Let toys be toys!

Will the gender neutral toy scheme be effective?


Toys R Us has recently agreed to end gender-biased marketing in their stores after bowing to pressure from the interest group ‘Let Toys Be Toys’. The group argue on their website that marketing toys exclusively towards boys or girls “puts limits on play”, as well as reinforcing “tired and out of date gender stereotypes” that could compromise children’s development. The news follows the end of gender-biased marketing by Hamleys toy shop in London last year with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and TK Maxx also agreeing to remove ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signage from their aisles in the near future.

Our instant reaction may well be to praise these companies for their actions. The decision clearly shows a desire to keep up with gender equality and, if the message that men and women are equal can be better taught to children from an early age, Toys R Us and co. must be applauded. However, scepticism is not completely absent. Some believe that changes like these are just a publicity stunt by firms, and questions are bound to be raised as to why it has taken them so long to catch up.

The most obvious point to raise is how important, or effective, this change will really be. If the removal of gender-biased marketing is expected to instantly remove gender stereotypes from the minds of children, we may be in for a shock. The idea that boys play with guns and girls play with dolls, however “out of date” ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ may believe it to be, is likely to be an idea concreted into the minds of young people that could take generations to phase out. A simple change in marketing strategy from a handful of retailers will not change that.

Nor will it change the thoughts of parents. Many parents who are happy to let their children play with the opposing ‘gendered’ toys will have allowed this to happen before anyway, and those parents against it will not be any more welcoming of their young son dressing up and playing with a group of Baby Annabels than they were before. Put simply, sceptics are wary that this simple removal of gender-biased advertising will not be enough to end gender-specific ideas and concepts in the minds of young people.

There are those, of course, who believe that there is no need for the change in the first place. Perhaps young boys are innately more drawn to guns, action figures and science sets, while young girls are interested in playing with kitchens and changing plastic babies’ nappies. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on to, this news is certainly interesting – not just in itself, but as a sign of what may come in the not-too-distant future.