Gender-neutral toys: Why dressing your daughter in pink 'damages the future of our economy'

Jenny Willott MP and Labour's Chi Onwurah explain why limiting children's play may impact their future career choices and hurt British industry

Dressing your daughter in pink and buying her ‘girly’ toys damages the future of our economy, a Government minister has said.

Jenny Willott, the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, expressed her opposition to the gender-specific marketing of children's toys during a Westminster Hall debate led by Labour's Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central.

The Liberal Democrat Business minister insisted youngsters should not be made to feel guilty or ashamed for experimenting with different toys, adding boys should feel free to play with a pushchair and girls to kick a football.

She said by limiting our children’s toys, we tell our daughters and sons their gender "defines the roles they will play in society well into the future and defines what dreams they may have".

The gender-specific marketing of toys was “not just a side issue” but was “fundamentally important to our economy,” she added.

Limiting how children learn through play could impact on skills shortages across science, technology, engineering and maths, she argued. Girls could grow up feeling these careers were not suitable for their gender.

Shadow minister Ms Onwurah has a personal interest in the issue. She worked as a professional engineer in three continents over two decades, yet despite this she only felt she was really experiencing gender segregation when she walked into a toy shop.

She told MPs there had been no increase in women undertaking engineering degrees compared with 30 years ago while the UK had the lowest proportion of female professional engineers in Europe at 6 per cent.

Ms Onwurah said she wanted her niece and nephew to grow up in a world where toys were toys and not “colour-coded constraints on their choices”.

She said: “I am not calling for legislation.

“But others do observe that it is illegal to advertise a job as for men only but apparently fine to advertise a toy as for boys only.

“Why should girls be brought up in an all-pink environment? It's now got to the point where it is difficult to buy toys for girls in particular, which are not pink, princess-primed and/or fairy-infused.”

“It does not reflect the real world.”

There is a growing campaign to end gender marketing of toys. In December, Marks and Spencers agreed to gender-neutral toy packaging after complaints that their "Boys Stuff" and "Little Miss Arty" ranges were stereotyping children and limiting their growth. The company withdrew their range after being publicly called out by The Independent’s Jane Merrick and politician Stella Creasy. Toy R Us in Stockholm relaunched in December with a gender-neutral revamp. However gender-marketing is still big business when it comes to children’s toys.

Ministers reflected on how the adage “pink for girls and blue for boys” is a recent phenomenon and has been used by toy companies to boost profits.

Ms Onwurah said: “What may be driving big company profit-margin is limiting our children's choices and their experiences.

“And it's ultimately limiting the UK's social and economic potential as well as helping to maintain the gender pay gap.”

Ed Miliband used the growing gender pay gap to lambast David Cameron at PMQs on Wednesday. He told the Chamber: “Why, for the first time in five years, has the gap between men and women’s pay increased? …because the minimum wage is losing value, because of the growth of zero hours contracts, and the problem women have accessing childcare.”

Figures from the ONS in August showed that despite more women being in work than ever, women are more likely to be in badly paid sectors – 77 per cent of UK administrative and secretarial workers are female, for example. Women form two-thirds of those earning less than a living wage and three-quarters of those in part-time work.  There’s also a "motherhood pay penalty" : mothers earn 26 per cent less than fathers.  A study last March showed female graduates can expect to earn thousands of pounds a year less than their male counterparts.

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn