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 These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.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.


Children don’t pop out of the womb with expectations about their future careers, or beliefs about what their work is worth, but the stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life. By late primary age, research by Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg shows that children already have very clear ideas about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are very hard to shake later on.

Themes of glamour and beauty in toys and playthings directed at even the youngest girls tips over into a worrying emphasis on outward appearance. Stereotyped attitudes about boys are equally harmful. The constant assumption reinforced in toy advertising and packaging that boys are inevitably rough, dirty, rowdy, interested only in action and violence tells calmer, more sensitive or more creative boys that they’re getting this whole ‘boy’ thing a bit wrong, and feeds low expectations of boys that undermine their performance at school.

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. See our before and after gallery to see how stores have changed, and our good practice gallery for examples of toy store layout and signage.

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.


  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.

  4. femalescientist

    “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.”


    • Unless we lock ourselves in a box, we are all ‘interfering’ with one another all the time. I’d like shops, marketers, advertisers and, yes, other parents to stop ‘interfering’ with my children’s freedom by telling them that certain toys (or activities or behaviour) are appropriate for girls and others for boys.

      Raising questions and talking about the implications of our actions is part of a free and democratic society. No ‘interference’ by that definition would mean no debate and no freedom of speech.

  5. Jess, if a father buys one daughter lots of toys based on sports, football, cricket and DIY and chemical sets. Then buy the next daughter dolls, dresses my little ponies. What do you think the outcome is? How does it differ? One turned out to be board level finance director of multi national engineering company, the other of the same in Marketing of a brewing company again multi national. The point i am making is that parents tend to know there kids and buy them the things they like. As you can imagine these aren’t young kids I mention parents getting appropriate gifts for their kids is just what real parents do. They just don’t notice the blue or pink, thats for those who have a shallow life.

    • Choosing gifts according to a child’s individual interests, rather than by gender, is precisely what the campaign is about.

      If marketing didn’t influence people, marketers wouldn’t bother with it. It’s powerful, and it affects all of us, and it affects children when they’re too young to understand the difference between promotional messages and factual information.

  6. Misty

    It’s interesting that we talk like we need to change things since “we’ve moved on”. But I remember toys being much less polarized by gender than they are now. There were traditional girl toys and some toys more thought of as boys toys but I dont remember them being divided. The “girl toy aisle” didn’t exist but the doll sections were filled with many colors. They didn’t look like they were drenched in pepto bismal. Toys marketed to girls weren’t all pink. Not even mostly. And there were plenty of toys that had no gender. What gender was the fisher price pull toys, Ferris wheel, or airport? The play phone didn’t come in a boy version and a girl version. There was just one.

    We’ve gone WAY backwards in my opinion.

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