I owed it to myself, and my daughter, to put M&S right on the toys it sells

The retailer has pledged to market all its toys as gender-neutral


Peppa Pig is history. Our three-year-old daughter’s new obsession is the CBeebies programme Topsy and Tim, a re-make of the popular children’s books from the 1960s and 1970s about a twin sister and brother. Her favourite episode is called “Marble Run”, in which Topsy and her female friend, annoyed at Tim and his playmate Tony hogging all the marbles and plastic chutes, outsmart them by making their own contraption out of toilet roll holders.

On Monday evening, then, when I spotted a marble run toy on Marks and Spencer’s website, I decided to buy it for our daughter for Christmas. But just as I was about to click “Add to basket”, I noticed its full title was “Boy Stuff Marble Run Toy”. Since when were marbles only for boys? The packaging was in neutral colours – yellow, black and green – but on the corner of the box was a skull and crossbones with the slogan “Boy Stuff” slapped across it. Worse, there was a whole range of “Boy Stuff” including a “Dinosaur Activity File” – which presumably features a list of M&S executives – and a “Boy Stuff 500 Jokes Book”. Is this because M&S thinks little girls can’t tell jokes? Or do they believe that they can make up their own stand-up routine?

There was also a parallel range for girls called “Little Miss Arty”, based on fairies, princesses and handbags. If our child were a little bit older, she would be able to read the word “boy” on her marble run box, and think this toy is not for her. Your domain is only princesses now, she would be told – despite her loving dinosaurs and marbles. It is quite extraordinary that M&S, probably the most prominent retailer in Britain, thinks it is perfectly normal for toys to be segregated along gender lines.

Enraged, I tweeted a link to the “Boy Stuff” range late on Monday, and it was taken up by the Labour MP Stella Creasy and the campaigners Let Toys Be Toys and Everyday Sexism. By Tuesday morning, after being inundated with complaints on Twitter, M&S responded by pledging that all their toys will be “gender neutral” by spring 2014 – a decision apparently made earlier this year but not made public until this week.

Toys that had appeared under "boys stuff" at Marks & Spencer In fact, when I checked yesterday the retailer has taken swifter action and already ended its gender segregation: on its website the label “Boy Stuff” has been replaced by “Kids’ Stuff”. This is a victory, but everywhere you look, retailers continue to think that girls want handbags and boys want trains. John Lewis has a girls range featuring jewellery kits; its boys range is all Batman and Star Wars. Campaigners like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks say that in the 1970s (when I was growing up), shops did not offer such gender-stereotyped toys. There were Sindy dolls in my toy box, but also Lego and marbles.

The announcement by M&S has triggered a backlash; it’s accused of being “cowards” for “caving in to the PC brigade”. But try telling a little girl that some toys are out of bounds for her. By the age of five or six, children are very aware of labels: stick the words “boy stuff” on a box and a girl won’t play with it. And this matters in later life: giving a girl a chemistry set at seven will give her more confidence to study science at school.

For now, our daughter is blissfully unaware of how the world expects her to be: she refuses to wear a dress, and a doll dressed in pink sits at the end of her bed, ignored. I ordered the M&S “Boy Stuff Marble Run Toy” anyway, as a small act of defiance. I predict she will play with it for hours on end – once I get rid of the packaging.

So am I OK to have a Christmas drink?

There were figures from the Office for National Statistics this week showing that women over 65 are drinking more often than those of a younger generation. One in seven women have alcohol at least five days a week, while just 2 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 say they have this much.

Alcohol-related illnesses cost the NHS £3.5bn a year, while 8 per cent of all hospital admissions are linked to drinking. Perhaps the generational shift shows how the over-65s prefer to spread out their alcohol intake, maybe one glass of wine a night, while younger people concentrate their drinking in one night – what the ONS calls “HDD” or “heavy drinking day”. But drill down into the figures, and the picture is more encouraging: 48 per cent of women say they had no alcohol in the week before responding to the questionnaire, a figure which has risen from 43 per cent in the past year. Time to feel less guilty about that Christmas sherry.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The central concept of Death Row Dinners is an interesting way  to make us think more about our food  

Out there: A death row diner, the other musicians taking a leaf out of U2's (i)book and rolling up my CV for a smoking hot job opportunity

Simmy Richman
A ceramic figure is the only thing remaining at the site of this destroyed home in Fredalba, California. The dry Santa Ana winds roll into Southern California from the upper Mojave Desert, setting off car alarms and starting wildfires  

Time for God to step in on climate change, Groucho Marx's answer to golf prejudice and education, the best method of birth control

Ellen E Jones
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam