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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future