Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Late last year I was privileged to be part of the founding of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. Growing out of parents’ increasing frustration at the labelling of toys as being for boys or for girls this grassroots campaign has had a lot of publicity and a fair amount of success at persuading some major stores to change their signs and websites so that toys are categorised by function (science toys, construction toys, home play toys etc) instead of by gender. Although I am no longer involved with the campaign I follow and support them avidly.

However supporters are increasingly being attacked by people who accuse them of all sorts, from not having enough to worry about to being told that “The women complaining are probably tree hugging,vegetarian, stone henge visiting eco pricks!! What boring lives you must lead!!! Get out more, let your hair down,stop revolving your lives around things that dont matter, bloody pale faced, plain jane cunts!” (That was on the Boots UK Facebook page today).

Even a former friend who is an intelligent mother of two and teaches a male-dominated subject felt that this campaign was a waste of time when there are more important issues to worry about. To her and all the other people who genuinely can’t see what the fuss is about, I would like to explain.

The fact is that advertising influences people. We all know that. But children are more vulnerable to it than adults because they haven’t developed the kind of critical thinking and scepticism needed to see through advertising. Children are literal and if they are led to believe that a toy is meant for only one gender then they will accept that as a fact.

A common argument is that just because, say, a science kit is labelled as being for boys it doesn’t mean that it can’t be bought for a girl. And of course this is true. However it is an overly simplistic attitude and fails to recognise the socialisation that takes place during childhood. Many parents have tales of a child being put off a toy or activity once they perceived it as being for the other gender.

Major retailers in the UK habitually classify dolls and home play toys as for girls. Because of course men don’t have children or do housework do they? Oh wait… Meanwhile science and construction toys are commonly labelled as being for boys. Even toys that you would assume even the worst offenders would think were gender neutral, such as craft kits and board games, are segregated (craft is for girls and board games for boys, apparently).

Did you know that only 13% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs in the UK are occupied by women (source: WISE)? Labelling STEM toys as being for boys is not going to help change that. We need to put a stop to this idiotic trend and we need to do it now.

I have both a daughter and a son. I am raising them both to be kind, loving, nurturing, able to do housework and know that they can achieve anything, have any job or career they want to. I don’t think this is unreasonable, so why do toy manufacturers and retailers?

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Comments on: "When is a toy not just a toy?" (19)

  1. Since publishing this post the personal attack that I quoted in the second paragraph has been removed from Facebook.

  2. Agreed, 100%. I get so angry when I walk through toy shops and am faced by aisles of shiny pink crap and then aisles of shiny blue crap. I deliberately bought my daughter a GREEN box of Duplo for her birthday – yes, even bloody Lego is gender specific now.
    Also I know a woman who won’t let her daughter have Fireman Sam toys. Because they’re for boys. I want to shake her. What the hell does she think is going to happen if her little girl plays with a bloody fire truck…

    • Well she might grow up wanting to be a firefighter! Not sure why that would be so awful though. Fortunately I don’t have friends who think like that but I hear it in supermarkets all the time and it makes me so sad for the children.

  3. I have not been too affected by this yet…..I think shopping online is they way forward 🙂 Maybe I am less sensitive to it as my son can’t read yet. Although I was in a charity shop with him yesterday and the assistant made a comment about how he shouldn’t be playing with a pink doll’s house. Yeah, I made my views on that on that pretty clear. In a nice way of course 😉

  4. It’s hard enough trying to overcome the several lifetimes of gender bias in my life without manufacturers getting in on the act. Hate labelling. Glad Boots have recognised their mistake

  5. That ‘former’ friend avidly follows your blog.
    Such a shame that you cannot see her views as equally valid as your own.

    • All views are valid, but sometimes not all pertinent information has been considered. We all do it, that’s why our views often change over time. It always surprises me when intelligent people dismiss issues like this as being of no importance – but nowhere have I said that their views are invalid.

      • But what you are assuming is that these views haven’t been considered wholly and a different opinion has been formed based on all the facts presented. And by using the term ‘intelligent people’, you are insinuating that intelligent people should logically hold the same opinion as you.

        In fact my views are based on a number of studies that I am reading for an academic paper on why girls don’t take up STEM subjects. If, during this I find scientific evidence that gender-specific toys makes a difference then I will u-turn immediately. In fact, from current research, it appears that teaching methodologies have a far greater impact on the subjects that girls choose later in life. One huge factor in this was the change to comprehensive education in the UK and the change in teaching that this brought.

      • No, by using the term ‘intelligent people’ I am implying that intelligent people are more likely to have an informed opinion instead of a knee-jerk reaction. That said people can look at what seems to me to be an obvious problem and form a different opinion does surprise me sometimes but that doesn’t mean that I am right and they are wrong. I haven’t said that.

        If you read the post you will have seen that I am not claiming that segregating toys by gender prevents girls being interested in STEM subjects. But it sure as hell isn’t going to help encourage them and with the figures as damning as they are we need to do everything we can to encourage girls’ interests in these areas as well as all others.

  6. I don’t think the campaign is a waste of time and I would love to see a change in toy industry. My biggest problem is the choices on offer if you conform to the gender stereotypes; girls get cookers, dolls and ironing boards while boys get robots, dinosaurs and spacemen. How do you encourage creative play with an ironing board? I only have a son so in a way I have less to worry about but the choices he gets shouldn’t be down to a 50/50 chance.

    • We don’t have an ironing board at home. The first time DD’s preschool had a ‘home’ corner she amused the teachers by asking if the toy ironing board was a surf board! Maybe you could try that? 😉

      • Ha ha! We should trust their instincts, they know how to think creatively! George is very fond of the ‘home corner’ in his nursery but I don’t think he understands it is meant to be a scaled down kitchen, he just likes opening and shutting doors.

      • My youngest is very into that at the moment too – show him a door and he’s there!

  7. Totally agree with your views on the toys. But what about the colour of clothes? A general, from a distance view of the ‘girls’ section leaves it in no doubt its for the little princess in your life. Pink everywhere- I’m sure girls would like to wear blue sometimes but they don’t seem to be given the chance.

    • Yes, that annoys me as well. Especially as a lot of the themed clothes (Dear Zoo, Spiderman, Batman, Octonauts etc) are always to be found in the boys section while the girls section is full of Hello Kitty and princess stuff.

  8. I completely agree with your views and in reading the comments I think that some have been quick to react against it rather than thinking at the level most parents have to when they’re trying to pick a present up. There’s such a bewildering choice that you have to select categories (age/gender) on websites etc. to start to wade through the choices. I was miffed not too long ago. I was picking up a present for my stepdaughter. She’d asked for a barbie and I wasn’t about to criticise, but was annoyed that the professions were dog groomers or hairdressers. What ever happened to legal barbie or technician barbie?? I am confident that there IS some scientific evidence out there that society does ‘groom’ children through the choice in toys in the same way that a child growing up in a house with books is more likely to appreciate them.

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