UK & World News

  • 6 February 2014, 14:44

Pink Won't Make Girls Think, Says Govt Minister

The message 'pink is for girls, blue is for boys' creates a gender divide that hampers girls' progress at school and holds back women in the workplace, a Government minister has warned.

Jenny Willott, the Lib Dem equalities minister, told Parliament that the "gendering of toys" matters because it instructs children how they are supposed to feel and behave.

"It is not fair to make little girls feel that they should not be kicking footballs or building with Lego, and it is equally unfair to make little boys feel ashamed of playing netball or of pushing a doll along in a pushchair," she said.

"A boy who has never had a sewing kit may never discover his talent for design. A girl who has never had a Meccano set may never discover that she has real potential as an engineer."

She said: "It is a really important issue and it's fundamentally important to our economy as well, it's not just a side issue as I think it sometimes can be portrayed.

"It is a really important one to the future economy of this country.

"All of us who have young children can't help but be aware of how highly gendered children's toys are."

Ms Willott, a mother of two boys who admits "my house is full of blue things", said the trend laid down assumptions about girls' abilities and interests. That can "shape the choices girls make at school" - putting them off science subjects that could lead them into "the most financially lucrative careers".

She said that had the Space Hopper been invented today it would not have been iconic orange but would be "pink and resemble a cup cake for girls and camouflaged and khaki-coloured for boys".

Ms Willott made the comments during a House of Commons debate led by the Labour shadow minister Chi Onwurah.

Ms Onwurah told MPs: "Before entering Parliament, I spent two decades as a professional engineer, working across three continents.

"Regardless of where I was or the size of the company, it was always a predominantly male, or indeed all-male, environment, but it is only when I walk into a toy shop that I feel I am really experiencing gender segregation."

She blamed the "aggressive gender-segregation" on big company marketing tactics.

A 1981Lego advert that went viral on Twitter recently showed a girl, dressed in blue, proudly clutching a Lego toy with no gender-specific text.

Last month seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin wrote to the toy giant taking them to task for having fewer women characters in their playsetsand those they did have only shopped and went to the beach, and did not have jobs.

She asked the company to "make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?! Thank you."

Her mother sent a copy of the letter to The Society Pages website and a picture of it has been retweeted more than 2,500 times.

It is not the first time that the issue of gendered toys and the "pinkification" of things for girls has made headlines. In December Marks and Spencer pledged to end segregation of toys. In 2011, the famous London toy store, Hamleys, stopped categorising toys by gender after a campaign by feminists.

It removed pink and blue signs from its flagship Regent Street store - and instead ordered toys by category.

It comes as a committee of MPs warns women are being put off careers in science because of the pressures of family life but also "perceptions and biases".

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said it was "astonishing" how under-represented women were in these industries.

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