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Kids’ chemistry sets seem to be making a comeback (check out our great feature on chemistry sets), complete with the old gender stereotypes. Tesco is the latest retailer to come under fire for sexism, after it placed a toy chemistry set in the ‘boys’ category in its online shop.
At first it defended the decision, saying it was based on market research, but it has since given in to complaints from customers and the pressure group Let Toys be Toys and agreed to change the label. But Tesco is not alone – over the last couple of weeks, a row has erupted between retailers and equality campaigners over the gender labelling of science toys.
It all started when pictures from a Boots store in Nottingham showed Science Museum toys under a ‘For boys’ sign next to a wall of pink packaged products under ‘For girls’. Customers quickly took to Twitter to protest, saying that the decision to restrict science toys to the boys’ section was outdated and sexist.
Boots’ defence was similar to Tesco’s, but it has since apologised and removed the offending signs in stores. Online, however, the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ tags remain, with the excuse of improving website searchability. The situation is similar for other toy retailers. Toys R Us, Early Learning Centre and Lego all use ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ labels for online products. Even London-based toyshop Hamleys, who recently ditched its in-store signs, still use gender categories online.
There is mounting pressure on schools to address gender inequality in STEM subjects, but perhaps retailers need to play their part too. Assigning toys to a specific gender is a slippery slope that will only reinforce stereotypes in older children. It’s the 21st century – why shouldn’t girls play with chemistry sets, or indeed boys with tea sets and dolls? Let’s hope the recent victories will let toys be toys.