The Last Word

January 3, 2013 5:49 pm

Toymakers challenged on gender stereotypes

Pinkstinks©Alamy

When sisters Emma and Abi Moore were pregnant at the same time they noticed something disturbing about advertising. Expecting a daughter, Emma was bombarded with plastic castles, dolls and pink babygros. Abi, expecting a boy, was offered blue and brown baby clothes and a Power Ranger set. It made them question the marketing strategies behind these products. In 2008 they founded the pressure group Pinkstinks, which is challenging the gender messaging of toy companies such as Disney, Toys R Us and Mattel.

The sisters hope to rally opinion against the “pinkification” of girlhood and they target products, media and marketing that promote stereotyped and limiting roles to girls.

One of their first campaigns tackled a globe sold by the Early Learning Centre. The girls’ edition was pink with mermaids swimming in the sea, while the one for boys showed boats and blue seas. They have also targeted pink vacuum cleaners and lilac ironing boards aimed at girls. “I don’t have a problem with these toys as long as they are made for boys and girls,” says Emma. “But they are not, and they portray the sense of being a girl is purely being pretty and passive.”

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Toy fairs in Hong Kong, London, New York and Germany in January and February, which set the agenda for this year’s toys, are likely to see more gender-specific playthings on offer. Toy retailers are increasingly counting on girls for a boost to sales.
A survey by the market research company NPD Group, showed UK sales aimed at little girls grew 11 per cent in the year to June 2012, while sales to boys have grown by just 1 per cent.

Pinkstinks is not the only group fighting gender stereotyping. Last year, blogger Laura Nelson got Hamleys to change the signs dividing the toy shop into girl’s and boy’s sections following a campaign that was picked up on the Mumsnet website and Twitter.

Fathers4justice, the campaign group, recently complained to the UK Advertising Standards Authority about an Asda ad in which a mother shops, cooks and cleans for Christmas without help from her husband or children.

Pressure on retailers can make a difference. Until recently J Sainsbury, the supermarket chain, sold doctor’s outfits tagged for boys, while girls had nurse and beautician outfits. But following a Pinkstinks campaign on Twitter and Facebook, it removed the gender-specific labelling.

Pinkstinks has more than 8,000 Twitter followers and more than 7,500 Facebook supporters. Similar movements have started in Australia (Toward The Stars) and the US (Princess Freezone). The German version of Pinkstinks was founded last March. “We are in contact via Skype,” says Stevie Schmiedel. “When we spot a sexist ad or toy we join forces.” A recent campaign tackled a girl edition of the Kinder Surprise egg by Ferrero. After thousands signed a petition, the pink chocolate egg disappeared from German supermarket shelves.

Emma’s daughters, now aged 10 and six, love pink and dolls and dressing up as princesses or fairies. “I am not banning pink stuff. But they always have a choice,” says Ms Moore.

Recent research supports her view that lack of choice and selective messages can be damaging. “Children weren’t colour-coded at all until the early 20th century”, says Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter – Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture. She believes “princess-mania” has a strong impact on girls’ self-esteem.

Not everyone is a fan of the campaign. “Some called us bad mothers, or ugly and horrible”, says Emma, who admits she has sometimes considered giving up. But little girls especially want them to continue: “We are their voice,” she says.

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