/ Parenting, Shopping

Boots bins ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signs for toys in-store

Picture of girl on phone and boy with toy plane

Following a surge of complaints on Facebook and Twitter, high-street pharmacy Boots has said it was wrong to separate its toys for ‘boys’ and ‘girls. Should other brands follow suit?

Previously in Boots stores, anyone shopping for a toy would find themselves faced with two options – to shop in the ‘girls’ section or the ‘boys’ section. And what is the difference, you might ask?

In this case, the most telling difference was that Boots put its Science Museum-branded range of toys in the ‘boys’ section. This was a particularly disappointing from a company that regularly hires female scientists. After all, what better way to suggest to young girls that only boys can be scientists?

Sexism and shopping

When a discerning shopper noticed this troublesome segregation, they quickly took to Twitter and Facebook. A string of disappointed people followed suit and contacted Boots to complain.

Initially, Boots defended itself by saying it was simply responding to customer feedback and was trying to make its stores more navigable. But later, Boots admitted it was the wrong thing to do and actively made a change by removing the signs.

I for one am pleased that Boots made this decision, although I’m sad to see this kind of sign-posting occurring so often. And despite this positive action, it won’t do anything to prevent the way the toys themselves are marketed towards boys and girls. I’m also disappointed that Boots hasn’t extended these changes to its website, where toys are still grouped by gender ‘to make it as easy as possible for customers to find what they are looking for’.

Still, the big question is – do morals come above marketing?

Let’s stamp out stereotyping

I’m willing to believe that the gender-focused marketing of toys for boys and girls works very well. I also believe that many people still find the segregation of toys into ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ helpful when shopping for children. So I can see that some people might not like Boots’ latest decision, and Boots itself may even see a fall in revenue. So, should we expect businesses to do the right thing?

In my opinion, I think it’s vital that retailers take these important steps towards gender-neutral marketing. And in my ideal word, I think it should be their obligation – not just a voluntary show of corporate responsibility.

Despite societal advancements, today’s children are still bombarded relentlessly with images and ideas of what men and women should be. Although it’s just one small step, this change from Boots puts out a strong message that this type of gender stereotyping isn’t OK anymore.


I hope Boots have now set an example for other retailers. I agree with Jen, the gender stereotypes have to be removed from websites as well as high street stores.

If you know the child you’re buying a gift for, you should know what sort of toys they like. It doesn’t make it easier to split the toys into ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’.


I know I will get alot of stick for this……..But in truth I really don’t see anything wrong with having boys and girls toys being separate.

When I was watching this on BBC Watchdog last night I really did think it was a joke at first.

Maybe it’s just all going over my head lol


That’s fair enough, Lee! I’m curious though – how should companies decide which toys should go in the ‘boys’ section and which go in the ‘girls’ section?


I used to work at a leading supermarket and we had a “boys” “girls” and “both” section. I admit we didn’t brand it as such, but we did set it out like that.

When people think about dolls you would just think girls, and like cars you would think boys.

Come to think of it, when we see a little girls playing with “boys” toys we even call them tomboys don’t we? It’s just the way of the world!

(tomboys – A tomboy is a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors considered typical of the gender role of a boy, engaging in games and activities that are physical in nature, and which are considered in many cultures to be the domain of boys)

Chris M says:
3 May 2013

Thanks for commenting Lee, and glad there are different views here, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a discussion. I don’t think you should get stick for saying what you think.

The thing that gets me is that we decide which toys go in the girls’ section based on what we associate with girls, as you say. But I think we associate dolls with girls *because* we have seen them in the girls’ section. So it’s a vicious circle.

Now that doesn’t sound like it should matter that much, but if we (kids and adults) get taught (by retailers and others) that looking after kids and doing housework is for women, and science is for men, that leads to a very unfair society.

It’s funny because we say ‘car toys are for boys … oh and tomboys’ – so we’re admitting that girls can like cars. We could equally say ‘cars are for gingers … oh and wannabe-gingers’. Seriously! If we did that, it might take 50 years, but eventually gingers would naturally buy more car toys and some would become rubbish mechanics (I would). And there would be lots of non-gingers who could have been excellent mechanics but end up doing something they don’t enjoy as much.

So why don’t we just have a section for car toys for kids who like cars, and a section for science toys for kids who like science etc. Girls wouldn’t feel ‘bad’ for wanting pirates, and boys wouldn’t feel ‘bad’ for wanting dolls. It would be *easier* for everyone to find the toys they want, instead of having to look through pirates and guns to find cars which means happy kids, happy parents, happy supermarkets!

Jess says:
2 May 2013

Toys are fun. Why do shops feel the need to bossily tell us who is supposed to play with them? I hate this gender-based marketing. It’s much worse than when I was a child, when no-one seemed to think it odd that our house (4 girls) was full of cars and trains and dolls and craft materials. Including lots of colours other than pink. My son and daughter play, together, with all their toys, but the gifts they are given seem to assume that they inhabit completely different worlds (One of which contains only the colour pink.) Play is how children learn about the world and try things out, so it’s important that they get to try a lot of different things – from caring role play through to whizzing and crashing vehicles. And why would a retailer want to tell a child ‘Think this looks fun? It isn’t for you’? Customers can perfectly well find a doll in a section labelled ‘dolls’ as in a section labelled ‘girls’. These signs are stupid, and I’m glad Boots are taking theirs down. Others should do the same.


Hi Jess, you make a great point. From the moment they come into the world, babies receive ‘instructions’ about what it means to be a boy, or a girl. And as a parent, you can try your best to shield them from this, but it’s simply too ubiquitous.

Far from being harmless, I think it’s damaging for boys AND girls. As adults, we can engaging with these ideas and try our best to unlearn them – but young children simply can’t do that. They’re gently nudged and prodded into their pigeon holes, which isn’t good for them or for society more widely.

Jess says:
2 May 2013

Lee – thanks for the explanation of the word ‘tomboy’. I was happy to call myself one 30 years ago, but to be honest, I haven’t heard the word for years. I think these days we just call them girls.