If you’ve ever wandered down the children’s aisles of a department store you’ll likely be struck with the strict segregation of the toys. Sugary pink princess dolls, frothy pink costumes and anything remotely glittery is reserved for girls, while boys can peruse the brawny action figures, science sets and super heroes.
The whole pink for girls, blue for boys is kind of how it’s always been right? But, when we’re making such strides in gender equality in the adult world shouldn’t we be looking to cull discrimination amongst the toys we give our little ones?
Case in point a space themed lunchbox in John Lewis that’s labelled as being for boys. It was brought to the attention of the Internet by a disgruntled dad earlier this week.
Taking to Twitter to share an image of the label on the navy printed lunchbox, which read: “Boys space print lunchbox”, dad and Politician, Joshua Peck called the store out for gender discrimination.
“Hey @johnlewisretail,” he wrote. “What is it about this lunchbox which makes it unsuitable for my daughter? Too science-y?”
John Lewis certainly aren’t the only ones seemingly guilty of promoting a clear girls Vs boys gender divide amongst their toys. Back in 2014 a seven-year-old girl called Maggie called out Tesco for labelling a selection of superhero toys “A fun gift for boys.” And before that another seven-year-old wrote a letter to Lego asking why “All the girl [Lego characters] did was sit at home, go to the beach and shop” while “the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people and had jobs, even swam with sharks.” To their credit, Lego, in response, developed a female scientist set, completel with dinosaur fossils, a telescope and a mini lab.
It may sound like a bit of a fuss over nothing, but toys help children to learn new skills and aid in their development. According to experts dolls, pretend kitchens and the like are good at teachings kids cognitive sequencing of events and early language skills. While building toys like Lego and puzzles teach spatial skills, which help set the groundwork for learning maths principals. So if we’re only allowing our children to play with one type of toy, it stands to reason that both sexes could be missing out on vital cross development skills.
Hardly surprising therefore that many parents seem to be concerned about the ongoing gender segregation of toys. According to new research, six out of 10 young mums want stores to stop categorising products as boys’ or girls’ clothes, books and toys. Instead they would prefer to be able to choose goods by age group, brand or type.
And it seems some toy manufacturers are listening. Last year Smyths Toys were praised for breaking down stereotypes with their gender positive television advert. Replacing Beyonce’s ‘If I were a boy’ with ‘If I were a toy’ the 40-second advert features a little boy called Oscar imagining what life would be like if he was a toy for a day. The advert begins by showing him turning into a rocket and flying through space, but goes on to challenge gender stereotypes by revealing his wish to be queen for the day and dress up in a pink dress and crown.
Though this is definitely a step in the right direction, a UK campaign called Let Toys Be Toys is seeking to take things a step further by urging all retailers to stop categorising toys and books for one gender only.
“Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity,” their website reads. “Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them. Isn’t it time that shops stopped limiting children’s imagination by telling them what they ought to play with?”
And former Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson has added her voice to the fight for toy gender equality. “Parents know that boys and girls love all kinds of toys,” she told Mother & Baby in 2014. “With children developing very clear ideas at a young age about what jobs boys and girls can do, we can all help to send a clear signal that nothing is off limits. It is great that fewer retailers are defining toys as “for boys’” or “for girls”, which shows they are responding to their customers’ demands for more choice. But there is still more to do. I hope this Christmas companies will be conscious of how they are marketing their products and make sure they aren’t accidentally limiting customers’ and children’s choices.”
In the grown-up world, we’ve worked hard to create a society where women and men are treated equally, and there are laws and legislations in place to enforce this. If we expect our children to be given equal opportunities when they grow up, we need to start teaching them that when it comes to toys, just as in life there is no girls-only or boys only divide. And abolishing one-sex only toy segregation can only help to do that.
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