Why it Matters

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 These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.

It’s easy for retailers to make a positive difference, and they should benefit too.

Play matters

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.

Marketing matters

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.

Stereotypes

Role play toys sometimes seem decades behind the real world, reflecting outdated stereotypes; doctor kits for boys, nurse kits for girls, DIY for boys and cooking and cleaning for girls, aggression for boys, princessy glamour for girls… In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.

6 Comments

  1. none

    Hi there, on the whole, I agree with the premise of what you are proposing, however, I feel uncomfortable with your notion in the “stereotypes” section above, where you state…
    “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 girls, aggression for boys, princessy glamour for girls… In the 21st century things have moved on.” – Really? have they moved on? Even if I just go to the cinema I can see that they haven’t. It’s a flawed persepective that you hold. “The real world has moved on” you say, but the majority of the people buying the toys, spending, getting themselves in to debt for the sake of their children’s ‘happiness’ are the ‘real world’ and they may still prefer to buy gender specific items for their child, lest we end up enforcing a rule that male and female babies must be clothed in ‘gender-neutral’ clothing. SO why dont you ‘Let toys be toys’ and stop interfering in the way people sell their goods and the way people bring up their children. It’s the freedom of the liberal capitalist that brings such affluence you have to start meddling in others affairs. Men and Women are equal, but they sure are different, celebrate the difference, don’t deny it and smudge it out completely. what a bland world that would be.

    • Mary Dooley

      Sums up my feelings exactly! Men and women are not the same, toymakers are just catering to that difference. Thanks for such a great comment!

      • The differences between men and women (or boys and girls) are besides the point. It is still not appropriate to tell children what their interests should be.

        IF there is a ‘natural’ difference between the play of boys and girls then there’s no need to reinforce it with signs. I really don’t think that my son’s masculinity is so fragile that marketing toys in an inclusive way will ‘smudge it out’!

  2. The world has moved on in many ways. It’s estimated that by 2017, women doctors will be in the majority, compared with 1960 when they comprised only 24 per cent of medical school intake. When I see so many men pushing pushchairs why does anyone think a toy buggy is only for girls?

    Organising toys by genre not gender has no disadvantage. Parents and children are freer to choose what they want without restricting gender labels, and shoppers can still find a dolly in the section marked ‘dolls’. Kids shouldn’t feel that certain toys are out of bounds for them.

  3. Connie

    Yes, men and women are equal and yes, there are differences but, problems occur when gender is polarised in this way because there is so many different forms of gender in between the extreme masculin and the exyreme feminine: most people do not fit into these polarised categories of male and female (the stereotypes). Some girls like blue, some boys like fashion, some girls like physics, some boys like cars and sewing and, so on. For some people who do not meet the criteria of the polarised ideal this can lead to feelings of confusion, inadequacy and isolation. The more we reinforce these extreme gender differences the more we overlook or marginalise all the people “in-between” and, put pressure on them to conform to stereotypes when this may not be their true persuasion.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. UK Toys 'R' Us Ends Gender Segregation in Toy Aisles

Leave a Comment

Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin