Toy stores in the United Kingdom are ditching the gendered advertising in favor of a more inclusive marketing strategy, thanks to a campaign by the parents’ group Let Toys Be Toys.
Specifically, Toys R Us has pledged to, in the long term, remove explicit references to gender on their in-store signs, and the store will show pictures of boys and girls enjoying the same toys. Furthermore, Toys R Us has promised to review the way toys are represented in the company’s Christmas catalog.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is exciting news. We’ve come a long way in busting free from rigid gender roles, but we still have a long way to go. How can we expect to burn the patriarchy down if we enforce those gender roles from the word go?
If you think about it, you probably see it every day. It doesn’t have to be anything explicit, although it can be. Girls and boys are treated differently from the very beginning. Girls are slathered with pink; boys are drenched in blue. Boys are “supposed” to play with dump trucks, Army men and video games. Girls are “supposed” to play with dolls, play kitchens and… I don’t know. Flowers?
Don’t get me wrong; it’s fine to play with those things. However, each kid is an individual, with individual interests and preferences. The problem comes when a kid’s interests don’t align with what is socially expected of them. Let Toys Be Toys has a definite problem with this, as The Telegraph reports:
Megan Perryman, Let Toys Be Toys campaigner, said: “Even in 2013, boys and girls are still growing up being told that certain toys are for them, while others are not. This is not only confusing but extremely limiting as it strongly shapes their ideas about who they are.”
Toys R Us isn’t the only UK retailer to go gender neutral. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, The Entertainer and TK Maxx have also agreed to eliminate their gendered signage.
To be fair, for the time being, it will still probably be pretty easy to determine which toys are meant for girls and which toys are meant for boys. I mean, the toys will still be in packaging. However, the de-gendering of toys is perhaps becoming a minor trend. Just last year, a Scandinavian licensee of the Toys R Us brand radically altered their catalog, picturing boys and girls both playing with Nerf guns, toy vacuums and battle games. In addition, it wasn’t that long ago that Hasboro decided to make the Easy Bake Oven in non-girly colors.(Although, granted, it’s problematic that colors are gendered, but baby steps).
All genders will benefit from a genderless toy landscape. It’s not just okay for girls to like boy things. It’s also okay for boys to like girl things. Gender non-conforming kids should be able to see that you don’t have to choose one team or the other. Children should be free to like what they like without fear of bullying or other social condemnation. We constantly tell kids that they can grow up to be anything they want to be. It’s wrong to artificially limit all of that potential by boxing them into socially constructed roles.
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