Let Toys Be Toys – The Dressing Up Effect

What's wrong with girls dressing as fire fighters or boys becoming fairies? The expansion of a child's mind shouldn't be limited to what society decrees their gender must adhere to. LTBT founder Megan Perrymam takes a look at how gender division effects fancy dress and we also ask for some thoughts on our own website.

Why limit fun?

Using your imagination is a fundamental part of childhood, and fancy dress is a great way for children to explore lives other than their own. As a parent I love the way that fancy dress allows my children to become anyone they like and I've grown used to sitting down to breakfast with a gorilla and a fairy, or playing in the garden with Hermione Granger and a monkey from outer space. There’s no such thing as boys’ or girls’ fancy dress in my house - what would be the point of limiting their fun?

The best fancy dress retailers reflect this by selling a wide range of costumes for both boys and girls to enjoy. It is refreshing to see to see a children's section on the Jokers’ Masquerade website (as opposed to separate boys and girls sections) and to have items described as a Child Oompa Loompa costume (as opposed to a Boy Oompa Loompa Costume).

I start to have a problem with fancy dress when retailers and manufacturers make assumptions about what girls or boys might like and create two separate sections based on these assumptions. This is when you find girls’ sections dominated by princesses and fairies, and boys’ sections dominated by superheroes and pirates. It’s limiting, and it reinforces the stereotype of the pretty girl and the aggressive boy. At Jokers' Masquerade the superheroes and the princesses are there - but they are labelled by what they are not by who is assumed to be wearing them.

"It makes me sad when you see fancy dress parties with every little boy in puffed-up superhero costumes and all the girls stumbling around in ankle-length dresses. My son isn't at all keen on superheroes and my daughter would rather be able to see her feet while climbing." shared Jess Day.

Another area where stereotypes can be perpetuated is when it comes to career type. It seems almost universal to see boys pictured in doctor costumes and girls in nurse costumes, and for outdated terms such as policeman (as opposed to police officer) and fireman (instead of fire fighter) used on packaging. It’s such a shame to be telling children what careers they are capable of at a time when we should be telling them they can do anything they want. A positive example on the Jokers’ Masquerade website is the Child ER costume which shows a boy and girl together wearing the same outfits.

In a quote from a post by Let Toys Be Toys, which was eventually picked up on by the Catholic Herald, Leanne Shaw, an Early Years Practitioner shared: "If girls are offered only princess clothes to dress up in, they will only act as princesses. They will be limited in their imagination, not having the opportunity to problem-solve how to put out the fire as a fire fighter or to bandage up a limb as a doctor." The aforementioned Herald have pieced together an article here, which is quite interesting. You can take a look by clicking on the Facebook update above.

The Let Toys Be Toys Campaign

It was this marketing technique of segregating childhood by gender which led us to setting up Let Toys Be Toys.

Let Toys Be Toys is a campaign group asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only for girls and others only for boys. We are a group of (mainly) parents who have seen for ourselves that there is no one way to be a boy or a girl. The reality of childhood is that most children just want to have fun and explore new ways to play.

Children Trick or Treating

By limiting children’s access to play experiences - through words, images or colour coding - you are limiting the way they play, they skills they learn, and ultimately the people they become.

Boy fairies

My son enjoys putting on a pair of wings as much as his sister, and I've been concerned for a while about the dwindling number of boy fairies in toys and costumes (and what does this mean for fairy reproduction?). There are so many costumes which children would embrace that don’t always make it to the shop floor: Princes as well as Princesses, historical figures (both male and female), career choices that are as varied as real life, and female heroes of all kinds.

"One of the nicest things about the Christmas Nativity show in school is seeing all the little boys have a chance to dress up in something sparkly - they love it, and why wouldn't they? My son enjoyed being a King, with all the rich fabrics." - Jess Day

Fancy-dress - and childhood itself - should be about so much more than boring stereotypes. It's about discovery, imagination and more than a little sparkle.

If you find you agree with the opinions in this article, you may wish to check the petition to ask shops and retailers in the UK and Ireland to stop promoting toys as only for boys, or only for girls in this change.org petition.

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