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Sexism in the Toy Store Aisles

Sexism in the Toy Store Aisles
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Hamleys, a British store, has eliminated grouping toys according to those for boys and those for girls. Blogger Laura Nelson, who writes under the name Delilah, had written about how the central London toy store was promoting gender apartheid by segregating toys for boys and girls on different floors as this photo indicates. Indeed the sign for the girls’ floor was pink and that for the boys, blue. I’m sure I’m reading too much into this but is it any surprise that the boys’ floor was the top one?

Nelson wrote to Hamleys and also to Gudjon Reynisson, the chief executive of Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which owns the toy store; in her letter, she pointed out a notable difference in the toys on the separate floors. Those for the girls were “domestic, caring and beauty activities” — let me guess, there were dolls — while the boys’ were rather “geared to action and war, with little scope for creativity,” with none of that “arts and craft” sort of stuff. On December 12, Nelson wrote that her campaign was a success, with Hamleys changing its signs to red and white ones that list the types of toys. Jezebel quotes her announcing the victory on Twitter:

Congratulations everyone! We still have work to do on the nature of the toys themselves, and the gender stereotyping of their marketing [...] but we have come to a milestone. Great work!

But not so fast, Hamleys tell the Mirror. The store only moved things around as part of a “complete refit” to the store layout, following feedback from consultants and customer surveys according to which the “store directional signage was confusing.” Hamleys moved things around in the name of commerce, to “improve customer flow.”

Also seeking to fritter away at the success of Nelson’s campaign, Toby Young in the Telegraph writes that changing the store layout and signs to eliminate floors specifically for boys and girls makes no difference. Boys will be boys and seek out the toys their inner maleness calls for (weaponry, sports equipment) while girls will go for the infamous Barbie, the kitchen set, the bead kit. “Nature will always trump nurture and any attempt to re-educate children so they grow up to be model citizens in some socialist utopia is bound to fail,” writes Young.

I do remember my aunt and uncle purchasing their first daughter a Tonka truck, which she proceeded to use as a carriage for her dolls. Another cousin who has both a daughter and son, and who has sought not to impose pre-determined expectations about gender in raising them, notes that they are gravitating towards the toys society pre-assigns to their genders. Is Nelson’s campaign all in vein?

I think not, not at all.

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Photo by Tony Crider

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80 comments

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12:39PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

I wonder if the little girl in the photo had seen the Transformers movies. so what if they were made for the audiance of the males who enjoyed them in youth.

she might like them. the special effects are pretty cool.

3:29PM PST on Mar 10, 2012

I'm glad to see ANY change in stereotyping, no matter that the store later said it was for improved marketing. 40+ yrs ago, I raised my two daughters as people, not girls. They were not allowed to have Barbies as I considered them too sexy and unrealistic, but they had other dolls and trucks and legos and building blocks, puzzles, books, records (LPs), bicycles, paints and easel, softballs and bats. They are strong feminist women, caring and intelligent. The biggest problem is that society, not the birth family, influences them so much -- schools, friends, t.v. advertising. It is so hard to get away from the "pink" and "princess" themes! Frustrating, because the world is a much larger place. As we see right now in 2012, the repubs are waging a war on women and trying to put us back in the place THEY think we belong in, not where we choose, whether it be motherhood or singlehood, professional, or all.

6:22PM PST on Jan 18, 2012

Some makes sense... It's understandable that girls, with maternal instincts, will enjoy 'mothering' a doll or stuffed animal.

I had all sorts of toys when I was younger. Nothing was nearer to me than stuffed animals. I liked Play Mobile, Legoes, K'Nex, cars, plush dolls, Littlest Pet Shop, and more.
Nothing was off-limits to me.

I think the biggest problem is shaming boys who play with dolls. Of course, it's mostly them who do it to eachother, but it's not good. It can make egotistical men...

3:22PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

most toys stores are arranged by the type of toy. why arrange them by who plays with them? When I was born, my mother said NO PINK. I had dolls, and I had cars, too. One of my favorite toys was a big red plastic volkswagon beetle. I liked matchbox cars, and anything like them. (I still have a set of cars from Speed Racer that I found in a store myself a few years ago. And a few tiny ones-so I'm still buying once in a while.)

When I look in catalogs, I see that some companies have pics of boys playing with the kitchen stuff, and very recently, girls with a shop set (tools, toolbelt, etc)...but most catalogs are still showing only boys playing with 'boy stuff' and only girls playing with 'girl stuff'.

7:55PM PST on Jan 7, 2012

Let the kids play with what they like to play with. "Girl" and "boy" toys are about as true as "boy" and "girl" colours, in other words, not true at all. The marketing and whatnot can aim a toy at whoever they like, if a kid likes/doesn't like a toy, it is their choice.

12:13PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Madelaine C.

don't tell people you studied marketing!!!!! they will explode, or implode, or harass you! our they will not believe, they may pitty you, pray for you!

no such thing, everything is brainwashing. marketing, testing, R&D, studies, polls, statistics, questionnaires and surveys.

all can succumb to whiny people with a petition.

just for this, i will make anatomy correct plush animals and sell them to children on ebay folks. don't make me create a plush dog with testicles and a retractable penis. it's a bucket of -ist for the clean cut, neuter, innocent plushies.

1:37AM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Sigh. No, I didn't care less when I was a child what isle the dolls were on. I wore pink, did ballet, dressed up, played fairies, owned a dollshouse,barbies,baby dolls, and started wearing make-up aged thirteen. I also played with lego, trains and built castles. I had a lot of friends who were boys. I built treehouses, played football and came up with imaginary countries and islands in the forest that me and my friends used to pretend we owned and had to defend. I was a lipstick feminist from the age of ten.
And putting the toys at different ends of the shop didn't stop me doing what I wanted to do.

I studied marketing very carefully, and I think that many feminists 'including myself, a while ago' forgot what we actually chose to play with when we were little, and how working for a market as a designer and researcher works.For instance, if I, as say the executive of Mattel, decided I wanted to conduct a survey on girls favourite colour, and found it to be on a majority purple, then I would try to incorperate purple into the next product for girls. Is that sexist? No, it's working with knowledge and a majority to create what a girl might want. We are not saying that they can't play with lego or action man or trains. That is their choice. They are the consumer.

5:33AM PST on Jan 1, 2012

Leigh E. I can only assume, some people's minds would implode if their girls want girl things even without the tv telling them to. and "it should be corrected" so she dosen't inadvertly box her self into a world that will bog her down. if some of the kids innately go to "gendered toys"
something might be wrong with them, and a mad rush to sway that is needed.

from my observations, I am believing this is how people are thinking.

5:27AM PST on Jan 1, 2012

I agree with those who say "then take your kid to what they like'(unless they are 4 and want to see an R rated movie)

just because it hurts your feelings dosen't make it logical to put a drink and wet doll right next to a "lets pretend" knight set.

if anything, just whinge about plastic play houses coming in pink for girls or such.

as the analogys to a supermarket, dosen't it make more sence to set it up by type?

how many action figures do girls have? how many fashion dolls do boys have?

5:03PM PST on Dec 28, 2011

Coleen P

How exactly do I correct NATURE? Explain please.
My children were between 12 and 18 months old when they started to decide what toys they preferred and at that point had not seen any advertisements on the telly as they did not have any telly time so young.
No, my observations are about as unbiased as you can get.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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