Let Toys Be Toys

Case study

The Let Toys Be Toys campaign challenges gender stereotypes in childhood. It began in 2012 by a group of people who met online and were frustrated by the increase in marketing and promotion to children, in the form of gendered signs in shop aisles and on book covers, that pushed narrow stereotypes and limited children’s choices and interests. The campaign is unfunded and is run entirely by volunteers, who fit the campaign tasks around paid work and family commitments. 

Let Toys Be Toys aims for a reduction in gender stereotyping that targets children, whether this comes from toy retailers, toy manufacturers, publishers, children’s media or education settings. The campaign believes that the ‘drip drip drip’ of persistent stereotypical messages can affect children in the early years and beyond. The campaign has worked towards achieving this by a combination of online campaigning using social media, online petitions (asking retailers to ‘let toys be toys’ and publishers to ‘let books be books’) as well as having face to face meetings with retailers, publishers and manufacturers and working with teachers to develop resources for challenging gender stereotypes in schools.  We also launched an award scheme, called the Toymark, to highlight and promote retailers with good practice in selling toys, books and bikes inclusively to all children.

Since the campaign launched in 2012, we have successfully persuaded 15 major UK retailers to stop signposting toys as just for boys or just for girls. Our initial survey in 2012 showed that girls/boys signs were up in 50% of shops surveyed; our 2016 revealed that all in-store signage had been taken down across the UK,  and also found a 70% reduction in gendered navigation in online shops as well.

Our Let Books Be Books campaign, launched in 2014, has convinced 11 UK publishers to stop labelling books for boys or girls including Usborne, Ladybird and Scholastic. Our research on TV toys ads and on toy catalogues revealed that things are still very gender stereotyped in the way toys are being advertised to differently to boys and to girls, and we are continuing to put pressure on retailers and manufacturers to market more inclusively.

The campaign promotes good practice for shops that sell inclusively and has awarded the Let Toys Be Toys Toymark to over 50 UK toy shops, booksellers and bike retailers, with many more shops nominated and awaiting assessment for the award.

Let Toys Be Toys supports schools and early years settings with a range of online resources, including tips for teachers, lesson plans using toy marketing as an accessible way in to discussions about stereotypes, and materials for parents to help them raise an issue with their child’s school. We can also work directly with schools and parents.

We’re asking everyone to consider the impact gender stereotypes in childhood can have, and to question if there are actions they can take to help challenge these.

If you see gendered products or displays in a shop, or advertising for children on TV, online or in a catalogue that reinforces stereotypes, why not raise it with the retailer or the manufacturer? You can also help the campaign by sharing photos or information about examples via social media or email at info@lettoysbetoys.org.uk.

Conversely, if you know a great shop who you feel is worthy of our Toymark award, you can nominate them by emailing toymark@lettoysbetoys.org.uk.For those who work in early years or primary school settings, please visit our website for ideas on tackling gender stereotypes in schools. 

You can help our work by donating to the Let Toys Be Toys campaign here.


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