Friday, 30 April 2010

Is it really worth the bother?

Dear Early Learning Centre

I've been browsing your website looking for a gift for my youngest child's birthday, and was shocked to discover that you have a function that filters searches by gender. Perhaps this is considered a useful marketing tactic in a sexist world, but it is most definitely contrary to any message you may be hoping to convey about education through play. Why, precisely, are you suggesting that boys can’t play with the Rosie’s World Summer and her Camper van? Why isn’t Dino Mountain “suitable” for girls? Why are “Phantom Pirates” okay for girls, when “Ghostly galleon” isn't? (The only way I can interpret the latter and similar examples seems to be that it’s okay to spend a little bit on “male” toys for girls, but not worth getting them the expensive stuff, which is strictly boys only…). Like so many people of my generation, I grew up in a home where beliefs in strict gender roles were rampant, and it’s limiting and restricts horizons for no reason whatsoever. You might say parents can choose to buy whatever they like – they can and will anyhow – but to legitimise the idea that certain toys are “gendered” is damaging nonetheless. Everyone brings their own prejudices to parenting – it’s not your place to reinforce them.

I am old enough to remember early TV adverts for ELC in the eighties, which involved a Barbie and Action Man-type couple trying to break into a shop but not being deemed acceptable (the ads ended with Barbie then demanding to see her lawyer). How times change – I take it you think you’ve “done” anti-sexism now and can get back to being a “proper” toy shop (albeit one which is now actually more dated and sexist than all the rest)? I hope this marketing policy changes. In the meantime, I won’t be buying my children anything from ELC and will make sure all my friends who go in your shops are at least informed about this website search function.