Young girls are being sold a sexualised version of femininity

Boys and girls should be able to choose any toy they wish

Marks and Spencer recently decided to make all its toys gender neutral following complaints from customers about a range of toys called ‘Boy’s Stuff’. There are ongoing objections to toy shops dividing toys into the overwhelmingly pink aisle for girls with the cars, adventure figures, trains and planes being in the boys’ section of the shop. The Pinkstinks campaign in Britain targets the products, media and marketing that they view to be prescribing “heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls”. They feel that all children – boys and girls – are affected by what they describe as the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. One of Pinkstink’s successes was the removal of a pink globe, complete with mermaids, from the shelves of the Early Learning Centre. Part of the strongly worded criticism of the Early Learning Centre on a blog on the Pinkstinks website was that they didn’t seem to be offering or actively promoting “a choice for girls outside of normative gender constructs”.

Cultural stereotypes

Lego have come under fire too following the launch of their Lego Friends range which is aimed specifically at girls. Featuring lots of pink and figures that have a more womanly shape, lovers of the traditional multi-coloured Lego sets believe that girls’ creativity and imagination is being stifled by the more prescriptive girly-style sets. Lego have countered these claims stating that their new range was in no way attempting to play on cultural stereotypes, but was based on four years of research into the way boys and girls play. Lego spokesperson, Charlotte Simonsen explains: “We asked a lot of girls what they wanted and it turned out that they wanted something that let everyone be friends and that included animals.”

I think some of the attacks on Lego were unwarranted. Having trailed around shops for hours on end looking for toys that don’t feature brightly flashing lights and shrill noises, anything from Lego is automatically superior. Compare any Lego set to the range of dolls that look like they’re straight from an adult music video and there’s no competition when it comes to what most parents would favour. Children from three years old are being bombarded with images of what it means to be male or female. All too often, young girls are being sold a very sexualised version of femininity. There is no doubt that girls’ toys have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The cute baby- doll looks of old have been replaced by long eyelashes, coquettish smiles and heels that look more like weapons than foot attire. Even old favourites like My Little Pony and the much-loved Troll dolls have been given total revamps. The ponies are now more Disney princess than trusty beast and the trolls have morphed into Trolz. Gone are the pug noses and pot bellies replaced with taller, thinner, more stylish models with bare midriffs, giant eyes and carefully styled hair.

Limited parameters

There are two main objections to toys that seem to be geared to young girls. There’s a fear among those who run campaigns like Pinkstinks that girls are being defined within very limited parameters which limits their goal setting and creativity. They then make the huge leap by suggesting that this focus on princesses and being pretty in pink can affect future career choices. The other concern about girls toys in particular is that they may contribute to the early sexualisation of children. Will dolls or dress up outfits that are risqué, even by adult standards, teach our girls that to be loved and admired you have to lower your standards, flash a little flesh and hide your natural beauty behind the latest hot pink lipstick?

As a mother of three boys and three girls, I’m not too concerned about toys being gender neutral. I find that if children are provided with a variety of toys, they’ll gravitate towards those that most interest them. As a young girl, I much preferred board games and books to any doll, but I had plenty of dolls and always found some creative use for them much to my younger sisters’ dismay. My three-year-old son is surrounded by fairies and dolls and princess dress-ups belonging to his sisters, but prefers cars and trucks to any other type of toy. It doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been roped in as a frequent extra in the girls’ games and has even been persuaded into the odd pink glittery gown.


All my girls went through a pink stage, but, as teenagers, princess dresses are not the top fashion accessory. I believe the key to a girl’s success doesn’t depend on her childhood toys, but on the love, support and encouragement of her parents. The same applies to boys. If a mother is a powerful role model of what can be achieved in or outside the home, this will be the example many girls will seek to emulate. If a father can chop wood today, calm a crying infant tomorrow and doesn’t view housework as women’s work, he’s doing more for his sons than any pink statement shirt. I’m totally in favour of boys or girls being able to choose any toy they wish to without worrying if it’s a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy, but it’s the input of dedicated, involved adults who’ll trust that they can reach for the stars that will really influence children’s future success.