Girls and Toys

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.”

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3 Comments

  • Finally!
    Glad to see a post. I have often debated this with my male friends and they ask me this question : If you are going to break a stereotype or classification you are going to reinforce another one.
    Are females ready for a new set of imagery? The debate takes a whole new dimension when females dress like men to ‘break/battle’ the stereotype. Do we really need to do this to prove our point?
    Can we be pursuing our choices in pink or any other color?

  • Thanks.. now that I’m home, and it’s the end of the year, I’m revisiting resolutions to blog more often. It’s incredibly hard to work up the motivation after a day spent writing/editing at work, and I really think my attention span has fallen drastically, and now hovers at around 140 chars! 🙂

    On stereotypes – I like having the choices – to play princess or to play with monster trucks. The problem with putting kids into gender-specific boxes at a young age (and these things are marketed to young girls ages 2-8!) is that it reinforces negative messages that haunt you later. Girls who play princess learn to be desired, before they learn to desire..

    One of my favourite lines from Peggy Orenstein was “It’s not that pink is intrinsically bad, it is such a tiny slice of the rainbow,”

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