Now is the time for Toys "R" Us in the USA to join its counterparts in the UK and Sweden and end the rampant gender stereotyping in its marketing of toys to children. This week, Toys "R" Us in the UK committed to ending gender-based marketing and the Swedish Toys "R" Us franchise, Top Toy, published its first gender neutral toy catalog last holiday season. By following their examples, Toys "R" Us in the USA can send an important message to children, parents, and others that children's interests should not be limited by their gender.
Thirty years ago, it was common to see ads featuring girls and boys playing together with a wide range of toys; however, as anyone who has opened a toy catalog or walked into a major toy store in recent year knows, toys are now segregated by gender to an extreme degree. Science, building, and adventure toys are largely considered the purview of boys while dolls, arts & crafts, and toy kitchens are considered "girls toys." Through its gender-divided in-store signage and advertisements, Toys "R" Us reinforces antiquated stereotypes and encourages unnecessary divisions in children's play.
Such segregated play leads girls and boys to hone different skill sets from an early age; skills they build upon to determine the direction of their future schooling and later career path. These differences perpetuate the disparities still seen in the job market, particularly in women's low representation in technical fields like engineering and computer science, further cementing the gender-based wage gap. The number of children bullied because they wish to explore types of play that fall outside of the Toys "R" Us gendered 'boy' and 'girl' boxes also continues to rise.
Fortunately, there are easy steps that Toys "R" Us can take to make its stores and marketing materials more gender inclusive. Many toy companies in Europe have already shifted from organizing toys by gender to organizing them by toy type or theme such as science toys, pretend play, and games. From Britain’s largest department store, Harrod's, to Top Toy in Sweden, there are numerous models for Toys "R" Us to follow of other industry leaders moving away from gender stereotyping. We now ask for Toys "R" Us to step up and become a leader in the USA.
As the biggest toy store chain in the country, Toys "R" Us can set a new standard for inclusiveness by committing to end gender stereotyping in their stores and advertisements.
Here are a few steps Toys "R" Us can take:
- Remove 'boy' and 'girl' headings in their catalogs and in-store toy sections; sort toys by theme rather than gender.
- Display photos of children engaged in diverse and non-stereotypical types of play in marketing materials; a girl playing with a science set or a boy with a play kitchen.
- Display photos of boys and girls playing together with a variety of toys.
- Stop using pink and blue as proxies for 'girl' and 'boy' sections within marketing materials; let children know that a world of color is available to them.
Every child should feel free to explore their interests without being held back by what others believe a girl or boy should be, learn, or do. Let's stand together in calling on Toys "R" Us to stop marketing outdated gender stereotypes to children.