(An open letter to Tesco, inspired by, and in support of, this article by Let Toys Be Toys: “Since when were science toys just for boys?“. Update: Tesco’s most recent tweet to me – 9 March 8.33pm BST – read: “@SciDoll In light of this feedback we will be reviewing how toys are categorised online and will be carrying out further research.” Well, we’ll see what happens. In all events, the place you ought to be heading is the Let Toys Be Toys website, to give them your support and catch up on all the latest news.)
I do hope you’ll excuse the impertinence of my writing to you. I have, alas, frivolously wasted time in gaining a PhD in theoretical physics, investigating the mysteries of the universe, and co-founding a biomedical charity to address the suffering caused by the diseases of aging. Regretfully, I have spent woefully little time in the kitchen. If only you had been there, in my early days, to guide me in my life choices: then, perhaps, things would have been very different.
Thank heavens you have such an effective comeback to those who complain about your labelling of toys along gender lines: “Toy signage is currently based on research and how our customers tell us they like to shop in our stores”.
I do wonder what that research shows. Perhaps you ask a group of customers about every toy, to assign gender-appropriateness to it. Surely you care more than that, though? Surely, you see it as your own role to allocate each of your toys to boys or girls? I bet your research simply asks “Do you want toys grouped by gender?” so you can selflessly keep the important responsibility of ensuring girls are kept away from that awful, boy-ridden science ‘thing’.
I take such consolation from knowing that, somewhere, Tesco employees are helping to perpetuate gender stereotypes for the rest of us. I bet it’s a crack team of sociologists and behavioural psychologists, and not just a few, bored administrators mindlessly allocating science to boys and anything pink or kitchen-related to girls.
Or perhaps I’m wrong and you’re just a simple-minded corporate behemoth without the institutional intelligence or social sensibilities to do what’s right in this situation and follow the lead of Boots, for example. But hey! I’m just a girl. What do I know?
The following updates were made whilst tweets were coming thick and fast, on the days around my original post:
Update 9.30pm BST. Since this letter is getting quite a lot of traffic I just want to be clear that I’m also with everyone who thinks it’s appalling that the kitchen is tagged for girls. My strongest voice is as a scientist, but this is really about dropping the boy/girl categories altogether.
Update 7 March, 4.30pm BST. That’s why this tweet from Tesco is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough: “@SciDoll Hi Sarah, we’ve looked into this, it is a mistake, the set should have been labelled as unisex. We’ll update the page.” There are still 38 others ‘for boys’ only, and 49 others ‘for girls’ only. Luckily, most Lego seems to be ‘unisex’ – I feel stupid even typing that – but at least one is for ‘boys’.
Update 5.15pm BST. Tesco say, “This is being updated and we’re sorry for any inconvenience caused,” so I’m taking a breath and waiting to see what that means.
Update 9 March, 8.00pm BST From what I can tell, Tesco have removed gender filters from their site, but not yet changed item descriptions. Hopefully that will be the next step.
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