Harrod’s toys with ending children’s gender segregation

Gender segregation starts at the toy store: Boys don’t get to play with pink soccer balls. Girls don’t get to have a Star Wars thermos. And if the child deviates from the norm the kid’s just inviting a bully into their lives!

To keep the kids who just don’t know better from picking up the WRONG toy, a lot of toy stores have helpfully colour-coded their aisles into pink for girls and blue for boys. Because living in fear of being bullied is much better than expressing yourself the way that fits you.

Now Harrod’s new “Toy Kingdom” doesn’t segregate toys by perceived gender anymore, but by subject:

Well-intentioned parents might feel like they’re saving their sons from bullying by pointing them away from traditionally feminine toys or behaviors. But Goldman said that encouraging them to change for the sake of others protects the bully and not the child.

How about you? Have some stories to share about the kids in your lives and their preferred toys? Some old grievances from your own youth that need airing? (I wanted to be one of the turtles! But I had to be April!) Share them in the comments!


  1. says

    I find it endlessly entertaining how many people /Flip Out/ over this kind of thing.

    There was a similar thing back in December, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/8953771/Toys-for-boys-and-girls-are-a-no-no-at-Hamleys.html (I can’t tell who’s being serious).
    It’s just ludicrous how many people are outright offended, and seem to find it genuinely threatening that some people might /ease up/ on policing children’s behavior. It’s just so terrible for the lines between of feminine and masculine to blur.

    It’d be awesome if this trend made its way up to the toy makers. (I’d worry about it backfiring and encouraging toy makers to be more ostentatious about the intended gender of their products, but just I don’t see how that’s possible).

  2. says

    I’m not sure what it is people find so threatening, either. I feel sure part of it is laziness – a lot of people can’t be bothered to learn their loved one’s preferences and wants, so they just want to be able to walk into the store and say “What’s good for an eight year old girl?” And of course the stores aren’t going to tell them, “Why don’t you ask the girl in question, you lazy shit?” So, this new retail model means they’re going to have to do some homework, and they’re not liking that.

    But that’s not all of it, obviously. Plenty of people know precisely what their kids want, and that’s what scares them. Because if we thwart gender roles, then something something, and then something terrible happens. I just don’t know what the something something is.

  3. Red says

    I wanted armor.

    Yes, you read right. Right with the poofy Cinderella-type dress, I wanted armor with a sword. I wanted to be the warrior princess in the pretty gown, but could kick butt!!!More than anything though, I wanted the sword. Still do.

    I wish I asked for it. Sure, they might not have had it, but I could have tried!

  4. Attackfish says

    Look at all this time and effort society puts into policing gender roles for children, and then the same people who would never let their son play with the pink toy are the ones yelling “it’s natural! Boys and girls are just born different!” the loudest.

  5. says


    That’s what I have never understood. We’re told it’s totally natural, it’s biology, nothing we can do about it – but then huge portions of our society are organized around policing gender norms and enforcing them aggressively. If you stopped doing that, there would be so much “unnatural” behavior about that we might have to question what “natural” really is here.

    I really need to write about two books I read on scientific studies. One was by a woman who totally believes there are small inherent gender differences, but thinks the studies so far are nowhere near establishing anything useful. Her ideas are dangerous enough. The other is by Cordelia Fine, who points out that (a) most of the studies were done very, very badly and (b) even the ones that had decent methodology in and of themselves miss the point that we don’t really have a clue what it means when this particular dot in your brain lights up on an MRI – even if men’s and women’s brains are physically organized differently, it does NOT necessarily follow that we must behave differently.

  6. minuteye says

    I always hated the fact that I got lumped in with sister in gifts, because we were both girls, and my brother got something else. We would get slightly different versions of the same thing, despite the fact that we could not be more different in our likes and dislikes. A gift-giving strategy that always left somebody unhappy, but was followed strictly until… well, it’s still sort of being followed.

    Really, I loved my porcelain doll, but by the end of her tenure, she was really more glue than porcelain.

  7. Ara says

    My boyfriend (a man who never thought much about gender politics until he met me) pointed out to me that while feminism has come pretty far in terms of making it okay for a female to do traditionally masculine things, it still isn’t socially acceptable for a male to do traditionally feminine things.

    I think in some ways that might be one next step, because a lot of the rhetoric of “women can do anything a man can do” still paints “man things” as being somehow inherently better. (Heck, I’ve had feminists ridicule me and tell me I’m setting back the progress of women because when I someday have kids I really do want to be a stay-at-home mom.) If life choices become just life choices rather than man things or women things, it might open things up to real gender equality, but I think at its core that has to include changing the social perception of feminine men as well because otherwise society is still worshiping masculinity, it just becomes acceptable for either gender to be masculine.

  8. says


    Who ARE these feminists who say this? I’ve heard this all my life and somehow never seen it in the wild, but if you can point them my way, I’d be happy to slap them around thoroughly with a wet haddock.

    Actually, feminists have indeed been pushing for men to do what they want in their lives for decades. For example, it was feminists, not any male groups, who pushed for protected “family” leave rather than just maternity leave.

  9. Ara says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Feminists who go to my school, which is full of pretentious privileged white kids. (I’m a privileged white kid too, although nowhere near as privileged as some of the kids here, but I try to avoid pretentiousness.) They tend to err on the side of sounding all movement-y without having any idea what they’re talking about, and they lack exposure to people of other classes. These are the same ones who asked why I’m in college at all if that’s what I want. I think a lot of the “why would anyone do that?” feminists are the ones who really want to feel cool and special and fighting-the-power (rather than just wanting to end inequality), and the idea that others might choose something else of their own free will impinges on their sense that they are cool and special and inherently better, because it brings their choice from being a blow for Righteousness to being one possible life-path out of many. (As I recall, you haven’t spend a lot of time on liberal college campuses full of upper-middle-class women? That would explain why you haven’t run into them.)

    Huh. I didn’t know that about the early feminist movement. Now all we have to do is change the culture and we win! (Yes, so much easier said than done, but I think moves like Harrod’s is making are good steps. Anything legal that provokes as much homophobic vitriol as is in the comments on that article has to be a step in the right direction.)

  10. says

    My cousin had a massively hard time buying a tea-set for her eldest son when he was little. Kids want to imitate their parents and so he wanted a tea set. But she couldn’t find one that wasn’t all pink and purple, hearts and flowers. Not sure if the anti-pink flowers was coming from the son or the husband, but talk about overkill. Eventually she found a blue set with flowers that was the best she could do.
    Why weren’t there tea sets with transformers on them? (michael bay issues aside – I just liked the alliteration!)

  11. says


    Ah, no, the overly privilege white kids and adults I’ve been exposed to were always conservatives. The film industry had a lot of what I called “faux liberalism”, where people donated to Greenpeace while underpaying their undocumented maids and saw no inconsistency there, but I was really good at avoiding conversations with them, LOL.

    It’ll take a lot of steps to get men on board with gender equality. The system rewards men for sticking to gender norms – they get male privileges. Meanwhile, the system punishes women for NOT sticking to gender norms. Since we have no hope of reward, it makes sense that we’re the first to perceive the system as broken. Men want their privileges PLUS the right to defy gender roles, but the system doesn’t work that way. So it’s an either/or thing, and most of them choose privilege rather than gender defiance. And I honestly can’t blame them – I mean, who wouldn’t be tempted by male privilege?

  12. Deborah Bell says


    These are often the same people who will insist beyond all reason on gender essentialism, specifically that boys are inherently different in their play styles and interests than girls are, usually based on their experience of raising one or both genders in our culture and obviously not influencing them at all by their parenting styles.

  13. Quib says


    This is mostly offtopic, but it’s worth noting that the devaluation and mocking of things coded feminine is very much something feminism is against, and it’s a special kind of bullshit to blame feminists for the derision men get, largely from other men. (Fannie’s Room has been talking about this: http://fanniesroom.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-myth-of-universal-feminist-misandry.html )

    Deborah Bell,

    Yes, it’s all very circular yet self defeating. (I scribbled down a bit of an essay http://festeringiris.tumblr.com/day/2011/12/17 back when Hamley’s did the same thing)

  14. says

    Backing up what Quib said, feminism has suffered a tremendous disinformation campaign since the 1980s, and I can’t recommend “Backlash” by Faludi enough to get a sense of it. I haven’t agreed with everything she’s said over the years, but she totally pegged the backlash. (Also, she wrote “Stiffed” which specifically explored how men are shafted by the very system that gives them their privileges.)

    Among this disinformation are a lot of “facts” like how Andrea Dworkin supposedly said all hetero sex is rape. She never did. Newer versions of “Intercourse” have a preface in which she attempts to address this baffling lie. The closest she came to saying that was when she said something many of us have noted from our own conclusions: when you have a system where women are powerfully pressured or even legally forced into either marrying or prostituting themselves, it’s hard to establish that any hetero sex act is truly consensual, and this should bother men who want loving, equal relationships. I don’t see how anyone can argue with that point. At the time she wrote that book, the pressure and legal barriers for women were still quite high, even though they’d gotten a bit better than they’d been historically. The pressure to marry is becoming more equal on both genders, so what Dworkin said is – thankfully – less relevant than it used to be. But it was an if/then statement, and a very supportable one.

  15. MichB says

    My aunt, a really talented lady, made me and one of my younger sisters outfits for our dressing up trunk. My sister, the horse-loving, ballet-dancing recieved the green Robin Hood/Peter Pan outfit. I, the Lego-loving eight year old gunning for a future career as one of King Arthur’s Knights got… the fairy dress… The white poofy fairy dress… With the spakrly wings…

    Oh the depths of my juvenile dissapointment. I tried so hard to be poilte and grateful and say thank you because I knew she’d made it specially for me, but I don’t think I ever wore it and because they’d been made to fit us, even the green Robin Hood hat was too small for me.

    I got over it of course, -I’m 24 now!- but you remember these things :)

  16. Amy McCabe says

    The last couple of weeks have been hellish so while I really wanted to talk about this (being a young mother myself) I hadn’t the time until now. Even now, I’m certain I won’t articulate all that I want to (partly because this is my second beer this evening which for me is rare-rough couple of weeks-don’t judge). But here it goes.

    First, I strong recommend a book called The Mama’s Boy Myth which has a lot to say on gender politics and raising young boys. It has a number points relevant to the conversation.

    One is a study done with newborns. Women were given newborns to interact with then rated fussiness and activity, etc. Boys consistently rated as more active and fussy than girls. Then they cross dressed the babies and did the same thing again (pretending that the babies where the gender they were dressed as). Guess what? Babies passing as boys consistently rated as more active and fussy than babies passing as girls. This programing begins VERY early.

    When I had to shop for my son’s friend’s birthday, I ventured to the “girl” side of Toys R Us for the first time. It was shocking. I had, up until that point, stayed mostly in the baby and boys sections. These areas had a variety of colors in a variety of shades. Yes, boys had more blue than any other color, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The girls section was monotone. It wasn’t just that it was all pink. It was all the same shade of pink! Everything blurred together. I couldn’t really stand to be there. Rachel (the friend) got a playdough set from a slim, more gender neutral section between the two areas.

    Another point is that boys (just like girls) usually go through a period of time where they try to act like their moms (if there’s a female parent). Finn is really into cleaning (and cooking which his dad does) and his friend Sean at school cross dresses like crazy when they play dress up (heels and all…the teachers try to tell me he’s a pirate as he gives them skeptical looks). It is normal. In many families moms are hugely important to the young children since they bare the bulk of the child raising, but such actions are quickly condemned. Girls get a lot more encouragement to continue acting like Mom, boys however are quickly discouraged. The more “feminine” activities or preferences are unmanly, weak and to be weeded out.

    For that reason the omni-pink of “girls” toys feels more like a warning for boys to stay away than an appeal to girls. The boys section of toy stories, I have found, have a variety of color. Yes, blue is probably dominant but there are still a wide array of other colors and blues are in a number of shades. The girls sections are uniformly the same shade pink with little to no variety. Like girls can only handle that one color and the rest of the rainbow is for boys.

  17. facebook_patrick.mcgraw.7 says

    Amy McCabe,

    The year before I became disabled, I worked a seasonal job stocking a toy store. One thing that really struck me about the gender segregation (apart from employees using the terms “boys’ world” and “girls’ world”*) was how certain toys were categorized.

    “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego Go!” are two shows (and toylines, of course) in the same franchise, both aimed at the 3-8 crowd. The toylines were from the same developers, using the same scale, figure style, play features, etc. – the only real differences were the logos, packaging (guess what colors, just guess), and human character featured.

    The Diego toys went in the “young children” section near the Sesame Street toys, but the Dora toys went in “Girls’ World,” about ten feet away from the Bratz dolls. Because 3-8 year-old boys are “young children” but 3-8 year-old girls are just girls.

    *By far the creepiest thing about “Girls’ World” was the aisle with the makeup/jewelry/hair practice heads. Not just for the “you must learn to make yourself pretty” message, but because it resembled the gallery of heads from “Return To Oz.” Every time I had to go through that aisle I expected them to start screaming at me.

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