Mum takes Argos to task over sexism

Laura Martin takes issue with the gender specific marketing in the retailer’s latest catalogue
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A mum has emailed the CEO of Argos to tackle the gender specific marketing in the retailer’s latest catalogue.

Laura Martin believes parents shouldn’t have to stand for gender stereotyping with regard to toys and believes it is sending the wrong message to children, like her own young daughter.

In the email she states: ‘My three year old daughter currently loves Scooby Doo, Fireman Sam and Jake and the Neverland Pirates but I fear their days are numbered. When I pointed out those toys in the catalogue she responded that they were boys toys. What a waste of a potential customer.’

Martin hopes the store will soon follow the lead of other retailers like Boots, Harrods and Tesco in taking measures to remove gender specific marketing from stores.

Her email was sent in conjunction with lettoysbetoys.org.uk, a campaign asking retailers to ‘stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.’

The entire email that Laura Martin has sent to Argos can be found below:

Dear Mr Walden

I hope you can find the time to read and respond to my email. 

Times are changing, and large toy retailers have a duty towards children and parents to market their products in a responsible fashion. Imagine my disgust when I opened the latest Argos catalogue, out this week. Not that different from any other catalogue from the last 30 years I suppose, except what has changed is the context in which it is viewed. Today, in 2013, parents are no longer prepared to stand for gender stereotyping when it comes to toys. I refer you to the excellent Let Toys Be Toys campaign, which is slowly but surely changing the face of marketing aimed at children. To quote their campaign:

· Kids should decide for themselves what they think is fun. Why put these limits on play?

· Play matters. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills.

· Marketing matters. Directing consumers in this way is restricting children’s play.

· The real world has moved on. These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.

In many ways I think Argos’ marketing is worse than the stores, which label toys For Boys or For Girls. Many homes have a catalogue in them. I found my three year old daughter flicking through the toy pages unattended. She had been there for some time. Without fail, every toy she was pointing at (“ooh look at that!”) was a toy that had been marketed specifically at her, by virtue of being covered in pink, or by the fact that it had a girl pictured playing with it. Needless to say your catalogue has been put in the recycling and I won't allow it in my house anymore.

I appreciate that a lot of the images in this catalogue will have been provided by the manufacturers of the toy, and are not necessarily shots taken by Argos. I can even see hints in the images of your Chad Valley products that the marketers are trying for something more gender neutral. However, as one of the UK’s biggest and most high profile retailers, Argos has a duty to market ALL its products in an ethical and responsible way.

Recently, Boots and Harrods took measures to remove gender specific toy marketing in their stores. In June 2013, following pressure from parents, Tesco committed to removing 'boys' and 'girls' signs from both their website, and from all stores. I believe that the presence of a catalogue In people’s homes is a far more powerful and insidious marketing tool than a mere sign in a shop, which might be glimpsed for a few seconds. As such, this is a troubling situation. It is also therefore more difficult for Argos to make the necessary changes, but that does not mean that you should not and can not.

According to the latest Argos catalogue, which came out this week, girls cannot dress up as superheroes, they do not play with Thomas the Tank Engine toys, they do not play with Fireman Sam toys, they do not play with Tree Fu Tom toys, Octonaut toys, Scooby Doo Toys, Spongebob Square Pants toys, remote controlled cars, planes, helicopters, construction toys, Disney Planes toys, Monsters University toys, Jake and the Neverland Pirates toys, Postman Pat toys, pool tables or table football.

In fact the above listed are just the tip of the iceberg. I got too depressed to delve further into the marketing of the more violent toys towards boys. I can only imagine how the mother of boys must feel about that.

My three year old daughter currently loves Scooby Doo, Fireman Sam and Jake and the Neverland Pirates but I fear their days are numbered. When I pointed out those toys in the catalogue she responded that they were boys toys. What a waste of a potential customer.

Argos cannot stop toy manufacturers making toys which are pink and toys which are blue and you can sell whatever you want and whatever you think will sell. But you should also be able to see the difference between selling a product that is pink or blue, and showing a certain type of toy only being played with by a girl or a boy. Images matter a great deal.

It is too late for your Christmas 2013 campaign, but perhaps it might not be too late for next year. Please do take this subject seriously. Just because it would be a difficult change to implement does not mean you shouldn't do it. And for further reading lettoysbetoys.org.uk is a good place to start.

Thank you for your time

Laura Martin

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