularly with one section being enormously pink. Smith’s aren’t the worst offenders by a long way, but they were the ones that I stumbled across and decided to write to.

  4. March 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Reblogged this on stay at home mum of 4 and commented:
    I have ‘stolen’ this post from my cousin’s blog, because it is a topic that has puzzled me for a long time. Why are toys advertised as gender specific?
    I have four boys and each one has demonstrated a ‘feminine side’ for want of a better phrase. They have all enjoyed putting make up on as toddlers or having their nails painted as young boys although as soon as they reach school age, they sadly become more self conscious and are less likely to share their pretty coloured nails with their friends. They have all played with dolls, W in particular owned several dolls, pushchairs and specifically asked for a pink car for Christmas when he was three. At that time in 2001 the only one I could find was a large Barbie convertible in neon pink he was thrilled! When T was four he dressed up in a Cinderella costume at play school and I have a wonderful photo but it was rather spoiled when five minutes later he was in floods of tears because another little boy had teased him about wearing a dress. As a mother I would dearly love to see other parents encouraging their children to play with EVERY type of toy and shops leading the way by not displaying so called boys toys and girls toys separately!

  1. February 17, 2014 at 7:51 pm
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