The blue and pink debate – should toys be gender specific?

Guest post – should toys be gender specific

In December 2011, the world’s largest toyshop Hamleys announced that they would be removing the gender-specific signage in their store.

should toys be gender specific?


Should toys be gender specific

Traditionally, kids’ toys were split between departments to match gender stereotypes. The third floor, labelled with a bubblegum pink sign, was dedicated to all things girlie: Barbies, glittery arts and crafts and pretty fairy costumes. The top floor, however, was marked with a blue-for-boys sign and reserved for ‘masculine’ paraphernalia, including action figures and toy trucks.

“The layout of the toyshop restricts children’s and parents’ choices and contributes to our society’s inequality,” explained Dr Laura Nelson, the writer at the helm of the campaign for Hamleys to change their layout.  Yet Hamleys wasn’t the first toy company to spearhead a gender-neutral store design: in 2008, Toys ‘R’ Us were reprimanded for the gendering of their catalogue following pressure from a group of Swedish school children, and in 2009 the Early Learning Centre also made moves to change their gendered products, brand imagery and language.

While some would dismiss complaints about gender-based toys as hot air, others have argued that this may have an effect on children’s rights to make their own choices. Why shouldn’t some boys love pink, glitter and fairies, and some girls love climbing trees and building forts?


The impact of advertising on gender and toys

Following the success of the 2011 Hamleys campaign, campaigner Dr Laura Nelson argued that advertising can have role in encouraging boys and girls to pursue activities consistent with outdated gender roles. As parents, should we try to counter media bias by reducing the time our girls spend playing with kitchen sets and plastic mirrors, and the time boys spend brandishing toys guns and cars?

The debate over whether this polarisation between princesses and pirates is biological or merely a social construct is still being played out, and both peer pressure and bold marketing messages make it difficult for parents to buck the blue and pink trend.


Do girls prefer different toys

However, it’s clear that the toy preferences of some girls and boys do indeed conform to stereotypes, with industry consultants The Toy Experts reporting in 2011 that 45% of girls preferred to play with pink toys, while 23% of boys preferred to play with blue  (taken from a survey of 1500 parents).

So, how can we best cater for our children when it comes to playtime? Many retailers are opting for a balanced strategy. Toy giants LEGO, for example, who historically marketed products to boys, recently launched a new ‘Friends’ line designed for girls which features – amongst other products – a LEGO pet salon, an outdoor bakery and an unapologetically feminine horse riding camp. However, parents can also buy their daughters a LEGO football practice, karate class and tree house – hobbies traditionally associated with boys.

What is your view on should toys be gender specific?

Whatever your stance on gender-specific toys, there’s no mistaking that changing the concept of ‘girly’ and ‘boyish’ toys is bound to be a gradual process. It’s important to remember that the problem isn’t always with the toys themselves, but how much choice we as parents (and marketers) give our children.

While Hamleys and the Early Learning Centre are making important steps to open up new play opportunities for children, the buck ultimately stops with Mum and Dad. Research by the likes of The Toy Experts suggests that challenging gender roles by restricting time with certain toys isn’t the right approach – instead, access to a variety of toys at home is the best way to ensure your child gets the most out of their play experience.



Should toys be gender specific is a feature post  – you might also like my post on the benefits of gender neutrality



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