Hamleys Toy Store Goes Gender Neutral, Removes ‘Sexist’ Signage

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Hamleys toy store in London has made a bold new move that has some people raising their arms in victory and others scratching their heads. In an attempt to “improve customer flow,” the company has reorganized its flagship store. So while it used to have separate floors for girls and boys – along with signs in pink and blue – it now boasts “neutral” white signs that simply state the type of toys sold (rather than who’s expected to play with them).

Feminist blogger Laura Nelson (aka Delilah) is taking partial credit for the change. “In response to the campaign against categorization of toys by gender and sexist stereotypes, Hamleys has changed its signage,” she wrote on her blog. But according to The Telegraph, Hamleys said the changes had nothing to do with her campaign everything to do with “improving customer flow.”

Until now, the “girls” section housed items like cooking sets and Barbies, while the “boys” section was chock-full of Hot Wheels and construction sets. In Nelson’s eyes, this constitutes “gender apartheid.” So she spoke with Hamleys PR office and sent a letter to chief executive Gudjon Reynisson, as well to Hamleys PR office in Iceland – a country that’s quite progressive when it comes to gender rights.

In her letters, Nelson expressed concern that “the layout of the store restricts children’s and parent’s choices and contributes to our society’s inequality.” Among other things, she requested that they categorize toys by type rather than gender, which they went ahead and did. Nelson is now calling it a “victory,” though Hamleys insists the move had nothing to do with Nelson.

“The changes to our signage were not due to any campaign,” said a Hamley spokesperson. “It was made clear to us from consultants’ and customer surveys that our store directional signage was confusing. As a result we commenced changing all our signage in October of this year in order to improve customer flow.”

Personally, I prefer the plain white signs; they’re certainly more subtle. I’m of course all for equality of the sexes, and it bugs me that girls are so often expected to play with Easy Bake ovens while boys battle it out with little army men and the like. But I wonder how far a move like Hamleys’ – whether deliberate or not – will go towards promoting gender equality (something tells me not very).

Still, it’s all about baby steps. And I know that if I were to take my 6-year-old boy to a toy store and he suspected that we were in the “girls'” section, he’d run for the hills. With a more gender-neutral layout, he’d be more likely to wander the aisles and gravitate towards those items that truly spark his interest. That said, history has proven he’d still grab a handful of Lego minifigures and Beyblades. That’s just the way he rolls.



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  2. Hillary M

    December 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    This story caught my eye earlier this week as well. I agree that it may be baby steps in the direction of gender equality, but three cheers for Hamleys! Kids receive so many messages about what is it means to be a boy or a girl and what is “for them.” I sure hope other stores follow Hamely’s example for creating “better customer flow” – it’d be wonderful to allow our boys and girls to decide for themselves what interests they’d like to peruse.

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