Whenever my dad or relatives came back from trips to London, the trademark thick white plastic bag with its pictures of soldiers in red coats and black bearskin hats meant only one thing – a gift from Hamleys. In my case this usually meant a box of magic tricks, more Hot Wheels cars to add to my collection, parts for the train set, Tamiya science kits, or a chemistry set. Once I moved to London however, I could never actually shop at Hamleys, since their colour-coded, gender-segregated floors offended me terribly. The blue “boys floor” contains action toys and train sets, while all the Little Princess Manicure boxsets, Tutus, My First Kitchen and Power Puff Girl paraphernalia are housed in the very pink “girls floor”. I suppose it helps people categorise and find what they’re looking for quickly (no easy task given the sheer volume of toys available for kids these days) but inculcating the “Princess” culture in young girls results in early sexualisation (sans context) in young women, and an almost ‘impossible to shrug off’ focus on appearances.
Many have ranted about the signage at Hamleys, both in private and publicly, but it took a campaign by blogger Laura Nelson before it was finally changed. (Hamleys maintains that the timing was a coincidence and not related to Ms Nelson’s campaign). A tiny victory for feminists everywhere.
On the subject of girls and toys, Bloomberg Business week has a story this week on LEGO’s attempts to reach out to the “other 50% of the world’s children”. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. On one hand, LEGO does have a toy for girls, it’s called LEGO. And I had many, many hours of fun with my sets of building blocks. On the other, I agree that perhaps the newer themed LEGO sets (Alien Conquest, Star Wars, Ninjango) are perhaps exclusionary to a certain extent. According to the article, at least LEGO seem to be aware of this paradox : “To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others.”