UK Toys R Us dropping “boy” and “girl” aisles: Why it matters

Last week, I came across this article which discussed the recent decision of the UK branches of Toys R Us to drop the specific “boy” and “girl” areas in their stores. Actually, this is a growing trend in the UK, spurred on by a campaign called “Let Toys Be Toys“. According to their website, this campaign’s mission is as follows:

“Let Toys Be Toys is asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them.

Isn’t it time that shops stopped limiting our children’s imagination by telling them what they ought to play with?

The answer is simple – we’re asking retailers and manufacturers to sort toys by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let the children decide which toys they enjoy best.”

Oh, how I wish we could bring this movement across the pond. Growing up, I was not a typical girl. Most of my friends were boys. I spent my days playing Jurassic Park tag (I was a velociraptor), building forts in the woods, and smashing rocks with hammers looking for geodes. I hated, hated Barbies. I liked pink, but I lived in overalls, often with a pink shirt and pink bandana. Fast-forward 30 years, and I have two sons. My older son isn’t a typical boy. He is dying for his own tea set (made of real porcelain, please!) and loves to cook. He helps me with our weekly cleaning around the house, and honestly this kid is the king of party planning. When he was 2, he wanted his own play kitchen. I was happy to oblige, but finding kitchen gear that wasn’t made explicitly for girls was not easy. As I walked down the aisles of Toys R Us and Target, seeing frilly pink aprons and purple blenders, it was clear that I was in girl territory. When we learned he would be becoming a big brother, I set out to find him a realistic-looking baby doll and accessories, and again was stuck with the blinding aisles of pink-ness. Apparently teaching our sons to cook and be fathers isn’t a manly enough proposition.

Do I care if he has a pink tea set? Heck no. But his peers do. From a remarkably early age, kids pick up on the fact that the “boy” aisles contain construction toys, building sets, and super heros. The “girl” aisles contain mostly care-taking themed toys such as tiny plastic pets, babies, and pretend homemaking items. Can parents simply cross those aisles? Of course they can, but kids quickly pick up on comments from friends that “only girls like pink ovens” and “only boys wear tool belts”.

I will leave you with a final story about gender identity and kids, and why we should avoid throwing our stereotypes at them during their formative years:

Friends of ours are a family with two young children who happen to have two moms. It has never occurred to my sons to question this; to them, it’s just how it is. One day, our lawn was particularly long, and I said “Wow, daddy will have to mow tonight!” My older son responded “You know, moms can mow lawns too. Joey’s family has two moms, zero dads, and their lawn is still mowed!” I wish we could all adopt this mindset about gender roles, at the very least when it comes to playtime.

above images from the USA Toys R Us mobile website

12 thoughts on “UK Toys R Us dropping “boy” and “girl” aisles: Why it matters

  1. I agree that “Toys Should Be Toys”; however, don’t you think it’s less about the organization of a store and more about making gender neutral toys (e.g. yellow and green tea set, etc)? Additionally, advertisements focused on a mixed gender group of children instead of focusing specifically on one gender would play a big role in changing perception.

    1. Lucy YES. I really agree on this, however, I think if toys weren’t so separated by gender in stores, manufacturers would see less of a need to make them scream “boy” or “girl” through design. I suppose it’s kind of a chicken versus egg dilemma. Honestly, I’d love things to just be durable, well-designed, and in realistic colors (such as black/white/silver appliances, wooden dollhouses, etc). Melissa and Doug, as well as PlanToys, have both done a pretty good job of this in my experience…but they are quite an investment!

  2. Hi, I’m Kerry from Let Toys Be Toys – thanks so much for your support of the campaign! I love the Brits too (especially the amazing women and men I’ve gotten to know through Let Toys Be Toys). But I couldn’t read your lovely post and comments without letting you know that Let Toys Be Toys has a strong Connecticut connection – namely me! I grew up in Hartford, but am now living in Ireland, and I am one of the organizers of the campaign, which covers both the UK and Ireland. We would be so thrilled to see a similar movement in the US – especially if it started in CT!

    1. Hi Kerry! How wonderful to hear from you! I am honored to hear that our support of your message reached all the way back to you. Michelle (founder and manager of CTWorkingMoms) is contacting you via email at some point soon. So funny to hear of the Connecticut connection! Thank you for your wonderful work! I hope we see more of this over here, as well!

  3. I love love love this and could not agree more! Makes me crazy whenever I hear “pink is for hotels” or “that’s a girl toy.”

    1. Ummm…you know that was supposed to say girls, right? I really don’t have a color preference in hotels. Stupid phone.

      1. I agree, Jen. It’s rough when other kids (and even, sometimes, other parents!) hold on to gender stereotypes and project them on to kids who aren’t even their children. Makes me really upset!

  4. Yes, let toys be toys! I love that ~ and I love those Brits, they’ve always been a little more progressive than us! Great post, Sarah!

  5. Amen I wish they would do this in the U.S.! I LOVED reading that quote in your piece, I totally agree with it. Let toys be toys! Awesome slogan.

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