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?