Toys Go Gender Neutral

Toys "R" Us dismantles the pink and blue aisles

Photograph by Getty Images

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the pink toy aisle? Maybe we are. The grassroots effort Let Toys Be Toys in the UK got toy store behemoth Toys "R" Us to agree to reconsider signs used in the stores, specifically ones that designate certain toys for boys and certain toys for girls, and also to feature pictures of boys and girls playing together.

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The agreement hammered out is somewhat vague but shows a general interest in trying to drop gender stereotypes that had been resurrected in the 1980s in the world of toy marketing and made even stronger and more prevalent in the subsequent decades.

"The retailer today confirmed that they would draw up a set of principles for in-store signage, meaning that, in the long-term, explicit references to gender will be removed and images will show boys and girls enjoying the same toys. They promised to start by looking at the way toys are represented in their upcoming Christmas catalog," a press release at the Let Toys Be Toys Web site said.

A franchisee of Toys "R" Us in Sweden made a similar agreement recently. Other major UK toysellers, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots and The Entertainer also agreed to stop using boys and girls signs to designate groups of toys marketed specifically to one gender.

Ads for these stores frequently feature boys playing with water guns and skateboards, while girls watch or play with dolls.

It's all good news for a large swath of Europe's little ones. But what about North America? Toys "R" Us and Target, where a majority of toys are sold in the U.S., have pretty obviously gender-segregated toy aisles. Ads for these stores frequently feature boys playing with water guns and skateboards while girls watch or play with dolls. Target's Web site has a sorting feature for the toys with girl, boy and gender neutral categories. But when searching for Legos, only two categories appear: boys and gender neutral. When sorting for gender neutral, vastly fewer Lego kits appear. The physical stores tell a similar story.

The people behind the kids and teen Web site A Mighty Girl just launched a Change.org petition trying to get Toys "R" Us in the U.S. to agree to make changes to the stores on this side of the Atlantic. Like the UK petition, this one demands that signs inside the store change, as well as how children are depicted during play in the ads. Moreover, this petition asks them to stop using pink and blue to designate girl and boy toys in the store.

"Every child should feel free to explore their interests without being held back by what others believe a girl or boy should be, learn or do. Let's stand together in calling on Toys "R" Us to stop marketing outdated gender stereotypes to children," the petition says.

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Let's hope Toys "R" Us will be as open to this kind of change as its counterparts in the UK were. Of course, they'll need to hear from folks who are tired of this kind of marketing to children. Are you going to sign?

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