A CAMPAIGN RUN by parents has set its sights on ensuring that children’s toys aren’t advertised specifically to girls or boys, saying that toys should just ‘be toys’.
The Let Toys be Toys campaign began in November of last year, one of the organisers, Kerry Brennan, told TheJournal.ie. They met on a parenting website while taking part in a discussion on the issue of gendered advertising targeting children.
“We decided to convince retailers to change how they advertise toys,” said Brennan. Despite not knowing each other in real life, around 10 of the parents from Ireland and the UK banded together to begin Let Toys Be Toys.
Brennan is the mother of a three-year-old girl who “loves anything to do with space, dinosaurs, and building things”, as well as fairy tales and castles.
“It became increasingly annoying to me,” said Brennan, that she would see space-orientated toys advertised as for ‘boys’, even though her daughter was playing with them.
It made me said and actually quite angry, that when she learned to read that she would see these big signs everywhere telling [her] they weren’t for her.
The group uses social media to spread its message, and initially targeted the stores Boots and Tesco. They used images to show people the pervasiveness of gendered-based advertising, which Brennan said has been the key to their success.
Pic: Let Toys Be Toys
Thanks to pressure from the group, Boots changed its signage so that science-themed toys are no longer marketed as ‘boys’ toys in its UK and Ireland stores.
The group has since contacted Marks & Spencers about their own brand range of toys, and a range of stores called The Entertainer.
The campaign is not just because girls lose out – little boys lose out too, said Brennan.
Little boys who see their own dads changing nappies and making dinner are then made feel ashamed if they want to go near a doll or a play kitchen.
She believes things have moved on for adults in terms of how products are marketed in stores, while in society men and women are encouraged to have an equal role in parenting and careers, but children are not getting this message through how toys are marketed at them.
She noted that women and girls are under-represented in science subjects and careers, “so it’s not too hard to draw the comparison”. “It certainly is part of what discourages girls from going down that path,” she said.
Brennan is also concerned at how the toys marketed towards girls are often image-focused or fashion-focused, and said people are concerned that their boys lose out on any kind of nurturing, domestic or craft-related play, as they are sent the message it is for girls.
She emphasised that the campaign is not about making judgements about the worthiness of different toys, or saying that parents should choose different toys for their children.
“It is not the place of retailers to make those decisions for their kids,” she clarified.
There is not anything wrong with girls who love pink, or boys who want rough and tumble. There is nothing wrong with the colour pink – it’s the narrowing of options for girls.
Pic: Let Toys Be Toys/Twitter
“It’s not saying baby dolls are less of a good toy than trucks. Children and parents will make their own decision about what is appropriate.”
The changes so far have been small but far-reaching. “Already I can take my daughter shopping in Boots in Cork, and not be worried that she sees something that puts her off her rocket ship. That is a real change,” said Brennan.
“We recognise the issue of limiting gendered messaging to children goes well beyond the toy aisle,” she added, but said that the group has a “very simple and very reasonable ask”.
We are not asking retailers to stock different toys.
Debenhams told the group that the gendered signs make it easier for customers to shop, but Brennan disputes that. She says that it doesn’t make it easier for parents to buy a toy kitchen for their son if the toy is under the girls’ games sign, for example.
She said that the group gets “a lot more support than criticism”, but that some critics – there is the odd criticism- usually falls under what’s “the big deal” about marketing toys towards boys or girls.
Let Toys be Toys say that this is something that affects their children and as parents that makes it a priority for them. They ask people to consider these stereotypes being applied to adults. “It might not be life or death but it is a quality of life issue,” said Brennan.