Back in 2012, a group of parents on an Internet forum decided that gender stereotyping was holding their children back. Three years on, one of the biggest offenders, Toys R Us – a child’s paradise, a parent’s nightmare – will start to describe toys as what they are: toys. The group, later known as Let Toys Be Toys, has been paramount in the gender neutralisation of toys.
Gender stereotyping refers to the pink-and-blue-ification of… everything. A doll packaged in a pastel box is wordlessly marketed towards girls, suggesting that only they can be care-givers. Likewise, a science kit in a ‘toys for boys’ aisle says that science – indeed, anything that involves getting your hands dirty – is reserved for them. Play can be potent in child development – it’s no coincidence that women make up less than 13% of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. How can STEM pretend to be female-friendly when, earlier this year, Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt told an audience that ’[female scientists] fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry’?
Toys R Us will be categorising based on, ground-breakingly, what the toy actually is, rather than who is granted permission from the Gods of the Gender Binary to play with it. Labour MP and former engineer, Chi Onwurah, stated in the House of Commons that this segregation is ‘a consequence of big-company marketing tactics’ – tactics which likely impacted my generation. Other parent-ran groups, such as Pinkstinks, do not want the abolition of pink, but instead to promote that ‘there’s more than one way to be a girl’.
On the other hand, toys must inspire boys, too. In Spain, Toy Planet has adopted gender-neutral marketing: Christmas adverts include photos of a young masculine child playing with a baby in a pink pram. With steadily changing attitudes towards stay-at-home dads, we can easily foster these attitudes as common: through play.
I acknowledge the irony of a female arts student writing this article, and one aware of the disproportionate number of female students on her course. But there are three lessons we can learn: 1) gender stereotyping must be avoided from a young age; 2) toys are more powerful than we think; 3) Hell hath no fury like parents on a mission.