The United Kingdom branch of Toys “R” Us will stop labeling its toys specifically for boys or girls and will remove all explicit references to gender from its store signage, the retailer announced last week. It “promised to start” the new effort “by looking at the way toys are represented in their upcoming Christmas catalogue.”
Toys “R” Us UK’s commitment comes as a response to a Change.org petition launched by the British group Let Toys Be Toys, which asks children’s toy marketers to remove needless gender stereotypes from their wares.
ThinkProgress reached out to Toys “R” Us U.S. to see if it would follow its British counterpart’s lead, but has not yet received a response. U.S. stores account for approximately two thirds of Toys “R” Us’s total sales. A similar Change.org petition for the U.S. stores has over 3,000 signatures, but the company’s website is still clearly labeled for boys and girls toys.
Gender-based toy labeling may seem like a small fight to pick, but there’s reason to think people perceive their roles differently based on the stereotypes they experience as kids. Several studies have delved into the impact of girls’ confidence in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) based on stereotypes conveyed by their parents. And studies have discovered that girls actually prefer to play with gender-neutral toys over those that fulfill female gender stereotypes.
One piece of research from the American Association of University Women found that “for both boys and girls, the more traditional their assumptions about what it means to be and how you should behave as a boy or a girl, the [higher the] rates of depression. For girls, adolescent pregnancy tends to be higher, and for boys, belief in coercive behavior in relationship with girls is higher.”
The tide seems to be turning on gender-specific toys, though. Last week, LEGO rolled out its first-ever female scientist minifigure, signalling to girls that they are just as capable at making careers in STEM fields. And last year, Easy Bake Oven pledged to make a gender non-specific oven after one 13-year-old complained that her brother was getting the message that “women cook, men work.”