Not the language post I planned to write today.

But you know what, this one is more important. Because when I came across this literacy set in a toy shop today, I just wanted to cry.

What the hell is something like this doing in a shop, alongside keywords, sight words and literacy in the 21st century? How can it possibly be that anyone, ANYONE, thinks that helicopters, forests and dinosaurs are for boys and sweets, secrets and cooking are for girls?

Peter and Jane will be drawing breath and going back to their gender specific roles by morning. Forget 30 years of progress; it's all been wiped out in one slam dunk of a literacy set.

Boys are about money and girls are about tiaras. It's official. Now they can be stereotyped with the national curriculum too.

For 14 years, to all intents and purposes and leaving aside the matters of my heart, I was only the mother of girls. And yes, they dressed up and liked to wear pink, except for the one who liked to wear blue and be Peter Pan in games. They liked to cook, apart from the one who liked to do woodwork. They liked to play baby games, except for the two who played baby games and ran pretend businesses. They made jewellery – and sold it, with a balance sheet and a marketing plan. They wore tiaras and high heels in plastic and kicked them off to do cartwheels and press ups. We played Barbie and we talked about body image and then hauled on yesterday's muddy clothes for another round of madness in the garden.

It's true there are differences between boys and girls; I've got enough experience of four very different girls to know I can draw some broad parallels between them and compare them to the wide set of boys I know. And I know, bringing up Bene, that I perceive differences in him that I know were fundamentally not present in my girls. He has a slightly different air to him, a set of shoulder, a way of being, a loudness, a forceful body which is mildly different to them all, though close to one. The hairs on his face grow differently, his chest is different shape. He possesses me, demands my attention, in a slightly different way.

But that is one thing. Packaged words are another.

Let me tell you some words that apply to my four girls.

Loud. Strong. Beautiful. Intelligent. Pink. Blue. Gold. Purple. Red. Green. Yellow. Taekwondo. Press ups. Six pack. Dance. Rugby. Trampoline. Love. Force. Science. Engineering. Ice skates. Balance. Grit. Determination. Muscles. Slim. Elegant. Sturdy. Red belt. Classy. Crazy. Thoughtful. Reading. Gifted. Talented. Cross country. Rugby. Tap shoes. Blisters. Pulled muscles. Biceps. Outdoors. Fearless. Scream. Relentless. Courage. Pain. Voice. Brave. Solid. Loyal. Ballet. Gymnast. Muddy. Jeans. Combats.

That's just some of them. Less of the words on the right apply than those on the left when I think of my daughters and their upbringing, their person, their bodies, the desires and aspirations.

Let me tell you about my boy.

Blue. Green. Orange. Blonde. Fluffy. Fuzzy. Loved. Cherished. Precious. Little. Breakable. Fragile. New. Small. Growing. Baby.

I don't agree with labels. I may be a toy seller but it galls me beyond all expression to see dolls packaged in pink and jewellery sets for girls and trains made to appeal to boys. Yes, this weekend I entertained a little boy with train sets, but they belong to my daughters and have for years. I don't agree with dolls for girls and tools for boys. I know it is true that children are drawn to toys that lend themselves to a gender, often if not always. Such is life. We are all biology after all. But choice is what matters and choice is what should be offered.

Those word packages are despicable, humiliating, degrading and insulting. They do nothing for equality, nothing for the future, nothing to build confident women or thoughtful men who see mutual advantage in equal and different.

Bunnies. Ballet. Butterfly.

Frogs. Flags. Forest.

I don't care about focus groups or literacy outcomes or marketing. Fridge Magic needs to do better. When it comes to giving our children words to grow up with, we need to do wholly better than this. We should be giving them words to empower them not encase them in stereotype.

I think they need to explain themselves.


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  1. says

    I can think of some other language to add to yours; this is just crazy. Lke you, with two of each sex I have found that there are very definate differences between the general nature and interests they have but the lines are blurred in so many cases.
    Whilst I’m a pretty traditional sort of bird and happy with a ’30 years’ ago role for myself; I chose that. I would hate to impose such limitations on my sons or my daughters.
    Mother of Tap Dancing son & spider catching girl :)

  2. says

    Wow. That is really outrageous. The only slight saving grace is that it looks as though the words themselves are all just white on black, so you could buy them and unpackage them. Not that I would bring myself to give them money!

    We hate the one thing for girls and one fir boys attitude. Really, really hate it. Like you, that doesn’t mean our girls don’t do things that are considered girlie (ballet, playing princesses), but they also do things considered boyish (climb trees, play pirates). If we ever hear the words ‘That’s for boys’ or ‘That’s not for girls’ we challenge it, whoever it comes from.

    I was shocked to hear ‘It’s horrible and violent. It’s a boy thing.’ from my mum the other day. My mum who taught me about feminism and that I could do anything!

  3. says

    Really? Can’t they just make ONE package called WORDS? It has to be words for boys and words for girls?

    While there are certainly differences between boys and girls, I see no need to artificially exaggerate them. Real people are probably somewhere inbetween boy and girl stereotype anyway.

    My little boy loves pink, dress up, cooking and babies (loves Rubens barn dolls from your shop :) ), however, he also loves construction, diggers, mud, machinery and being in general active and loud.
    He had his first experience of face painting at the fair last week – he wanted a butterfly :))
    I think there should be more “children’s” toys, rather than the boy/girl divide.
    In my son’s nursery they have all toys mixed in, common dress up area and a cooking corner (cooker is not pink btw, it is wooden). EVERYONE plays with everything a bit at some time.
    I have heard of nurseries where they have a “boy area” and a “girl area”. bleurgh

  4. says

    Shocking, that makes me angry too. I have a boy and a girl, and even though they are only tiny I do see differences between them. But I would never categorise them. I don’t see why they can’t just have one big set of magnets. I hope they see this post.

  5. Debbie says

    I wonder what on earth possessed the people making those word sets. My boy loves muddy puddles and trains, he also has never had his haircut which he likes to wear in a ponytail “just like mummy” and begs me to paint his nails too, occasionally he can be seen wearing a rather lovely plastic tiara 😉

  6. says

    HOORAH! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post. Who says girls have to be pink and boys have to be blue? I’m really mindful of this with my own daughter (only aged 2) and I try to give her choice too – with clothes, activities and toys. She loves dolls but also loves mud, loves stealing my sparkly jewellery but also playing with cars and trains and bricks. She loves jumping in puddles and wrestling with her friends just as much as sitting quietly reading a book. Such a great post Merry. x

  7. Claire says

    This just makes me so angry. But all the blue/pink stuff does, I am still fuming about the boy/girl sets of lego and now megablocks and even ball pit balls!! Seriously? Girl or boy coloured balls? My son was never loud and boyish, never once had a superhero toy or toy cars, his favourite toys at 2 were his toy kitchen, books, his twin baby dolls and buggy and his thousands of cuddly toys. Later on he loved his wooden train set but preferred his plastic “sea life” animals to the dinosaur ones! At school when he was 6, he and his best friend were always dressing up in the princess dresses and heels in golden time! Which set of words would I have bought him?

  8. Carly says

    Looks like I need to tell my girls that they can no longer have swimming lessons, or ride bikes in the park, or scoot to school, but instead make fluffy fairies and put make-up on all day instead… thank god there’s some sewing involved in the felt monster bags they’re making or all hell might break loose!

  9. says

    It makes me sad and cross in equal measures. It doesnt matter what we as parents so, when products like this are out there seeminly designed to stereotype regardless! My eldest is a girly girl but I suspect the baby girl maybe more power house than power dressing up! :-)

  10. says

    I completely agree …. ridiculous! I have a daughter and a son – my son plays with the “family” doll’s pram just as much (maybe more!) than my daughter, they both train in martial arts, my daughter has a motorbike, when we paint our nails, we ALL paint our nails! Children should be children – strong in what they want to be strong in and given frre-choice when playing! :)

  11. says

    Wow how blooming stupid. I only have Baba but I have a 10 year old niece and there are fundamental differences but also my son is at his happiest, either playing with his dinosaurs and trash packs or playing with his dolls house and baby and pushchair. He has a bit of everything not all in our house but in my mums, as she wont get rid of the toys I think I had a tool set as a child and used to love building things. Anything that helps express themselves that is all that matters. I too think they have some explaining to do! xx

  12. says

    I think is very much a marketing ploy to get you to buy both packs. TBH as the parent of a boy and girl, I revel in the “pink” “blue” thing and loved buying little pink tutus for my DD and blue batman PJ’s for the son. However its all about equality and imo children should be free to choose what they want to play with ( within reason) My son loves playing with the ‘pink’ LEGO friends and my DD loves playing with Action Men and I as their parent am more than happy with that. I don’t know how expensive they are but I would probably have just bunged both packs in the basket and not thought much more about it. Naivety on my part. Probably.

    • says

      And both packs bought and packaging gone, you have equality and choice. But they cynically took choice away with the intention in these packs which is what gets me.

  13. says

    Well, I’m going to go against the grain and disagree, sorry! If it’s encouraging children to read words and take an interest in literacy, does it really matter whether it’s so called ‘girly words’ or boy words? Anything that gets children reading is good in my book.
    It’s only the packaging that’s coloured, after all. If it bothers people, they can easily be taken out of the packet and then they are gender neutral words and can apply to either boy or girl.
    Problem solved :-)

    • says

      No, because it isn’t only the packaging, is it? It’s the contents of the packaging. If those words were mixed up, in two green packs and called pack 1 & 2 THEN it would just be two sets of gender neutral words. What these packs are doing is reinforcing a set of stereotypes which are not helpful for our growing boys or girls. Whether the girls choose because they are conditioned to pink or an adult picks because they are susceptible to the marketing, those are not positive equality words in the pink pack.

  14. says

    Merry this shit makes me CRAZY. It is two thousand and fucking TWELVE, why are we still having to shout about this disgraceful attitude to our daughters?! My girls love dressing up, pink crap and reading the Beano – they don’t need a dedicated girls-only vocabulary to make their way in the world!

    I wrote about my anger after visiting an Early Learning Centre and noticing they were selling a pink globe with – wait for it – A FUCKING PINK MERMAID IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ATLANTIC. I totally expected an avalanche of agreement and you know what I got? Other parents telling me I was overreacting and that their daughters loved pink and it was all their own choice, not because they’d been coerced into it by systematic lack of choice. Oh, and a former ELC employee telling me that I was a bore with too much time on my hands.

    [/end rant]

    (My post is here if you want to read it – )

  15. says

    Gender segregation never really went away. Most clothes shops and toy shops have sections (whether labelled or not) for girls clothes and boys clothes, girls toys and boys toys, pink and blue. Agreed it seems odd to have packs of boys words and girls words and the contrast is all the more pronounced a they sit next to each other on the shelf, but I’d be with Wendy, get them out of the packets and they’ll soon lose their gender identity (well perhaps some of it)!

  16. says

    I completely agree with what you say! Why will children strive to be better/beat stereotypes when they are so often put into gender based groups and have certain words associated with them ARGHH! x

  17. says

    I don’t have any intelligent outrage that will add to the page comments. So I’ll quote my 13 yr old…
    (cue cynical teen voice coupled with massive eyeroll and mildly-American twang)

  18. says

    Really unbelievable, I will be discussing this next week in my sociology lesson – thanks for providing me with some excellent fodder. What message are we still giving to our children if we go down this route. :(

  19. Fran says

    Shocking! Both me and my sister were brought up being given boys and girls toys in equal measure for Christmas and birthdays. I was the proud owner of a fisher price garage which I loved and spent much of my youth up trees, cycling and skateboarding. It drives me insane that you can tell where the ‘girl’ toys are in a shop by the sea of pink and lilac in the aisles and that pink features so heavily in baby girls clothing. I fully intend to bring up my little girl as I was brought up-bring on the mud, mess and adventure, the ripped knees and nettle stings. Of course, if she wants dolls too that’s fine by me but I’m not wrapping her in pink, frilly dresses and telling her to stay clean and don’t do that. Give them a balance and offer new experiences…life has so much to offer-we have a responsibility to show them what’s out there and give them the tools and the confidence to CHOOSE what they like and follow their own path. Rant over!! Thanks Merry, great post and well said! :)

  20. says

    I don’t think I’d have much respect for a company that apparently doesn’t know about apostrophes, unless they’re so faint that they don’t show on the photos. Magnetic girls talk, huh? Is that a claim they can validate, or should the Advertising Standards authority be informed?

    I think the UK has come full circle. 20 years ago, when we moved to the US for a couple of years, I was really shocked to learn that boys were supposed to dress in blue and girls in pink – I was told this by perfectly intelligent people who said that of course everyone had to know what gender they were going to give birth to, otherwise it would be impossible to buy presents at the pre-birth ‘baby showers’. When I suggested yellow or green, a friend was shocked at the idea… genuinely. She said ‘everyone knew’ that baby girls were always dressed in pink and boys in blue, ‘otherwise, how would a stranger know?’

    At that time, in the UK, there simply wasn’t this kind of divide. My sons were 4 and 6, but Lego and so on were all unisex, and there were no blue or pink aisles in Woolworths etc. At school, on TV etc there was a huge push towards equality of the sexes, which in general was a good thing although I felt it sometimes went too far. As you say, there ARE observable differences, not just the obvious physical ones; nonetheless, I was glad that boys were encouraged to play in the Reception class kitchen, donning aprons and wielding pans, and the girls were encouraged to play with tractors and tools. I dressed in blue, and had no problem with whatever colours my sons wanted to wear.

    It was about ten years later, when we’d moved to Cyprus, that a relative’s son, aged five or six, expressed shock that I was wearing a light blue jacket, because ‘blue is a boys’ colour’. Apparently the UK was starting to ‘catch up’ with the US… and now, it seems, has caught up entirely.

  21. says

    I was recently offered the chance to review a crafts kit – “make your own lip balm or face packs” for girls or a horrible science type one for boys. I replied to say my girls would love to review ANY of them, not just the “girls” ones so they were sent one of each. Surely the marketers are cutting out a huge chunk of potential customers by using the gender stereotypes ???

  22. Lindsey says

    To me blue and pink are just colours, they are neither boy or girl. Likewise, words are just words. The probability is that the company that produced the magnets asked a handful of girls what words they would like on magnets, and then did the same to a handful of boys, then decided that they were the words to include in the packs. The sterotyping is already there. It would have been better, imo, to have labelled the packs differently, maybe “popular words” packs 1 & 2.

    Personally I never bought any pre-made word magnets. I bought magnetic paper for the inkjet and printed our own.

    I could see my 6 year old girl having fun with some of those words though. She would probably write something along the lines of “scary dancing bunnies cooking chocolate worms”. :-)

  23. says

    It still galls me that someone as reputable as early learning centre still splits their toys into girls and boys.
    This product is shocking not only is it stereotyping but also it is doing very little to encourage literacy which is surely the aim. Surely any sentence building pack should be rich with vocabulary to encourage constructing elaborate sentences. A classic case of buy them the adult version.

  24. says

    This kind of thing just drives me crazy!! I abhor the pinkification of everything. The Mega Bloks thing for toddlers is insane. Why should little girls be limited to pinks and pastels and little boys get all the stimulating primary colours? And why should little boys be afraid to like the colour pink? It’s like marketing is trying to force everyone back into their neatly segregated gender boxes.


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