Friday, 1 December 2017

Let Toys Be Toys in Monaco

What did the feminist buy her great-nephew for Christmas? No, it's not a joke. My niece's 3-year-old boy is not only looking forward to a sack full of presents in December, he'll also welcome a baby brother in April. Perhaps I need some expert help, and who better to turn to than a gang of mums?

Around 20 of these excellent women had gathered over croissants and coffee in Monaco's Club 39 on Thursday morning (30 November). We'd been invited by the local organisation She Can He Can (previously known as Gender Hopes) to attend a presentation by Let Toys Be Toys (LTBT).

LTBT was established in 2012 by members of, a UK parenting website, who were sharing experiences of what they felt to be the increasing separation of toys and clothes along the lines of supposed gender-suitability. This was the experience of our speaker, Tessa, who had been unaware of just how much more gendered childhood had become in the years since her own upbringing.

We're talking about the pink-ification of products targeting girls, and its diametric blue-ification. This is actually quite a recent phenomenon, something that started in the 90s. It's a perfect marketing tool for selling more things to kids. Even before children can read they know boys ride blue scooters and girls ride pink ones, so hand-me-downs between genders become problematic. Most people over the age of 30 didn't used to associate specific colours with a gender. Colours were just colours and any one of them could be a favourite (my own was a non-girlish green).

But what may have initially seemed like a harmless marketing ploy is now an insidious means of reducing kids' choices. Retailers' swift acceptance and often illogical distribution of children's items by gender inevitably leads to a marketer's interpretation of conformity from the moment a kid is born. Aged two to three, a boy might love listening to mum reading Alice in Wonderland, but questions his preference after spotting the book on the pink shelf in the shop. Well-meaning relatives visit the Girls' Toys aisle and buy makeup sets for a girl who prefers building Lego structures with her dad. By the time kids start secondary school girls know that those science toys packaged in blue are not for them, and boys deny themselves craft kits and nurturing toys because they come in pink boxes.

Source: SheCanHeCan

Tackling the toy manufacturers is a gargantuan task, so the Let Toys Be Toys campaigners hit local retailers, using emails and social media to garner support. They set about persuading shops that by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys, they were limiting children's imaginations and interests. Why not present toys by theme or function, and let children decide what they want to play with?

Five years on and the campaign has tackled gendered books, Christmas present television ads, and toy catalogs. They've introduced a Toymark, of which 50 have so far been awarded, and developed resources for schools. It's all about giving children choice; the choice to play with whatever they want, to read whatever they want, to become whatever they want.

So what am I buying my great-nephew for Christmas? He loves Thomas the Tank Engine and the Gruffalo, and I'm sure he'll love his new baby brother. Who knows, he may be a father himself one day. If only I could find him a baby doll that isn't dressed in blue or pink.

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