x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Colour blind

Gender equality comes to the toy store. Parents get excited, but will children care?

Cultural historians say that blue and pink did not become the firmly established signals for "boy" and "girl" - in that order - until the 1940s. Since then, this western convention has spread from the US and UK to much of the world.

Now, however, this distinction seems to be in full retreat, as demonstrated this week by Hamley's, the big British toy retailer. The company's flagship store on London's Regent Street has abandoned gender distinctions. So-called girls' toys used to be on the third floor, designated with pink signs, while blue signs directed customers to boys' gear on the fifth. Unisex preschool playthings, hobby supplies, games, soft toys, and "interactive", meanwhile, had the other floors.

But this week the whole shop was reorganised, overnight, by category. Hamley's says the change was guided by surveys and focus groups.

Feminists hailed the news but traditionalists were flustered, UK press reports suggest. Yet this is a change whose time has come. Distinction in colour, and in the type of toys children of each gender prefer, is both artificial and archaic. Some parents will tell you their children naturally gravitate to "gender appropriate" toys, others say just the opposite.

And whatever the toy, younger children of either gender, unpolluted by manipulative marketing, will often choose to shrug off the new acquisition and play intently with the box it came in.