On the agenda: Imagine Children's Festival; The Voice; Googlebox; gender neutral toys


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The Independent Culture

Middle-class problems: Gender neutral toys

By Emma Finamore

The 21st-century middle-class parent has enough to worry about (the sugar content in their children's diet, schools, the cost of raising the little darlings and striking the right balance between "screen time" and "active play"). And now a whole new minefield stretches out before us: the gender-neutral toy.

Once the fodder of child psychologists' papers and niche feminist blogs, this issue has slowly crept up on us and into the mainstream, with even Radio 4's Woman's Hour launching into the debate at the end of last year.

The cause of all this chatter? Lego, once the go-to brand for the gift-giver, has come under fire for its (aimed squarely at little girls) range of "Lego Friends", featuring a pet salon, bakery and (shudder) juice bar. Hamleys, in spite of getting rid of its "pink" and "blue" section markers, still sells a cleaning set with a bright-pink dust pan and brush. Sensing the way the wind is blowing, Marks & Spencer recently announced that its toys will be gender-neutral by this spring.

So, once you have purged the toy cupboard of anything sparkly or macho, can you put up your feet in the knowledge that little Isabella will now grow up to be a physicist/astronaut? We fear not, as the problem remains what to do when she throws a massive (and frankly unladylike) tantrum because she wants to go to the party dressed as a fairy princess, while Harry demands to have his Hot Wheels set returned.

We may not be able to afford family holidays any more, but it seems there is no end in sight to the middle-class guilt trip.