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In Print: Toys Will Be Toys

McDonald's website leaves it up to interpretation what divides the two types of toys.

McDonald’s website leaves it up to interpretation what divides these two types of toys.

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in the current issue of C&EN.

As the cashier at the fast-food restaurant is finishing our order, she grabs a small plastic doll and tosses it in my kids’ meal.

“Excuse me,” my mom says testily. “You didn’t give my daughter a choice of toys.” Even at age six, I can tell my mom is using tremendous restraint to give this young woman a chance to rectify her unintentional wrongs.

The woman looks at my mom, then at me, and asks, “Well, do you want the girls’ toy or the boys’ toy?”

I don’t remember if I ended up picking the doll or the toy car on that particular occasion. But I do distinctly remember the feeling of trying to weigh the gaps in my own eclectic toy collection with the point my now-fuming mother was trying to teach both me and the young woman at the cash register. Toys are toys, and kids should be able to choose their own interests without feeling undue social, gender-specific pressure.

Boots toy signage, before customer outrage led the store to redo how they label toy sections. Credit: @SeanEGray

Boots toy signage–with science kits in the boys’ section–before customer outrage led the store to redo how they label toy sections. Credit: Twitter/@SeanEGray

Twenty years later, I call my mom and tell her about this column, and she’s outraged we’re still having this debate. As I write in Newscripts this week, the gender-specific labeling of toys came under fire in England recently. Specifically, customers and online advocacy group Let Toys Be Toys took issue with science kits and chemistry sets being designated for boys. Since the backlash, toy giant Tesco and pharmacy chain Boots have changed their girls- and boys-specific toy labeling and issued apologetic statements.

In the U.S., however, it remains fairly ubiquitous. Target has girls’ toys and boys’ toys, as does WalmartToys”R”Us, and Fisher-Price–where play kitchens are still considered girls’ toys and Star Wars action figures are found in the boys’ section. Some studies have suggested a hormonal basis for children’s toy preferences. On the other hand, Sweden has found support for gender-neutral toy catalogs and early-childhood education.
Biological influences aside, it makes one wonder what the STEM divide would look like if girls were allowed or even encouraged to pick up a model train, a kit for making a clock from a potato, or a play chemistry set.

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