Have you ever noticed that children’s toys are often labeled as “Boys” or “Girls” toys?
Very often, the girls’ toy area will be a sea of pink and glitter with a lot of beauty, cooking, fashion and baby doll items. The boys’ area will have action figures, construction and science kids, plastic guns and dinosaurs. Even board games can sometimes be separated in this way. Tina takes a closer look at why this is unfair for all kids, and what a group called Let Toys be Toys are doing about it.
This separation of toys can make the choices adults have when buying presents for your birthday limited and difficult in case they get the wrong thing. It can make your choice harder too when you want to get something fun to play with.
There is nothing wrong with liking and playing with any of the toys available but some kids don’t like to play with something which is clearly labeled as not for them. They worry that other children (and sometimes adults too) will say something nasty about their choices.
We spoke to Tessa, who volunteers with the campaign group Let Toys Be Toys.
Let Toys Be Toys originally began as a petition and campaign group after a discussion on a parenting website. So many people were interested in fighting the gendered signs such as “Boys Section” and “Girls Section” in toy stores, that the group grew from one discussion thread to a petition, and then a social media campaign.
Once when we were in a shop he reached for a magazine he wanted, then took his hand sharply away, saying “Look mommy, I can’t have this. That sign says this magazine is for girls”
Tessa says she was like most people; we don’t notice unfairness until it affects us. After Tessa had a son in 2006 she “found the pink/blue divide in clothes to choose from very limiting”. She was fortunate in having family and friends who did not buy according to gender, but when her son started being able to read she became aware of and angered by the way that toys and games were sold to children.
Tessa first wrote some letters to publishers of books and magazines for children telling them she felt it was wrong to limit children’s choices this way. At this time, she found out about the Let Toys Be Toys campaign and joined as a volunteer.
Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots campaign group made up of unpaid volunteers all doing this in our free time, fitting our campaigning around work, family and other commitments.
It is a small group with only 10-15 active volunteers at any one time, with another 10 volunteers who join in to work on specific campaigns when they are required. It’s organised entirely online, so they can fit it around their everyday lives. Everyone makes decisions and all campaigns are discussed so there is no leader or manager.
Many people also complained about the labelling of books as ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’. In response the campaign Let Books Be Books was started on 6th March 2014 (World Book Day) as a part of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign.
Let Toys Be Toys has been very successful with signs in toy sections being removed in 14 UK retail chains such as Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, and nine publishers removing the “boy” and “girl” labels from books. Tessa was very pleased in particular about The Entertainer toy store agreeing to change their signs after she and other campaigners met with the managers. The shop had ‘boys toys’ above the LEGO – and we all know that LEGO isn’t just for boys!
You can see the difference in this picture of the before and after signs used in the shop.
Why Does it Matter?
Some people will ask, “Why does it matter if toys are labelled for girls or for boys, or if they are pink or blue?”.
We sometimes talk about stereotypes – an oversimplified image or idea, such as boys like football and girls like pink. But what if you are a girl who doesn’t like pink, or who loves football? Or a boy who hates football and would rather be reading a book than charging around playing pirates?
Children who don’t conform to what we call gender stereotypes are sometimes made to feel weird about this. Or are bullied for not being “normal”. Making girls toys all about pink and fluffy stuff and boys toys all about building and exploring strengthens this idea of what is normal, and makes it more difficult for kids to just do what they love.
It also limits kids in their ideas of what they could do when they grow up. If the science kits are all in the ‘boys’ section, some girls will feel that science isn’t for them. When dolls, cooking and cleaning are all pink, that sends the message to boys that these are activities and careers for girls, not for them. That is really old-fashioned, isn’t it – when we all know that girls can be scientists or explorers, and boys can be nurses, teachers or carers!
What Can I DO?
If you feel strongly about something, then it is great to get involved in campaigning for change. Whether its labels on toys, or anything else that interests you, find a campaign and get involved. Here are some ways that you could help Let Toys Be Toys make shops fairer for boys and girls:
If you see a sign in a shop or something telling you a book, toy or game isn’t suitable for you because you are a girl or a boy (not toilet signs!) and you don’t think that is fair, you could to take a picture and send it to the campaign, letting Let Toys Be Toys know where you spotted the item, when it was seen and how it made you feel. Let Toys Be Toys will then get in touch with the retailer and ask them to change it.
Tell your teachers
Let Toys Be Toys has a fantastic page of resources for teachers and parents on its website, so you could start a discussion, a school petition or even an after school club to campaign on this or any other issue you feel strongly about.
Talk to people
As Tessa said, she didn’t notice the problem until it affected her. Maybe those around you haven’t either. Tell them and ask them to help you do something to make it better.
Let Toys be Toys have a great resource on their website, with a list of online and local shops who sell their toys without signposting for boys and girls. You can find it here.
Let Toys Be Toys would love Jump! Mag readers to let them know if there is anything they can do that they are not doing, or if they can help you out in your campaign. Check out their website and get involved! After all, it’s only fair, isn’t it?