I have just become a great aunt for the second time. Now my own children are secondary school age, it’s lovely to have the chance to browse the web for baby toys again. But a particular smile came over me when I landed on the home page of Woody’s Toy Shop.
If you can, take a look and see what strikes you. For me, the most pleasing part is what is not there. You are not invited to search by ‘toys for girls’ and ‘toys for boys’. You can search by ‘arts and crafts’ and ‘discovery’ but no reference to gender.
Now contrast that with Tesco Direct’s K’Nex fairground ride. Here it is quite specifically described as a ‘boys toy’. I’ve already written about when I spoke to the head of toys and nursery for Tesco Direct about this, and she explained that this was a business decision – it helped customers navigate the site to find what they wanted.
Letterbox is a site I have used, and it has lots of categorisation to help navigate but still has boys and girls as an option … along with ‘tomboy’. Hmm!
Do these gender classifications for toys matter? Well, Tesco labelling K’Nex as a ‘boys toy’ is obviously not directly causing the low numbers of women in engineering …. however, it is an example of ongoing social and cultural influence on girls from the day they are born that certain things are ‘suitable’ or ‘normal’ and others are at best ‘different’ and at worst simply ‘wrong’. While WISE and Talent 2030 and many others are trying to get the message out that there are wonderful opportunities open to women in science, engineering and manufacturing, there is constant, almost subliminal, messaging to the contrary.
Is it any coincidence that IKEA’s website for toys is gender neutral, as are their toys? The Scandanavian countries have a much higher percentage of women in engineering professions than the UK. In Sweden it is 26% while the UK comes bottom of the table in Europe at only 9%.
I’m delighted to see Woody’s bucking the UK trend and concentrating on the quality and ‘play value’ of the toys. So baby Jonas is getting …. no, I won’t say – that would spoil the surprise!