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MPs: it's time to stop separate adverts for toys for girls and boys

Separate adverts for toys for girls and boys should end to prevent children's future career choices being limited, MPs led by a Scottish Labour politician have urged.

Marketing techniques are more noticeable in the run-up to Christmas and risk directing young people's preferences and expectations along "outdated traditional lines", the MPs add.

Retailers are being asked to stop "unnecessary gender-specific advertising" in a parliamentary motion signed by 12 MPs, including 10 from Labour.

Campaigners' concerns include commercials promoting pink toys and dolls for girls and action figures for boys.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran), the main sponsor of the early day motion, said the MPs did not want to stop girls having dolls bought for them, but she added that children enjoy all kinds of toys and should be given a wider choice of what they play with, which can develop more of their skills, rather than society dictating which are for boys and which are for girls.

The Labour MP said some retailers had responded to the work of campaigners although gender-grouping of toys remains a big issue, particularly in the Christmas period.

Ms Clark, a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, said: "It's all the dolls, brushes, pink things for girls, and action toys, construction toys for boys. Children like both toys but retailers are encouraging them down one path or another.

"People don't necessarily think about it and in some ways people don't think it's important. But it's channelling boys one way and girls one way. A mixture of toys might be better for kids and for them to think all toys are for them rather than gender-specific toys."

Ms Clark said the targeted advertising could affect children's job choices and create problems in the future, adding jobs traditionally associated with men are better paid than those linked with women.

The MP said she had long held the belief that women should be financially independent and children should be encouraged to develop all kinds of skills, which can be helped by playing with different toys.

She said: "It's not a problem with girls being bought dolls if that's what they want, but it should not be society saying this is the way you should be. Children should be given as much stimulus as possible.

"It's important for boys to nurture caring skills. A lot of boys do want a toy they look after. We should not be discouraging them. We want them to be co-operative and these skills need to be developed."

Ms Clarke said she was aware of schools that try to develop these skills, adding: "Really, what we are saying is we should not make presumptions and we should be encouraging children to engage with as many different types of play as possible. The retailers should be supporting us in doing that."

The Labour MPs who backed Ms Clark's motion were Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Martin Caton (Gower), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead), Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), George Howarth (Knowsley), Sir Alan Meale (Mansfield), Linda Riordan (Halifax) and Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall).

Liberal Democrat Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) and the Scottish National Party's Mike Weir (Angus) also signed up.

The motion in the Commons reads: "This House is concerned that the methods used to promote and advertise children's toys are far too often gender-specific; believes this is especially noticeable in the advertising campaigns up to Christmas with separate advertisements for boys' toys and girls' toys; is further concerned that there is a risk that children's preferences and expectations will be channelled along outdated traditional lines which may impact on their future educational and career choices; welcomes the progress that many retailers have made in removing unnecessary gender-specific advertising for children; and calls on all retailers to take action to end unnecessary gender-specific advertising."

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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