Pretty in Pink and Boys in Blue: Why are Toys Gendered?

You only need to walk into a toy shop to see how we’re pigeon-holing our children into a certain set of interests. Over the past couple of decades, the gender-divide in the toy industry has expanded into a great yawning chasm spilling over with “boys toys”, such as Lego and dinosaurs, and, for the girls, sparkly tiaras, make-up kits and hot pink scooters (which don’t go as fast as the blue ones).

However, parents – and children – have recently put their foot down in the name of family wellness; demanding a change in the way toys are marketed. Apparently, the retailers are even paying attention. Just last week, shoppers expressed their anger at the high-street pharmacy chain Boots for putting Science Museum-brand toys in a section branded for boys, and the store admitted it was wrong to do so and announced that it would be removing signs designating toys between genders.

This change, and others, comes at a time that a compelling campaign called Let Toys Be Toys (LTBT) is gaining momentum. The aim of the LTBT campaign is to persuade retailers to organise toys by theme and stop promoting some toys as only suitable for girls and others only for boys, as this could have implications for a child’s emotional wellness, self-image and overall wellbeing. Deborah Saward Arav, a mother who has signed the LTBT petition, commented, ‘My girls love Lego, trains, swords and pirates. Now they hesitate to play with ‘boys” toys as they feel they’re doing wrong. I hate having their options limited by retailers and the media.’

According to Lise Eliot, neuro- scientist and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can About It, ‘Ideas of gender are limiting to children. Children are very black and white in their attitudes. They perceive gender as opposites because we often present it very simplistically as such. This is not the case, though: we are not opposites. Psychologically and neurologically there are far more similarities than differences, particularly in children. By imposing these categories on children through the options we present them with, we limit their interests what they might become.’

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