Boy oh boy ... it's just a toy

Play Unlimited co-founder Thea Hughes says children should be free to choose whatever toys they would like to play with, rather than being constricted by gender stereotypes.
Play Unlimited co-founder Thea Hughes says children should be free to choose whatever toys they would like to play with, rather than being constricted by gender stereotypes.

A frustration at walking into toy stores and seeing walls and walls of toys segregated according to gender, prompted Springwood resident Thea Hughes to investigate what could be done to broaden attitudes.

A year ago she founded Play Unlimited, a group concerned about the impact gendered marketing has on children, with Brisbane mum Julie Huberman.

"Kids should be able to play with whatever they like," Mrs Hughes said.

The mother of two boys explained how her five-year-old, when he was three, had chosen to wear a fairy outfit to an event and the reaction from other parents had been extreme.

The group's current campaign, No Gender December, is about "working towards eliminating the segregation and marketing of toys along gender lines by promoting the idea that children should be encouraged to learn through the widest possible range of play experiences regardless of gender.

"Some people feel threatened, like we're trying to take dolls away from girls and trucks from boys, but what we want is everyone to play with everything," she said.

When the group launched their campaign last week, it drew a strong reaction from some sectors of the media. Mrs Hughes said the No Gender December campaign had tended to polarise people, with a lot of misunderstanding about what the group was actually trying to promote.

The campaign is supported by Queensland Senator Larissa Waters and a host of academics who have written books on the role marketing and parenting can play on gender.

Mrs Hughes would like to see toy stores get rid of their boys and girls and colour-coded toys categories in catalogues and online advertising.

"Children recognise the cultural significance of these gender colour codes and it informs their feelings about whether or not it's socially acceptable for them to show interest in the product," she said.

The World Health Organisation had found communities that perpetuated old fashioned gender stereotypes contributed to the level of violence against women, Mrs Hughes said.

As Christmas approaches and parents are out shopping for their kids, Mrs Hughes urges parents to ignore the catalogues and think about what their kids would actually like instead.

"Don't rule out science kits for your daughter or dolls for your son," she said.

"Challenge yourself and your own perceptions and gender biases."

The group's current campaign includes a petition targeting all Australian retailers, asking them to stop using gendered marketing to sell toys to children. More than 1500 people have already signed the petition which is accessible on the Play Unlimited website.

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