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London's Harrods opens gender-neutral toy store for kids

Categories: World

mi-08-HarrodsKids-480.jpgA promotional shot of The Enchanted Forest, one of the themed areas of Harrods' new gender-neutral Toy Kingdom. (Shed Design)

London's department store Harrods has opened the doors to its Toy Kingdom, a 26,000 square foot wonderland for children, and possible nightmare for their parents.

But amidst the piles of toys, dioramas and bookshelves, its most radical design choice hopes is intended to go unnoticed by children: the entire store is gender-neutral.

The Toy Kingdom is separated into sections based on theme rather than gender, according de zeen magazine. The sections, or Dreamscapes, include The Big Top populated by circus animals and colourful costumes, and The Reading Room that resembles a children's library and comes with a generous helping of Harry Potter scenery.

"They are deliberately non-gender-specific, because we felt that was an antiquated way of looking at toys," Matt Smith of Shed Design told The Guardian. "I think increasingly kids are playing with an array of different toys and we wanted to give that balance."

The discussion about gender roles in children's toys has grown to include more than the Barbie aisle for girls and the Hot Wheels aisle for the boys.

mi-01-HarrodsKids-480.jpgThe Toy Kingdom is arranged by themes, such as the Candy Store pictured above, rather than by gender. (Shed Design)

LEGO released the LEGO Friends line in January, aimed at girls with pastel-coloured blocks and a series of girl mini-doll figures. The brand was criticized for the intention to "reach the other 50% of the population" with its girl-centric themes.

While the idea of a gender-neutral toy store may be commendable, several sources have said that the project could go further with the idea. A promotional image for the Enchanted Forest section features plenty of pink accessories, including a pile of Hello Kitty Dolls.

Meanwhile, the science fiction-centric Odyssey area features figures of Iron Man and soldiers from the Halo videogame series, illuminated by sparse spotlights in a darker venue marked with browns and blues.

The Guardian also noted that female employees in the Toy Kingdom wore pink t-shirts, while men wore blue ones. Harrods Home director David Miller was quoted as saying the colours were chosen for no reason other than that they were nice colours. "We are not stopping our female members of staff wearing a boy T-shirt...although they are a different cut."

The importance of teaching children what is or is not "for boys" and "for girls" isn't lost on commenters, however. "toys are probably kids' first encounters with social stereotypes and expectations; they instill through play both the good and bad of the adult world - especially gender roles," writes Kill Screen's Jacob Simon.

"With a simple but astute move, the Toy Kingdom gives us a new model for play - one in which I won't be shamed for loving Hello Kitty."

What do you think of Harrods' Toy Kingdom store? Should toy stores strive to present their products in a gender-neutral environment? Should Harrods do more to ensure a toy store without gender associations at all?

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)

Related Link: CBC Radio Ottawa: Lego just for girls: is that really necessary?

Tags: POV, World

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