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Why it Matters

It matters because…

Kids should be free to decide which toys interest them, without being informed by gendered marketing that something is ‘for them’ or ‘not for them’. Gendered marketing limits our children’s right to determine their own idea of fun! Play Unlimited hopes to raise parents’ awareness of the narrowing impact gendered marketing can have on children’s perspectives about what it is and isn’t okay to like or play with as a boy or a girl. Kids shouldn’t learn that certain toys are off limits for them because of their gender.

Kids benefit from participating in a wide range of play experiences, honing different skills as they develop and learn about the world. All children should be encouraged to learn without limitations based on their gender, free from stereotypes aimed at discouraging equal access to all toys for everybody.

It’s easy for retailers to market toys without using gender. There are numerous other ways to categorise and organise toys. Is Barbie really harder to find in a section marked ‘dolls’ than she is in a section marked ‘girls’?

Early childhood educators recognise the benefits to children in having access to a range of toys as this maximises their opportunities to learn and develop important skills in different areas. Activities such as riding scooters help children develop physically and personally, teaching skills like balance, spacial awareness and confidence while strengthening their muscles.

Playing dress-ups encourages imagination and offers opportunities for the development of social skills as children engage with one another, acting out often elaborate made-up stories with one another. Younger children learn to problem solve buttons and zippers while they explore dressing themselves independently in a low pressure environment (no parents watching, assisting or telling them to hurry up!).

Constructing model toys and building things helps develop fine motor skills, problem solving and language development and fosters concentration. Children gain self-esteem in successfully finishing a project.

There is nothing wrong with pink and princesses for girls as long as they are also free to play with toys that promote the development of other important skills. Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with boys playing with trucks and building model aeroplanes if they are also encouraged to nurture other aspects of themselves.

The influence of marketing affects children and consumers alike, by sending strong messages about the appropriateness of their choices. To some, gendered marketing seems so ‘normal’ they are unaware their choices are being restricted. Have you noticed baby dolls and tea sets missing from the ‘boys’ section? Or tow trucks and tool kits missing from the ‘girls’?

Labelling toys for either ‘boys’ or ‘girls’, tells children “this toy is/is not for you”. Children recognise the cultural significance of labelling and colour coding of packaging and toys, and it informs their feelings about whether or not it’s socially acceptable for them to show interest in the item. Some take this “knowledge” with them into the playground, where they quickly chastise any child who demonstrates an interest in the “wrong” colour or toy for their gender, again potentially resulting in the child being chastised or bullied.

How often have you heard a child comment “That’s a girl’s movie” or “pink is for girls”, warning any boy who dares to transgress the rules. As well as gender stereotypes, children may be learning not to follow their interests or preferences for certain toys for fear of being teased.

Some forward thinking Parliamentarians have called for an end to gendered advertising of toys, claiming it limits the prospects of children later in life. When children’s interests are channeled to follow out dated gender stereotypes, this may impact on their future educational and career choices. Some MP’s have put out a call to action “to end unnecessary gender-specific advertising” after raising concerns that stereotyped ideas about gender roles are still being reinforced by advertisements.

The World Health Organisation recognises the link between gender inequality in the community and violence against women and children. Promoting gender equality is a critical part of violence prevention. WHO suggests ‘school-based programmes can address gender norms and attitudes before they become deeply ingrained in children and youth’.

Why do we allow retailers and manufacturers to limit, predetermine and dictate choices about the toys our children wish to explore and play with?

It’s 2017. Gender stereotypes change with the fashion and thinking of the day. In 2016 many mothers mow the lawn, many fathers push prams, many brothers enjoy cooking and sisters own drills, many uncles are hairdressers, many aunts are doctors. Why aren’t these realities reflected in toy shops?