Thea Hughes enjoying the fresh air of the Tweed Valley. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News
Thea Hughes enjoying the fresh air of the Tweed Valley. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Tweed Daily News Blainey Woodham

Tweed mum's campaign to ban gender-stereotyped toys

"SERIOUS? Target girls' toy section? F****** joke."

A friend recently posted an Instagram photo of a pink broom, dustpan and brush set for little girls, and that was how she captioned it.

Her disgust at the housewife stereotype reinforced by the domestic cleaning set was well supported by other readers.

In response, one mum posted a photo of her son enjoying the $7 set so much, he was eating his lunch holding his
broom.

"There are two issues here," says Thea Hughes, part director of Play Unlimited, a Tweed non-profit that is part of an international group against stereotyped toys.

"The first is that 'pink' has become synonymous with 'girl' and items are often colour-coded pink to signify that this is their intended target.

"Toothbrushes, clothing, shampoo, bibs, vitamins - you name it, it comes in pink and princesses.

"(The second) is they absorb these gendered messages and the risk is the stereotypes become something they understand to be true.

"This creates an issue for girls who don't like pink and for the boys who do. 

There have been many cases of children being bullied for showing interest in toys marketed as being 'not for them'."

Her group aims to break down bullying and stereotypes by eliminating gendered marketing of toys.

"Children are very attuned to advertising, but they are still developing the ability to think critically about what they're being sold.

"I think pigeon-holing our children according to old-fashioned ideas about what is appropriate for children of
different genders is an abhorrent waste of potential."

She said Play Unlimited is not "anti-pink", rather "pro-rainbow". 

"All children regardless of gender should have the opportunity to play with a wide range of toys and be encouraged to develop a wide range of skills."

It's an obvious insult to my six-year-old's intelligence to give her a vampire Bratz Doll.

They're banned.

So is the little girl's Disney princess festival, at the cinemas, and Frozen stilettos ... in kid's size 10.

But a Barbie with a pink robot-horse proved too tempting.

It's a minefield out there - how are parents supposed to make the right decision?

"Ask yourself: what does Barbie, or in fact any toy, teach your child intentionally or otherwise?" Thea says.

"Does the benefit of the skills learned and the fun had outweigh the potentially negative, possibly unintended impact?"

All Barbies end up in various states of undress, so I see Thea's point.

She suggests "more anatomically correct dolls" like Lammily Doll or Lottie and Finn instead.

"Might I say they get up to interesting activities like fossil hunting and stargazing," she said.

Thea is open about her ideas being rejected by some critics.

When she launched a petition against Toys-R-Us in November 2013 it was covered by national media, with some
opponents pursuing her so much she requests where she lives in the Tweed not be publicised due to fears for her
safety.

"The responses have been polarised, but mostly positive.

"There's an increasing community awareness about the negative impacts gender stereotyping can have - not just
for girls, but for all children. 

"From parents frustrated by the aisles of pink and blue, to people who experienced being told as kids they shouldn't like or do something, just because of their gender."

Play Unlimited is currently focused on bringing a pilot program to preschools and schools to raise awareness among teachers about gender stereotypes.

"The project is called Breaking the Mould and has been really well received at a pilot in UK schools," Thea says.

Play Unlimited will also run their No Gender December campaign in the lead-up to Christmas.

"The intention is that our supporters take the pledge to consider children as individuals with different interests rather than simply choosing gifts based on the gender of a child," Thea says.

"(But) the most powerful thing people can do is to provide feedback to online stores, retail outlets, even schools,
whenever they become aware of gendered marketing or gender stereotypes."

I'll keep that in mind next time Miss Six is stomping around the house in stilettos (adult size eight), pink lipstick, a
Melbourne Cup fascinator and newspaper under her arm, going "to work".

For more information on the Play Unlimited movement, visit playunlimited.org.au.



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