Pink-washedAlexander is not alone in her concern about the unhelpful messages that children are exposed to through toys and games. A 2017 global survey by The Future is FeMale found that 61 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men believe that children should be raised as gender-neutral to protect against arbitrary gender boundaries.
Despite the best efforts of entrepreneurs like Alexander, parents are still limited when it comes to finding children’s books and games with diverse characters and storylines, while the availability of gender-neutral toys remains poor. “There are limiting messages that manufacturers and retailers are still, too often, sending,” says Andrew Bazeley from women’s rights group, the Fawcett Society, pointing out that the way retailers market certain toys entrenches gender stereotypes. If you browse many mainstream toy shops, you’ll still find pink-washed “girls” sections that are rife with dolls, make-up kits, and kitchen playsets. It’s not that these types of toys are bad in themselves, but retailers persistently target one gender, reinforcing damaging stereotypes about what girls and boys should or should not do. “A kitchen playset is a great toy – we all need to eat – but if it is decorated with unicorns or marketed to ‘princesses’, with only girls on the box, it sends a clear message that this is not for boys,” says Bazeley. “The same goes for a child’s T-shirt that is covered in robots and slogans about adventure, and positioned in a segregated ‘boys’ aisle of the store. Taken together, there is a clear message that adventure and science are not for girls.” This might seem inconsequential when children are small, but it’s clearly a problem if they are deterred from pursuing certain careers purely because of their gender. And it’s not the fault of the parents, who rely on stores to take them to the right place, only to find aisles split by gender. Alexander tells me that by three, children start to self-identify themselves as a boy or a girl, soaking in cultural norms of how they are “supposed” to behave. Ingrained in us from such a young age, by the time we’re adults, we don’t realise how our lives have been influenced by this rigid way of thinking.