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Today in Awesome

Toys R Us, Other Major UK Toy Stores, To Drop “Boys” And “Girls” Sections


Remember back when Harrods department store in London opened their first gender-neutral toy department? That was pretty cool, huh? Now other major retailers in the UK—including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots, and Toys R Us—are moving in a similar direction, abolishing gender-specific aisles after being convinced of what a ridiculous notion is it for toys to be “for” any specific gender.

This calls for a slow clap.

A special tip of the hat goes to Let Toys Be Toys (LTBT), a consumer campaign group that sat down with representatives from Toys R Us and other stores and convinced them that, yo, we’re in the 21st century now, a continued belief that girls only like Barbies and boys only like Tonka trucks is looking dumber and more backward by the second. Says LTBT’s Megan Perryman:

“Even in 2013, boys and girls are still growing up being told that certain toys are ‘for’ them, while others are not.

This is not only confusing but extremely limiting, as it strongly shapes their ideas about who they are and who they can go on to become. We look forward to seeing Toys R Us lead the way to a more inclusive future for boys and girls.”

So what’s the first step in this “inclusive future”? Via ToyNews, Toys R US (TRU):

“will 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. TRU also promised to start by looking at the way toys are represented in its upcoming Christmas catalogue… Other retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots, The Entertainer and TK Maxx have agree to banish ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs from the aisles following intervention from Let Toys Be Toys.”

As Topless Robot points out, even with these changes it’ll be pretty easy to tell when a lot of toys are supposed to be “”"”"for girls”"”"” and “”"”"for boys.”"”"” For example, pink is still commonly thought to be “girly,” and a lot of toy manufacturers still only include children of one gender on their packaging. So there’s still a lot that needs to be done before we reach a truly inclusive future where girls and boys can play with whatever the heck they want without their toy preferences having some imagined implication about their gender and/or sexuality.

Girls want to play with pink kitchen sets and boys want to play with plastic tanks? Fine. Girls want to play with plastic tanks and boys want to play with pink kitchen sets? Also fine. It’s not that hard, people.

But toy stores themselves recognizing how problematic and just plain dumb the notion of “gender-specific” toys is is definitely a step in the right direction. And there have been others, like when Hasbro responded to criticism that the Easy-Bake Oven was marketed exclusively to girls by creating a gender-neutral version of the toy.

The decision to eliminate gendered signage was made by Toys R Us UK. Hopefully the store’s branches in other countries will follow suit, so toy shoppers in the US and elsewhere will stop being told that only boys play with toy weapons.

(Topless Robot, ToyNews, image via Wikimedia Commons)

Previously in toys and gender

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  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    One step at a time, I guess.

  • alk

    I wish this had existed a couple of decades ago; it would have saved me countless dirty looks and rude comments from disapproving parents at a little girl who dared to play with toys from both aisles.

  • Ashe

    Hell to the yes.

    This is progress. As a kid, I loved legos and video games. I also loved beanie babies and Lisa Frank. However, I downplayed my ‘girly’ interests in hopes of winning the favor of a lot of my guy friends. Being a tomboy is BETTER than being a GIRLY GIRL, amirite?

    With changes like these, hopefully we’ll see a culture shift that’ll have neither spectrum favored or trashed. Granted, that’ll include a lot of work in the general feminism department, but these are literal baby steps in the right direction.

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    God, I STILL get that when I hop between isles to see what the new collector barbies are and then check out what new Marvel action figures are out.

  • Ashe

    Yeah, you can’t completely change how shitheads think. It’s not catering to them anymore that’s progress, haha.

  • Jim

    Why don’t they make sections based on WHAT they’re for, not WHO is using them.

    That’s right, kids, the new “Exploratorium Fantasitcum” game will be released in just 7 days in our “High-Ho Adventure!” section. And, right this minute, drag Mummy and Daddy over to “Superpowers NOW!” for the latest Wonder Woman figurine!

    (OK, the names are cheesy – there are marketing people who can fix that.)

  • Emily

    Awesome! I tire of the gendered toy aisles.
    When I worked in a store I heard girls on more then one occasion in the ‘boys’ aisles exclaiming over this or that superhero toy.

    I was lucky enough as a kid to have a brother I could share toys with, but I would have been way to shy to ask for something with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Bioncles related even though I enjoyed them just as much as my brother. Kids without that convenience shouldn’t have to worry or be ashamed of the toys they like!

  • Anonymous

    I never have experienced that. I played with Barbies and TMNT. Sometimes at the same time.

    Even with my daughter who likes Monster High and Justice League. When we go to Toys we go down EVERY aisle. Maybe I just don’t have a shit to give about the opinions of other shoppers.
    So, my question is, how are they going to merchandise it? Barbies just don’t look good merchandised on the same shelf as race cars. It’s looks like a jumbled mess . Why would you even merchandise dolls (Barbies, Monster High) with action figures? Not even the same genre (or box type). I go into TRU and Mattel has at least one aisle to itself.

    There’s the Mattel aisle, the baby doll aisle, the section for babies, the board game wall. Granted, the action figure and car aisles are positioned in the back, separated by the outside toy section that cuts though the middle of the store. Does that mean they’re for boys? That it’s the boys section? Or does that mean that Mattel and Hasbro have the stores merchandise their biggest money makers (Barbie, MLP, LPS) towards the front?

    A makes more money than B, so A is going to be closer to the front.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I would imagine the store’s mostly going to be organized the same—Barbie dolls together, Nerf weapons together, action figures together, etc.—they just won’t be labelled as “boys” and “girls.” Which is pretty minor in the scheme of things, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    I actually never noticed it when I was a kid (I played with all sorts, since I grew up playing with boy and girl groups), but I notice now. I get it a lot from parents when I’m checking things out in the boy isle. I could care less, because seriously? But still…if they’re glaring at me, what are they teaching their boys?

    As for the store, I figure it’ll be organized the same way, but not marketed as exclusively ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ isles?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t recall seeing signage at the local TRU saying boys section and girls section. Mattel makes a crap ton of dolls that are quite different from action figures, so all of the Mattel dolls are in the same aisle. Board games are all in the board game section (unless it’s FAO Shwartz, then it’s in the FAO section). Are all the glitzy sparkly things going to be in the same section? Yep. Are all the things that shoot lasers going to be in the same section? Yep. That’s how merchandising works.

  • HamsterMasterSamster

    I can totally empathise with that nasty internalised misogyny. I was an extreme tomboy when I was a kid, to the extent that I actively avoided everything associated with ‘girls’. Pink, blegh. Barbies, blegh. Girls were lame >:[ I was not like those other girls, and all my male friends thought I was cool for it.

    Luckily these days I’ve come a better sense of gender balance within myself, and I no longer feel guilty when wearing a dress, pink or make-up – but I was almost twenty by the time I actually made this peace with myself. TWENTY. Gender stereotyping at such a young age can have a long-lasting, toxic effect on a person’s sense of self. News like this gives me a lot of hope that future generations of both boys and girls won’t have to wait so long to figure out that their gender has nothing to do with their interests and preferences.

  • LifeLessons

    This is fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    “Girls want to play with pink kitchen sets and boys want to play with
    plastic tanks? Fine. Girls want to play with plastic tanks and boys want
    to play with pink kitchen sets? Also fine.”

    All well and good, but WHEN AM I GOING TO GET MY PINK PLASTIC TANKS

  • Alyson L

    There is a Wonder Woman figurine in the store?! I would probably pass out if that ever happened.

  • WheelchairNinja

    So basically they’re taking down the signs that say “boys” and “girls” and **maybe** rearranging the display layouts? Whoopie. Talk about gender equality, yessireebob.

  • Jason Atkins

    This sounds good in theory, but will it actually make a noticeable difference?

    Toy stores usually fill an aisle with toys that are similar. If you have Power Rangers toys, they’re probably going to share an aisle with Transformers, and with superhero action figures. If you’ve got Barbies, you’ll probably want to put them with the other plastic dolls that you put clothes on, those plastic pretend babies, and that sort of thing. Toy stores group things together by what is similar, so it’s easy for their customers to navigate, and so that the person looking at Transformers might be tempted by the neighbouring Avengers toys, and so on. The fact that society and the manufacturers have decided that particular types of toy are “for boys” or “for girls” isn’t something that a toy store has the power to change.

    Changing the signs won’t make much of a difference if the contents of the aisles remains the same. Unless things get shuffled around so that the GI Joes and the Barbies are shelved next to each other, I don’t think very much will change.

  • Anonymous

    I still feel vaguely uncomfortable daring to browse the sci-fi mags which are always deep in the MENS INTERESTS section of shops. I know it’s stupid, but it still makes a tiny part of my self feel judged for being something odd. The other major part of me doesn’t give a flying fig biscuit and elbows the motorsports dudes out the way coz they’re inbetween me and my next fix.
    So, yeah, I understand that girls & boys will feel that with toys. Good news, a step in the right direction.

  • Jim

    I didn’t know and it’s truly sad as, many years ago, a certain boy found WW’s adventures, and those of Doc Strange, the best part ‘comic day.’

  • Anonymous

    There are Fisher Price Little People ones. My daughter has the invisible jet!

  • Anonymous

    I was in Toys R Us looking for cellotape just the other day. Oh the horrors of the ‘girl’s isle full of dolls etc. It looked like pink had been thrown up everywhere! >_>

  • Joanna

    When I was a kid I wanted a Biker Mice from Mars action figure because I watched the tv show. My mother wouldn’t let me have the toy because it was in the boy’s section of the toy catalog, but for some reason had no problem with me watching the show which did not have any big signs saying “For Boys”. I think it might make a difference.

  • Jason Atkins

    Even if the catalogue donsn’t label them as “for boys”, things like Biker Mice from Mars will still have that stigma, because of the packaging, advertising, and society’s archaic hang-ups about motorcycles and aliens only being male-appropriate. Even if the toy catalogue didn’t tell your mother that Biker Mice were for boys, society and all the other stuff would still do that. A few new signs and labels aren’t going to unwrite that stigma.

    I gotta say though – your kid self has awesome taste. Biker Mice from Mars was one of my favourite shows… though I was never allowed the toys either, because my parents didn’t want me having “fighting toys”.

  • Joanna

    It doesn’t explain why she let me watch the shows or play with other boys’ toys. Specific labeling can be a bit more persuasive than you think.

  • http://taste-is-sweet.livejournal.com/ Aundrea Singer

    Here in Texas, Target has pink and blue aisles, so you don’t even have to look for a sign. It’d be great if that changed.

    But, that doesn’t change how these days nearly all toys are marketed to a specific gender. The countless advertisements for Nerf, Lego, battle tops/monsters/collector garbage cans/whatevers always only show boys enjoying them. Why would a girl ever feel she even had a right to those toys (or vice-versa; it just seems that way more toys are even made for boys right now) when she never sees girls playing with them?

    It’s so crazy and so sad–boys get all the building and adventure stuff. And girls get to have little figures that can either be:

    a) A rock/movie star
    b) A fashion designer
    c) A veterinarian
    d) A salon owner
    e) A bakery owner
    f) (Maybe) A pediatrician

    —And that’s pretty much it. Girls apparently shouldn’t even think about being a police officer (unless they can wear a short, pretty dress), member of the military, an engineer, a scientist, an adventurer, a builder of anything, a paramedic, an athlete (except for gymnastics), a wizard, a queen (princesses are fine, but God forbid they grow up and get any authority!), a knight, an explorer, a leader, a surgeon, a hero (except for Wonder Woman and Bat Girl, I guess). Not even if they’re pretending.

    Our local Toys R Us sell a brand of toys called Imaginium (I believe), that specializes in high-quality dress-up costumes and wooden toys. They have special costume boxes you can buy, one for boys and one for girls. The boys could be a knight, a viking, a wizard, a king and a roman soldier. The girls could be five different types of princesses.

    Honestly, it makes me very glad that I didn’t have a daughter.

  • http://taste-is-sweet.livejournal.com/ Aundrea Singer

    Wow, but does your experience echo mine. I pretty much *hated* women until I was in my 20s. I never felt like I was a boy born in the wrong body, but I wanted to be male so very badly.

    And I was in my 20s in the 90s, and if anything it seems gender stereotyping has gotten worse. Watching the Cartoon Network with my son is a constant barrage of the worst kind of subtle misogyny. All the shows have so few female characters that sometimes I get the impression that all the different show producers–yes, all of them–only grudgingly acknowledge that they even exist.

  • HamsterMasterSamster

    I think it’s a scarily common experience. My breakthrough in accepting femininity didn’t really happen until my first job in the IT industry. There was a lady on my team who was sweet and caring, liked cooking, shopping, make up, was very much a ‘girly-girl’ . . . and utterly tech-savvy at the same time. Not only that, but she was completely accepting of all my “boyish”, geeky hobbies. She’d listen to me rave about the latest game or book I was reading with complete, genuine interest, even though she had few traditionally geeky hobbies herself. It honestly blew my mind. She’s one of my closest friends to this day, despite us not working together anymore, and is pretty much the main reason I I came to understand that there is nothing ~wrong~ with being stereotypically ‘girly’, nor does being all pink and effeminate mean you can’t be part of other groups at the same time. I just wish I’d learned it sooner :( Stupid society.

  • http://taste-is-sweet.livejournal.com/ Aundrea Singer

    Stupid society indeed. I just hope it’s better for my niece. At least she’s more aware of it than I was as a kid.

  • Alyson L

    They have that one – and a Batgirl in that version as well. I have been searching high and low for a 6″ version beyond that (in an actual store, not online) with no luck.

  • Melissa B.

    Very interesting. It would be interesting also to see this come to the US.