Take a hard look at ‘sexist toys’ – Dutch education minister

File pic of girl playing with toy in a store in France Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Part of the debate about toys is the message they send children about the types of job they could do (file pic)

Dutch Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has called on toymakers to examine carefully what they create, in an attempt to end gender-stereotyping in the toy industry.

She was responding to a pact by French toymakers to scrap games or toys that promote stereotypes for girls and boys.

A French minister said many toys projected “insidious” messages.

Ms Van Engelshoven has also complained of advertising showing girls in the kitchen while boys take on tough jobs.

Their attempts to steer the debate on so-called sexist toys coincide with Barbie-manufacturer Mattel releasing a new line of gender-neutral dolls.

The Dutch minister said in a TED talk last December that the media and advertising industry continued to portray husbands as breadwinners and wives as homemakers and that this had a lasting effect on children.

What’s behind the French pact?

French Economy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher has said the new “charter for balanced (gender) representation in toys” (in French) is intended to give girls as well as boys “access to a world that opens up a range of possibilities”.

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Media captionThis experiment tested whether adults chose toys for children based on their gender

The charter, announced ahead of the Christmas toy market, covers the entire industry in France. The national toy federation said it was committed to making “quantifiable” efforts towards improving gender neutrality in toys.

Toyshop staff will also be trained to ask what a child is interested in rather than “is it for a boy or a girl?”.

In a tweet, Ms Pannier-Runacher said the element of imagination conveyed by toys mattered for children. and she highlighted three new Barbie toys.

“A little girl may want to be a doctor and not to dress up in a nurse’s uniform,” she told French radio. “She might choose to be a knight riding into battle rather than a princess. Let’s give them a far richer world that doesn’t stigmatise them.”

She complained that only one in 10 women went into computer coding, leaving men making up 90% of workers focusing on the algorithms of the future. Toy manufacturers would now focus on conveying messages like “act like grown-ups” instead of choosing either mum or dad, she said.

French toy manufacturers said it was too early to revise their range ahead of Christmas but there would immediately be changes to shop displays as well as how staff treated boys and girls.

Ms Van Engelshoven did not go as far as calling on Dutch companies to scrap toys viewed as gender-stereotyping, but a spokesman told the BBC she wanted companies to think carefully about the situation.

However, several politicians criticised her intervention. One MP said he was surprised she had such time for this sort of hobby as there was so much for her to do in education. Emancipation is part of the minister’s portfolio.


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