Why does gender-stereotyped toy marketing matter?
- Kids should decide for themselves what they think is fun. Why put these limits on play?
- Play matters. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills.
- Marketing matters. Directing consumers in this way is restricting children’s play.
- The real world has moved on. These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.
Play is crucial to how children develop and learn about the world. In education it’s recognised that children need access to a range of toys and play experiences. Toys focused on action, construction and technology hone spatial skills, foster problem solving and encourage children to be active. Toys focused on role play and small-scale theatre allow them to practise social skills. Arts & crafts are good for fine motor skills and perseverance. Read more about toys and learning.
Boys and girls need the chance to develop in all these areas, but many stores divide toys into separate boys’ and girls’ sections. Action construction and technology toys are predominantly marketed to boys while social role play and arts and crafts toys are predominantly marketed to girls. Both boys and girls miss out this way.
How toys are labelled and displayed affects consumers’ buying habits. Many people feel uncomfortable buying a boy a pink toy or a girl a toy labelled as ‘for boys’.
Other buyers may simply be unaware of the restricted choices they are offered. They may not notice that science kits and construction toys are missing from the “girls” section, or art & crafts and kitchen toys from the “boys”. If they’re never offered the chance, a child may never find out if they enjoy a certain toy or style of play.
And children are taking in these messages about what girls and boys are ‘supposed to like’ They are looking for patterns and social rules – they understand the gender rule ‘This is for boys and that is for girls,’ in the same way as other sorts of social rules, like ‘Don’t hit”. These rigid boundaries turn children away from their true preferences, and provide a fertile ground for bullying.
Role play toys sometimes seem decades behind the real world, reflecting outdated stereotypes; doctor kits for boys, nurse kits for girls, DIY for boys and cooking and cleaning for girls, aggression for boys, princessy glamour for girls… In the 21st century things have moved on.
It’s easy for retailers to make a positive difference, and they should benefit too
We are not asking retailers to change the toys they sell, but to organise toys by theme and function rather than gender. There’s no need for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ aisles: take down the pink and blue signs in stores and on packaging, and instead let toys be toys. Is a doll really harder to find marked ‘dolls’?
It’s an easy change to make. Hamley’s did it last year; The Entertainer and Tesco have committed to doing it. Take a look at our Good practice gallery to see how toyshops are successfully displaying toys by theme and activity.
It’s a win-win: we’re talking about retailers offering consumers more, not less.
Find out more about why gender marketing of toys matters from our recommended reading list.