Could pink toys stop our daughters becoming scientists?

Published on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 10:20
Written by Vicki Mitchem

Jenny Willott, Women and Equalities Minister said defining toys into "boys' toys" and "girls' toys" has a negative effect on the number of women entering the STEM professions.

By limiting our children's toys, we tell our daughters and sons their gender "defines the roles they will play in society well into the future and defines what dreams they may have". The gender-specific marketing of toys was "not just a side issue" but was "fundamentally important to our economy."

A recent attempt by doll goliath Mattel to turn this on its head with 'Entrepreneur Barbie' was criticised after many pointed out the doll had no obvious profession, did little to inspire young girls to set up their own business or teach them any of the skills required and disparaged her all-pink outfit.

Willott hopes working with retailers will go some way to inspiring young girls to further a career in STEM subjects after growing up and playing with traditionally 'boys' toys. "We want to look at how toy shops are laid out. We want to talk to manufacturers about how they package things.

"We're very keen to work with the industry to work and see how we can make it easier for girls and make it more attractive for girls to get involved and play with these toys," Willott told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

Marketing science toys exclusively to boys makes girls feel those toys are not for them, which could potentially put them off a related career. The New Scientist reported that although the research did not yet exist, stereotyping has a negative effect. "True, there is no research linking gendered marketing of toys and books and later occupational discrimination or sharing of household chores. But the smart money would say the effects won't be trivial, given that children are enveloped in some of the most relentless stereotyping to be found in the 21st century."

Campaign group Let Toys Be Toys has championed the movement against the stereotypical 'pink' and 'blue' departments of shops such as Toys R Us, Marks & Spencer and Hamleys suggesting toys should be sorted according to type instead of gender. Set up after a conversation on Mumsnet Let Toys Be Toys has focused on big retailers who traditionally had aisles of 'girl' and 'boy' toys.

After pressure from the campaigners, Toys R Us changed their policy in December 2013 so that the website and store no longer categorise according to gender. To date this still stands however, as of June 2014, none of the toys in the dolls section featured a male child in any of the photos, nor did any of the toys in the robotics section have a girl pictured with the toy.

Asked if gender-based toys could be putting girls off studying science and maths David Cameron's spokesperson said, "Encouraging girls to study maths and science is very much part of the government's approach."

"No student should feel restricted by their gender", said Ms Willott, "There really is no such thing as jobs for boys and jobs for girls".

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