Walk into any supermarket today and you will be confronted with shelves of back-to-school equipment. Row upon row of pens, pencil cases, rulers, notepads, lunchboxes, drinks bottles, bags – you name it, they’ve got it.
Most are decorated with your children’s favourite characters, from Peppa Pig, Barbie and Hello Kitty, to Spider-Man, Fireman Sam and Star Wars. Half of them are available in any colour, as long as it’s pink; the other half, blue. Guess which half goes with which colour…
It’s the same with toys. Adverts for many products are adorned with images of girls dressed as princesses, playing with dolls and pushchairs, or boys dressed as firemen riding bikes while waving water-pistols around. If you venture into a toy shop, some go even further, with one side labelled “girls”, the other “boys”. OK, it may not be quite so blatant as that, but the inference is there.
So the news that one of the country’s biggest toy retailers, Toys R Us, is to cease its gender-specific labelling has to be welcomed. At first glance it may have some way to go – its website yesterday still featured a girl playing with a fairy castle and a boy in a car – but at least we are starting to talk about the issue.
I’m not calling for everything to be bland and grey, but we often assume that our sons want blue things, and daughters pink.
If we can reduce gender stereo-typing in childhood, maybe it will carry through to adult life. I’ll just have to run the risk of no one laughing when, on my son’s 21st birthday, I produce a photo of him wearing a pink dress and make-up while playing with a dolls’ house!