Maggie Cole, a seven-year-old resident of Poole, Dorset, southern England has struck a blow for gender equality in the war against gendered stereotypes after managing to get her local supermarket to bin what she considered to be a sexist sign advertising a clock in their toy department, the Metro newspaper reports.
She stumbled across the sign while shopping with her mother Karen at the Tesco supermarket near their home in the seaside town. The cardboard sign, which was affixed to a shelf in the children’s’ toy aisle, had been erected by the retailer to advertise a Marvel Comics alarm clock. Underneath a picture of the product were the words “Fun gifts for boys” printed in bold type. Maggie was so annoyed by the store’s biased suggestion of the suitability of the clock, that she alerted her mother who took a picture of her daughter with the offending sign and tweeted it.
The plucky youngster then complained to Tesco, saying that she would “not stand for the notion boys and girls liked specific toys” the Metro reported. The supermarket responded by removing the sign, scoring a victory for gender equality and many parents’ struggle to remind retailers of the right for children to choose toys and games according to their preferences, not their gender. Maggie is said to be a huge fan of superheroes, in particular Batman, Superman, Spider Man and Wonder Woman, and was quoted by Metro as describing the supermarket as ‘very stupid’.
Karen Cole tweeted a picture of Maggie looking displeased next to the sign, along with the caption “My superhero loving 7yo daughter not impressed when she spotted this sign in @Tesco today @LetToysBeToys” The @LetToysBeToys handle belongs to an activist group, Let Toys Be Toys, which campaigns against gender-based stereotyping in the toy and marketing industries. Maggie herself has long made it clear that she believes that toys are “for all people”, according to Metro.
A Tesco spokesperson later commented “The sign has been removed and we’re sorry if it caused any confusion“.
In February 2014, another seven-year-old, Charlotte Benjamin, wrote a letter to manufacturer Lego criticising the Denmark-based firm for gender segregation and the heavy bias of the company towards young male customers, while having few, and inevitably pink, options for young girls. In the letter, which went viral after it was republished on the internet, Charlotte wrote eloquently “All the girls (in the Lego play sets) did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.“
Retailers selling toys and children’s gifts have traditionally marketed different toys to boys and girls, while many toy manufacturers usually market blue toys to male children and pink ones to female children, although increasing activism against differential gender roles has reduced the appetite for this form of marketing among consumers. Many British parents now opt to bring up their children with gender-neutral toys and games.
Increasingly, parents and advocates of gender rights have brought toy manufacturers and purveyors to task for enforcing what they believe are stereotypes of men and women via only marketing different toys to boys and girls. The backlash against ‘dolls for girls and trucks for boys’ has seen many UK shops no longer stock toys by gender. Studies have shown that forcing children to play with toys ‘expected’ for their gender can have an impact on their career choices as adults, as well as pressuring them to follow societal stereotypes.
In June this year, UK Equalities Minister, Jenny Wilmott, appealed to the country’s retailers to stop sorting toys by gender, claiming such segregation would put off girls from entering traditionally male-dominated career paths such as science and engineering, according to The Guardian newspaper. In an interview with the paper, Wilmott said “Children should be able to make their own choices over which toys they want to play with, without them being labelled as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’“. The minister also proposed that toy and other product catalogues should categorise playthings by topics such as construction, science or beauty, rather than in broad categories for boys and girls. Other Members of Parliament however, have accused toy firms of ‘aggressive gender segregation’ and that their obsession with pink kitchen sets, princess dresses and vacuum cleaners for girls is putting them off dreaming of being mathematicians, scientists or professors and harming their confidence levels, says the Daily Mail. Many toy aisles in the United Kingdom are little more than shelves of pink or blue, with one particular gender being aimed at, while toy manufacturers have been accused of using pink and blue themed and gender biased marketing techniques to put pressure on parents and carers to buy into stereotypes and also to charge premiums on certain products.
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“Girl, 7, gets Tesco to change sign that says clock is ‘gift for a boy’” – Jimmy Nsubuga, Metro/Associated Newspapers Ltd (25 November 2014) http://metro.co.uk/2014/11/25/girl-7-gets-tesco-to-change-sign-that-says-clock-is-gift-for-a-boy-4962697/?ito=facebook
“Stop shops sorting toys by gender, says equalities minister” – Rowena Mason, The Guardian – News – World News – Gender/Guardian News and Media Limited (27 June 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/27/toys-gender-jenny-wilmott-science-engineering-careers
“Toy firms accused of ‘aggressive gender segregation’ with pink obsession blamed for putting girls off maths and science” – Matt Chorley, Mail Online News/Associated Newspapers Ltd (5 February 2014) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2552381/Toy-firms-accused-aggressive-gender-segregation-pink-girls-puts-maths-science.html
Karen Cole, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/karlou