Malala leads the way, and retail nearly keeps up

Plans are afoot to make toys for young children less relentlessly gender-specific

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The Independent Online

Good news, on the face of it, from the front line of the war against sexism. Increasingly, sexists like to get 'em while they're young, or even unborn, by targeting babies and children with relentlessly gender-specific images. Girls' toys and clothes are pink, have pictures of girls on them, and focus on domestic chores and looking pretty; those for boys come in all sorts of colours, have pictures of boys on them, and are usually involved with more fun stuff such as driving trucks and making explosions. (In one major UK toy retailer there's a whole aisle of pink plastic vacuum cleaners and ironing boards with pictures of good little girls on the boxes. It's next to a "boys" aisle full of science kits, trains and Lego Technic.)

This has not gone unnoticed by modern parents, many of whom grew up in the 1970s when clothes and games were mostly unisex and everyone seemed to turn out perfectly OK nonetheless. (Is there a Seventies child out there who didn't own a pair of brown, corduroy dungarees that they wore to play space rockets and "make perfume out of flower petals" in?) So when Simon Calver, the CEO of Mothercare, took part in a webchat on Mumsnet on Friday, he was asked to account for the fact that many of his products seem to be gender segregated, pink and blue. "You'll certainly see less boy/girl differentiation in future," he promised. "For example there are no pink/blue toys in the baby and toddler range." At last!

Unfortunately, on Mothercare's website, the first toy in the "baby and toddler" section is a predominantly pink house, being played with by a girl. On the same page is a multicoloured "Mr Mechanic's Racing Car", being played with by a boy. This seems typical across the range. Oh dear.

To be fair, the website is searchable by age and topic as well as by "boys", "girls" or "unisex". Maybe Mr Calver was thinking about Mothercare's Early Learning Centre, which is admirably unsexist, particularly in the dressing-up section. We can only hope that he keeps his word about the rest.

Meanwhile, Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, had her first day back at lessons last week, in Birmingham.

"I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school," said this brilliant young woman on Tuesday. "I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity."

The remarkable thing about feminists is that we can keep several ideas in our pretty little heads all at once: it is possible to be simultaneously annoyed about British girls being led down a path of vacuuming and submission, and outraged about Pakistani girls fired at for attending school.

All the same, the week has been a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the liberty to complain about pink plastic houses, and a great day for women, and everyone. Mothercare should name a toy after Malala. Not a pink one.

Twitter: @katyguest36912