Jo Swinson slams gender stereotyping of toys – and is attacked by Jeremy Browne

If you’ve been buying presents for children these days, you’ll doubtless have noticed that there seems to be a bit o a gender divide in the way toys are marketed. For the girls, you have dollies, little puppies, things you brush the hair of and put in houses. In some stores, these things are housed in garish pink aisles. For the boys, you have anything remotely interesting. Science sets, dinosaurs, space stuff. For role playing, girls get to dress up as nurses or princesses while boys get to do exciting world-saving superhero stuff.

This should be offensive to all liberals, who have a massive respect for the individual. Children should never be told that a particular toy is for them or not dependent on their gender. Jenny Willott, when she was standing in for Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, said that gender stereotyping of toys limited children’s ambitions and even harmed the economy.

Toys are a hugely important part of our children’s learning and development. It is of course for children and their parents to choose the toys they play with, as we were just discussing. They should be able to make those choices freely from a full range of toys. How our children play helps to shape their aspirations for the future, and I want those aspirations to be based on their abilities and interests, not on stereotypes. I value the right of every single child to be treated as a unique individual and to be given the opportunity to explore their own interests and develop their own potential and talents, wherever they may lie. That is important not only for children now playing, but for the future of the economy.

Jo Swinson has raised the issue again in time for Christmas, asking toy manufacturers to market their toys “sensibly” as Mother and Baby reports:

Equalities Minister Jo Swinson said: ‘Parents know that boys and girls love all kinds of toys. With children developing very clear ideas at a young age about what jobs boys and girls can do, we can all help to send a clear signal that nothing is off limits. It is great that fewer retailers are defining toys as “for boys’”or “for girls”, which shows they are responding to their customers’ demands for more choice.

But there is still more to do. I hope this Christmas companies will be conscious of how they are marketing their products and make sure they aren’t accidentally limiting customers’ and children’s choices.’

It’s important to recognise that gender stereotyping at this young age harms boys as well as girls. I have seen several fathers of boys almost come out in hives if they see their sons dressing up as princesses or even doing the ironing. These comparatively young men were displaying attitudes that were positively prehistoric. I remember one of them demanding that  I never let his son wear the Disney Princess shoes that he loved.

So if you are shopping for children bear all of this in mind – and get the children things that they like not what you think they should have.

Update: 11:39

Jo’s statement has not met with the approval of everyone. That’s fine. We’re a liberal party. What is unusual, though, is for one of Parliamentary colleagues to go on the offensive and attack her.

He then added in something that had been suggested by nobody:

There is a genuine issue in that a boy who wants a dolls’ house might find it hard to go up against the expectations of society and thus miss out. Why do companies think it’s ok to reinforce that sort of stereotyping. Surely they want to sell to as many people as possible?

All Jo has done has gently suggest to manufacturers that they think about the effects of the way they market their toys. It’s not like there’s a government official at every checkout looking sternly at everyone’s shopping baskets. Jeremy and I have very different views about the function of the state. He wants it as small as possible whereas I see it as a transformative force for good which can balance out the things the markets can’t sort. Society misses out if girls are steered away from science subjects into putting dolls in cots, or if boys are told that they can’t be interested in sewing or fashion.

There’s been quite a wee debate going on on Twitter. My favourite post so far comes from former Lib Dem Special Adviser Sean Kemp:

This is the latest in a series of quite barbed interventions on Twitter from Browne. Stephen Tall highlighted another couple of examples a few weeks ago.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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98 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Dec '14 - 11:12am

    I find this article a bit embarrassing. It’s too strong in the criticism of gendered toys and tradition, which makes it alienating.

    I understand some of the criticism of it, but it is too harsh. I also think it is a bit absolutist by being coming across as being against any kind of gendered marketing whatsoever.

  • Yawn.

  • No, not yawn. The marketing of toys as “boys” and “girls” is idiotic and unhelpful. It’s not as bad as it was, but it still needs to change more.

    Here is a good guide to determine whether a toy is really only suitable for boys or girls:

    http://www.duelinganalogs.com/infographic/how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls/

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Dec '14 - 11:38am

    I like that one, MBoy:).

  • matt (Bristol) 23rd Dec '14 - 12:07pm

    This is of great concern to many parents and Jo Swinson is right to raise it. However it is hard to envisage whether it falls withint the competency of politicians to do much more than articulate the concerns.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Dec '14 - 12:24pm

    Also, where has Jeremy “attacked” Jo? It’s counter productive to use such charged language over criticism.

  • David Faggiani 23rd Dec '14 - 12:32pm

    Yes, it’s not as bad as it was, I believe. It’s good to debate it though, I don’t think Swinson or Browne are wrong, they’re just talking at cross-purposes, really (or Browne is, as the respondent).

    I bloody loved My Little Ponys in the playground, by the way, and even persuaded my parents to buy me a Polly Pocket. It was top.

  • MetalSamurai 23rd Dec '14 - 12:39pm

    But your first paragraph makes it pretty clear you believe there is a hierarchy of toys and those from the pink aisle are lesser than the more “exciting” action-based toys in the blue aisle.

    How will this attitude encourage boys to venture outside a strait jacket reinforced even by those who believe they’re thinking about this issue?

  • Stephen Donnelly 23rd Dec '14 - 1:26pm

    If you read Jo Swinson’s comments they are sensible and balanced, she clearly respects the right of parents to make their own choices and did not ‘slam’ anyone. In return she was not ‘attacked’ by Jeremy Brown. He just made a debating point. Not the biggest issue of the day.

  • “No, not yawn. ”

    I’d have more respect for you guys if you held the same view of gender stereotyping throughout our wonderfully diverse population. But no, Muslim girls don’t count. Their parents can do what they want whatever the damage to their offspring whereas the rest of us get preached at.

    That is why everyone outside your narrow unrepresentative sect yawns and doesn’t listen when you come out with this guff.

    No other modern political party tries so hard, so earnestly, to be irrelevant. Congratulations.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Dec '14 - 2:24pm

    Simon,

    Your comment is getting close to the bone. Sexism exists throughout society and should be challenged wherever it lies. Women are under pressure and expected to conform to certain behaviours in all cultures. In Western culture women are expected to be thin, unrealistically so, and are constantly judged on their appearance rather than what they say or do. Attitudes to rape, domestic and sexual violence are questionable in all cultures, too. Even in Britain, where women have in law equal rights and status, we are still lagging behind with women in positions of power. There is a great deal to be done to redress this imbalance.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Dec '14 - 2:27pm

    Simon, you are right, nurses are superheroes. I know many of them. However, a few years ago, I was one of those protesting that Early Learning Centre offered a nurse’s outfit for girls and a doctor’s outfit for boys. How dare they limit kids’ expectations like that. The difference in earnings potential between a nurse and a doctor over a whole career is huge and to set these expectations early that nurses are girls and doctors are boys is so wrong. Thankfully, public pressure led to that being sorted.

  • Julie Horten 23rd Dec '14 - 2:36pm

    what if Jeremy browne’s son wanted a dolls’ house?

  • Martin Land 23rd Dec '14 - 2:46pm

    Here we go again. Trying to combat 2,000,000 of evolution with a few pathetic platitudes. We need to educate the young in tolerance and the need to avoid negative stereotyping. But otherwise – and I speak as a teacher and as a parent – generally speaking, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. For the first time in my life I’m with Jeremy.

  • I suggest that people like Jeremy Browne are most passionate about freedom when it endorses the status quo.

  • As for people like simon, they want to have their cake and also eat it, by censuring Muslims for holding essentially the same right-wing social views that they do themselves.

  • “Two million years of evolution” is pseudoscience, Martin Land. Nothing in biology determines gender rôles assigned by society. Examination of the world’s cultures shows no single static set of gender rôles, but rather enormous variation. And one finds that, when society gives its permission, very frequently boys will be girls and girls will be boys. Liberals should endorse the freedom of the young to find their own way.

    And it is the antithesis of liberalism to say “this is the way it has always been done, therefore it must continue to be so.” Liberalism is, among other things, about not being trapped by the past.

  • Edward Reach 23rd Dec '14 - 4:10pm

    I think we’ve got a long way to go as a party in terms of breaking down gender stereotypes, before seeking to influence the marketing strategies of wealth creating businesses.

  • My respect for Jeremy Browne just went up – and as others have said, he’s contributed to the debate rather than attacking anyone.

    There’s a genuine issue hidden somewhere here, about how we allow aspiration to be too heavily influenced by gender stereotypes. But it’s done in such a heavy-handed way that I’m left cold by those making the argument, and not something that will be appearing anywhere in my Focuses. I guess I’m not much of a liberal if I’m supposed to find this ‘offensive.’ There are many things worth being offended about – such as some of the treatment of women in our party. This is a long way down the list.

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Dec '14 - 4:29pm

    I would rather all kids got dolls (pref not soldier-dolls) and suitable houses to put them in, rather than tanks and guns. I did once have a cap-gun and there was a corner shop where I could buy rolls of caps to go in it. Never had a proper doll though I played with my sister’s dolls (I remember pulling the arms and legs off Baby John – then putting them back on again). I did have Rupert – who I think was a rabbit (not very species-specific now I think of him) – dressed up in plaid trousers – who I went to sleep with for many years. I also loved my auntie’s golliwog which lasted all her life…

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Dec '14 - 4:31pm

    By the way I do not find Browne offensive, just in the wrong party (and no doubt, after the election, on his way out).

  • In 1973 I went into hospital to have my tonsils out. We were pretty poor at the time but clearly some moeny was found as I was allowed to choose a toy from Woolworth. My Dad was horrified that I choose a toy iron from the “girls” toys and spent ages trying to change my mind only giving in when I had a virtual tantrum (I was 4!). I loved it and spent the week in hospital ironing everything from the sheets to the nurses. I’m in my 40’s now and still won’t let anyone else do my ironing although my Dad ribbed me about it for years. It’s a generational thing I guess.

    The point is that back then toys were very defined, my kids are 23, 10 and 2 and I see the lines blurring more over time. My ten year old is a bit of a tomboy whereas the two year old has veered towards dolls etc almost from when she could move. I will judge whether a toy is appropriate based upon a number of factors but never what Isle they are in.

    It is really an issue for parents but the odd dig from Ministers to companies doesn’t hurt.

  • Edward Reach 23rd Dec '14 - 5:02pm

    Tony Greaves, I’m interested to know why you regard someone who has fought and won a Parliamentary seat for the Lib Dems is in the ‘wrong party’ ?

  • matt (Bristol) 23rd Dec '14 - 5:26pm

    The underlying debate here is:
    What is the role of a minister in a liberal state?
    Is it a) to advocate for changes to society, even where it would be illiberal to legislate for changes to society. (This is what Jo Swinson appears to be doing, to me)
    Is it b) to do neither, as both are illiberal. (which appears to be what Jeremuy Browne thinks)
    or is it c) to use the implicit threat of legislation to promote what the minister perceives as being societally worthy aims, whether or not the minister is seriously contemplayting such an outcome. (Which is what Jo Swinson’s detractors may claim she is trying to do)

    A parallel debate is – what is the key audience the Lib Dems need to win over?
    Is it a) Those in (big?) business who fear that their instinct to promote so more open-minded society will involve a more restricted form of capitalism (this seems to be what Jeremy Browne thinks)
    or is it b) The wavering middle classes who angst about commercial control over their children’s future and the continuing restrictions on the choices of women (this seems to be what Jo Swinson thinks)
    or is it c) those people who may feel they are shut out of society by, and losing what little control of society they have to both the above groups?

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Dec '14 - 5:34pm

    @Edward Reach 23rd Dec ’14 – 5:02pm
    You can not be serious. Jeremy Browne may well be socially Liberal but he is economically far too pro-‘free’ market to be a Liberal Democrat.

    There is a fundamental contradiction between the agreed constitutional aims of our party and those of the multinational corporation-dominated so-called free market.

    After years of attempting to reposition us on the economic right, he belatedly accepted this.

  • Max Wilkinson 23rd Dec '14 - 5:50pm

    Since when has raising a perfectly reasonable point been a ‘barbed intervention’? Are we at risk of stifling debate by being too easily offended?

  • “For role playing, girls get to dress up as nurses or princesses while boys get to do exciting world-saving superhero stuff.”

    Being married to a nurse, and thinking her pretty amazing, I find that comment a bit offensive to be honest. I also find it odd that a feminist should be so disparaging towards a profession that is (a) one of the most respected, and (b) dominated by women – two facts that should really be seen as a big plus for women and girls, not a negative at all.

    “How dare they limit kids’ expectations like that. The difference in earnings potential between a nurse and a doctor over a whole career is huge”

    That just makes it so much worse. Is money the be all and end all of everything? If so perhaps we should be making our kids dress up as tax accountants and hedge fund managers.

    I have both nurses and doctors in my family and I can tell you straight, people who go in to nursing are not suffering from “limited expectations” in the way you describe.

    On the wider debate, I fully agree with the words of Jo Swinson as quoted in the article. Let kids play with whatever they like. But that should mean not telling girls they are limiting themselves by liking dolls or pink things or nurses outfits. And the very last thing we should do is tell girls that the discrimination they face in later life is in any way their own fault for liking the wrong toys or colours as children, rather than the fault of the people who do the discriminating.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Dec '14 - 5:55pm

    I want to make clear that most of my criticism is criticism of the article, rather than Jo Swinson. The intellectual point about gendered toys is a good one and I don’t think Jo’s tone was alienating.

    I was guilty of a bit of straw manning, but I think the point about absolutism is a good one. For instance, should we complain if toys catalogues have no sections marked “For Girls” or “For Boys”, but most of the images of children playing with dolls are girls and most of the images of children playing with soldiers are boys?

    Regards

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Dec '14 - 6:55pm

    David 1

    I think that you will find that gender predisposition towards certain toys is anything but pseudoscience. I refer you to Calvert in his 2013 study or Alexander, Wilcox and Woods. Indeed Gerriane Alexander has carried out more than one study in gender and play.

    However, aiming certain products at boys or girls is both senseless and wrong.

  • Edward Reach 23rd Dec '14 - 7:04pm

    Stephen, are you saying Browne should leave the party?

  • @ David

    “As for people like simon, they want to have their cake and also eat it, by censuring Muslims for holding essentially the same right-wing social views that they do themselves.”

    Au contraire. You are indulging in some “stereotyping” of your own. I support UKIP, granted, but am very socially liberal. Four of my very closest friends from university are gay (two separate American married couples) and one of them has two surrogate children carried by a paid mother. They mixed the sperm. So what? is my attitude to that kind of stuff. More power to them. One of the kids has a few issues as it goes, but so do lots of children. They are fine, loving parents.

    Agreed I don’t get worked up about action man figures, but that doesn’t make me a social reactionary. Middle aged, maybe…

    Muslim sexist conservatism, leading to female genital mutilation, (I know I know it isn’t religious), honour killings, pre pubescent schoolchildren wearing the veil or headscarf, ya de ya that really is something else.

    Not a cake I want to eat. But unlike many liberals and those on the left, I am not afraid to stridently say this. How about you?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Dec '14 - 7:20pm

    Stuart, given the choice, I’d go into nursing than medicine because I’d want the people contact. Nursing is horribly stressful and incredibly rewarding, a profession we all value. What I object to is the idea that nursing is for girls and medicine is for boys. That’s the point I am trying to make. People should go for the careers that match their skill sets and their expectations should not be set as children by poor marketing.

  • The trouble with Tony Greaves comment about Jeremy Browne is that from Greaves’ position it is tempting to infer that he has privileged information. Also, to suggest that Browne is in the “wrong party” also is to suggest that there is another party that he should be in.

    Moreover, since Browne’s response to the debate is a recognisably Liberal position, Tony Greaves’ contribution is oddly illiberal in the context of this discussion since it is aimed at the man rather than at what he is saying.

  • @Caron
    I have no doubt you do value nursing and I’m sure you didn’t intend to imply that a nurse is somehow less valuable.

    “What I object to is the idea that nursing is for girls and medicine is for boys. That’s the point I am trying to make.”

    I’d agree with that. I have to say though, that with female medical students outnumbering men by two to one, and with the total number of female doctors in the UK expected to overtake males by 2017, anybody who has been trying to brainwash girls into thinking medicine is not for them has (thankfully) not done a very effective job of it.

    I’m all for Jo Swinson’s basic message here. But it has to be expressed carefully. Sometimes a condescending tone is taken when referring to things that a lot of girls happen to like. I don’t think that’s helpful.

  • Edward Reach 23rd Dec '14 - 8:56pm

    Caron, looking at this evidence from the BMA, the situation seems to be improving for women. http://m.bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/news/2014/october/more-women-entering-male-dominated-specialties-finds-gmc

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Dec '14 - 9:38pm

    @Edward Reach 23rd Dec ’14 – 7:04pm
    No, I am not at all suggesting that Jeremy Browne should leave the party – he is a socially Liberal sort of chap – it is just that his economic position is far more laissez faire than that of the party I joined and the aims of its preamble to which we all theoretically subscribe.

    Browne, Marshall, Laws, Clegg etc sought to reposition the party economically. In so doing they drove out many radicals and egalitarians. I would suggest it is not me to whom you should address questions regarding members and voters leaving our party.

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Dec '14 - 9:54pm

    Meanwhile back on topic … my daughters and granddaughter have all loved dogs, frogs, trees, books, nurses outfits, And yes David Faggiani and Antony Hook : My Little Ponies and Lego!, also rocks, microscopes, myths and magic, dolls, makeup, swords, Go-Karts etc.

    The point is surely that we as Liberals should very much ensure that our children are not ‘enslaved by … conformity’ and that we do our best to’ foster diversity and to nurture creativity’.

  • @Stephen Hesketh

    “The point is surely that we as Liberals should very much ensure that our children are not ‘enslaved by … conformity’ and that we do our best to’ foster diversity and to nurture creativity’.”

    Quite right! Just not sure whether that is down to us as a society or the government to foster.

    Speaking more broadly and not just in response to Stephen:

    Jo and Jeremy have raised the great Liberal struggle and, in doing so, the question of whether we are the party/movement of Gladstone or Llloyd George?

    I’m quite being the party of both and am delighted that contains both Tony Greaves and Jeremy Browne. The moment we stop having this debate and friction is the one when I’d start to worry. I want this debate, I don’t want it to be a settled issue – how can we challenege power and conformity if we have a settled in stone view of what Liberalism is in every single application?

    On Liberty, the Oxford Manifesto and the party Consitution are not slabs carved by Moses, but liberal documents about Liberalism itself – we support a flexible philolosphy that can be adapted to meet the needs of the people. What the response to those needs is the responsibility of the only Liberal party this country (So Douglas, Gladstone would have not no truck with UKIP…) – as such, let the debate continue – free from the conformity of there being only one Liberalism!

    Glad tidings to all commentators on LDV and very best to your families (regardless of what your children may be getting for Christmas)

    ATF.

  • “This is turning into the longest diva strop in history.”

    Have you forgotten Ted Heath so soon? 🙂

  • Denis Mollison 24th Dec '14 - 12:19am

    simon – “Muslim sexist conservatism, leading to female genital mutilation, (I know I know it isn’t religious), honour killings, pre pubescent schoolchildren wearing the veil or headscarf, ya de ya that really is something else.

    Not a cake I want to eat. But unlike many liberals and those on the left, I am not afraid to stridently say this. ”

    Where on earth do you get that idea from? I can’t think of anyone I know in the Lib Dems who isn’t strongly against FGM and honour killings, or isn’t strongly in favour of equal rights for muslim women, especially in regard to education. Indeed, I think many Lib Dems would agree with me that protecting womens’ rights is one of the few arguments for our country continuing to interfere in Afghanistan.

  • I actually think many girls think girls’ toys are a bit boring and actually prefer climbing trees etc. And as for pink toys for girls – please don’t get me started! That’s just about manufacturers’ marketing strategies. Jo Swinson was quite right to raise the issue of gender stereotyping.

  • Liberal Neil 24th Dec '14 - 8:03am

    Like Steve, my kids range in age quite a bit, from 24 to 2 in my case, and all for of them have played with a range of toys over time, and often with each others.

    One of them used to get very upset when she saw toys she liked playing with on the ‘boys’ shelves. It made her feel like she was getting it wrong.

    Of the four, it is she who most likes the toys that tend to be marketed at boys.

    I think Jo is spot on. We should encourage companies to drop the gender stereotyping. She rightly hasn’t suggested legislation.

  • @Liberal Neil
    “One of them used to get very upset when she saw toys she liked playing with on the ‘boys’ shelves. It made her feel like she was getting it wrong.”

    That’s very strange, because it’s the complete opposite of my own experiences during 15 years as a father. Though she’s had per “pink phases”, my daughter has mostly gravitated towards boyish things, and far from being “upset” about the things she likes being associated with boys, she regards it as a major plus point. Many of her friends have been the same.

    “Tomboy”-ish behaviour has always been regarded as cool so I’m genuinely surprised your daughter should feel that way. On the other hand, boys who like traditionally feminine things have always been looked down upon. Childhood play is one of the few areas where girls have always had a real advantage in terms of being able to do what they like, which is why I find many of the comments above so baffling.

    But this is the kind of comment I really dislike :-

    @Judy Abel “I actually think many girls think girls’ toys are a bit boring and actually prefer climbing trees etc. And as for pink toys for girls – please don’t get me started!”

    An awful lot of girls love girls’ toys and pink things. How about just letting them enjoy it instead of being disparaging about their choices? Boys don’t have to put up with this kind of criticism. Don’t girls have enough to worry about without telling them that their choices of toys and even colours are somehow inferior?

  • “But your first paragraph makes it pretty clear you believe there is a hierarchy of toys and those from the pink aisle are lesser than the more “exciting” action-based toys in the blue aisle.

    How will this attitude encourage boys to venture outside a strait jacket reinforced even by those who believe they’re thinking about this issue?”

    As a boy who used to love his pink handbag and the toy trains he kept inside it, I did somewhat ‘facepalm’ at this irony, as well. it did sound like she basically was saying ‘pink’ and ‘caring’ items were boring – and trains and blowing things thing up is ‘EXTREME’ – and therefore ‘girl’ toys are rubbish and ‘boy’ toys are great, meaning girls and boys should have ‘boy’ toys.

    However, I do not actually think Caron meant it in that way. I have seen Caron do this before (be ‘humorous’ about the status quo and how her feelings are the opposite to it) in a football article. Although this can have the problem that it sometimes sounds as if she replacing the status quo with her own status quo, I think we can accept that her actual point is there should not be ‘stereotyping’ in toys – and the part about ‘cool boy toys’ is her joking way of showing her own preferences in toys – and how they show stereotyping in toys is nonsensical as people may or may not follow the stereotype.

    Although this issue is nowhere near as bad as it once was, the core-point is an important one that still needs addressing.

    Where I would take more issue is in her line that ‘nurses are lesser than superheros’ (not a major issue, but a moan I will deal with at the end), and her comment that Jeremy ‘attacked’ Jo.

    On the Jeremy point, although I fundamentally disagree with his comment and think he misses the point completely, he was not attacking anyone – and it misses his point to say he was.

    “As my sister is one, I’d just like to say that nurses are superheroes.”

    I second this – this is in no way a limited profession! My sister started off as ‘JUST’ a nurse – and is now doing many great things with her career in the NHS at this difficult time (including still doing nursing part-time because she loves it so much)!

    I think the gender-stereotyping here means the boys are the ones who lose out (if anything) having toy companies and even parents such as Caron telling them careers such as nursing are as ‘boring’ and ‘girlie’ professions, whilst pretending to be people who beat other people up and destroy things is called ‘exciting’. Again, I am sure Caron did not mean it like this, but it is what she advocated – and shows how careful you have to be with these kinds of issues, especially if you want to be ones advocating for positive change. All too often, those of us who wish to be progressive, end up just replacing one status quo with our own, instead of maximising people’s freedom to choice their own path in line.

  • I blame the parents.

  • For clarification: Stuart’s great comment at ’23rd Dec ’14 – 7:43pm’ is what I was wished to express, only better put:

    “I have no doubt you do value nursing and I’m sure you didn’t intend to imply that a nurse is somehow less valuable.

    “What I object to is the idea that nursing is for girls and medicine is for boys. That’s the point I am trying to make.”

    I’d agree with that. I have to say though, that with female medical students outnumbering men by two to one, and with the total number of female doctors in the UK expected to overtake males by 2017, anybody who has been trying to brainwash girls into thinking medicine is not for them has (thankfully) not done a very effective job of it.

    I’m all for Jo Swinson’s basic message here. But it has to be expressed carefully. Sometimes a condescending tone is taken when referring to things that a lot of girls happen to like. I don’t think that’s helpful.”

  • I’m old enough to have heard comments from teachers and others which included (to my mother): “Why do you want your daughter to stay on at school? She could always get an apprenticeship and be a hairdresser.” [in those days that was the only apprenticeship open to girls.} “You want to be a doctor? Don’t you mean you want to be a nurse?” and “There’s no point in girls going to university..” These were standard comments in the 1960s and 1970s, and they continued well after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act. In the 1980s and 1990s I didn’t get too many comments if I let my daughter dress in blue but when I put my son, aged six weeks, in one of her old pink baby-grows, I was scolded that this would confuse him terribly – ad when I bought him a baby doll among his presents (because, by the time he could walk he was fascinated by babies) I was told that this was very wrong indeed. But I’ve never seen why one colour should be off-limits for one gender (a hundred years ago the norm was, in any case, pink for boys and blue for girls), and I think it a good thing that both boys and girls should be encouraged to develop any wish to look after babies and children. But gender stereotyping of toys has become fiercer since I was a child. When my parents bought science kits for me and my brother, they had pictures of a girl and a boy on the front. In the past year science kits have been marketed specifically as “toys for boys” while girls are encouraged to experiment with make-up. As someone who realised quite early on that I didn’t fit into the “girlie girl” convention that was approved by outsiders, I tended not to express my love of boys’ toys, so I was never given cars or trains – though my parents would have been happy enough with that, just as they encouraged my education. And as a lecturer meeting young people, I’ve come across several students whose childhoods have included an unhappy attempt to fit within prescriptive gender roles. Some, like me, just don’t quite fit the accepted social norms for their gender. Others are gay or trans and have a stronger sense of not fitting in (Of course plenty of gay people are happy with most of the social norms of their gender but some gay children may read a difference in taste as further evidence of not fitting in when gender norms are strongly reinforced by society)_

    I’m not saying – of course – that children shouldn’t be allowed to play with the toys that they enjoy. I loved having a small, basic dolls’ house just as much as I loved my brother’s train track and cars – though I remember the trains and cars more vividly. (I disliked large dolls intensely and had nightmares about them but didn’t think it would be polite to tell adults this.) I don’t think government can force shops to take away gender labels in shops but, based on the experience of my own childhood, that of my children and the memories of adults I know, I’m very pleased to campaign and petition for toys to be less obviously marketed at a particular gender. Children are, above all, individuals and surely those concerned with freedom and liberalism should help them develop their individual tastes, aptitudes and abilities.

    These days I have little to say in praise of Liberal Democrats but, on this issue, thank you, Jo Swinson (and Caron for supporting her).

  • Jo does sometimes veer close to being a Harriet Harman in-training. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you.

  • peter tyzack 24th Dec '14 - 11:00am

    I remember how the Barbie dolls were marketed in sets, as in ‘Horse-Riding Barbie’ etc with appropriate accessories and clothes. The best of those was ‘Divorce Barbie’ as she came with all of Ken’s stuff… boom-boom!

  • ” whether we are the party/movement of Gladstone or Lloyd George?”

    Depends, I guess. Do you prefer self flagellation after consorting with fallen women, or self enrichment from the shares of companies about to be awarded government contracts, and from selling honours?

    🙂

    Being serious, the State shouldn’t be getting involved in matters like this. I cant believe stuff like this is even getting debated. It isn’t serious politics, it reveals you to be trivial.

    After all, it isn’t as though the country hasn’t got far bigger problems for the State to DEFINITELY get involved in. Like the fact that HMG has absolutely no control of who comes to settle in the realm from overseas, and the numbers.

    Why don’t you put your minds to that problem? It is the hottest political subject in the nation.

    In pubs up an down the country the subject of immigration is the subject of passionate discourse. Do you think just about ANYONE is talking or ever will talk about this matter?

    Seriously?

  • is there a shortage of males fashion designers? Are there no female doctors,? Are toys responsible for limiting ambition? As someone else said Science sets actually feature boys and girls on their boxes and Playmobile has as medical sets with female doctors, as well as male ones, ditto for nurses, ditto for the police, etc.
    In fact most of the big toys are actually gender neutral. But I suspect that the choices are mostly down to parents and “girls” toys are brought by Mums who grew up liking them and that possibly there are gender difference which dictate the marketing rather than marketing dictating the choices.

  • At this stage it’s worth pointing out that MOST GPs are women. Yes, you heard correctly. Happy Christmas all!

  • It walks, it talks, it poohs on colleagues – clockwork Jeremy Browne!

  • As for simon’s comment, as far as I can see no-one is suggesting the state should ban sex-stereotyping toys. Anyway, some boys may actually be fitted to be soldiers or firefighters and some girls may make excellent nurses, just as some men do. Jo Swinson offered an opinion on thing people might choose to consider when buying toys. Can’t see anything wrong with that.

    simon does deserve some kind of medal for managing to bring immigration into this debate. Oh, well, yes, lots of people are talking about it, but hardly any of them even know someone who’s actually suffered from it and many of them will have benefited (cheap food, foreign doctor or care assistant or bar staff). Oh, sorry, those raspberry pickers are all taking British jobs. I should have remembered.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 24th Dec '14 - 2:16pm

    A storm in a tea cup, and only in the Lib Dems…. Surely there are more important things affecting ordinary people and their lives. I have two daughters, one loved dolls, the other didn’t. I refused to buy guns and toys of war for my son, and he managed very well. Bigger point is to encourage girls to aspire to become scientists, engineers, MP, Cabinet Member, whatever they would like to become.

  • When I became a grandparent I was horrified that clothes and toys were divided into girls and boys for online shopping. My three daughters wore whatever colour I thought suited them from the time they were babies. There was a brown babygro and orange tee shirt outfit that I was very fond of which would now be in the boys category I’m sure, so I think this problem has got worse not better. However one of our daughters loved all the pink stuff that was available then but at about 7 she moved on to liking “boys toys”. And then back to feminine clothes etc as a teenager. I believe it’s important to follow the child’s interests and encourage that rather than restricting them and they will then find the best way in life for them.
    However the party needs a Jo Swinson to articulate the need for equality. I was struck by the fact that male commentators on this post vastly outnumber the females. It’s good to see men being interested in this topic and I applaud those who want boys to be able to encourage their caring side through play so perhaps we can move forward on this basis , although I think we should be more concerned about the gender imbalance on Comments than we appear to be. Could the reason for this, so close to Christmas, possibly be that people have a day off so the men have time to write comments while the women are busy getting all the food and presents ready for the festival? A Merry and Thoughtful Christmas to all.

  • simon is “very socially liberal,” i.e., some of his best friends are gay, but he’s going to vote for UKIP because supporting an actually socially reactionary party is exactly the way one shows one’s opposition to the imaginary threat of socially reactionary religious law.

    Even if Muslims formed a unified political bloc with a single social agenda (and they do not), the total Muslim population of the UK is under 5%. UKIP support is currently running at over 15%. I think UKIP poses the greater threat.

  • Meral Hussein Ece

    “A storm in a tea cup, and only in the Lib Dems…. Surely there are more important things affecting ordinary people and their lives. I have two daughters, one loved dolls, the other didn’t. I refused to buy guns and toys of war for my son, and he managed very well. Bigger point is to encourage girls to aspire to become scientists, engineers, MP, Cabinet Member, whatever they would like to become.”

    Absolutely spot on!

  • “he’s going to vote for UKIP because supporting an actually socially reactionary party is exactly the way one shows one’s opposition to the imaginary threat of socially reactionary religious law.”

    To your first point, You really need to get out more to understand what is going on in this country, politically. UKIP is not as reported in the BBC and Guardian…

    To your second, sharia law is not imaginary, and it IS highly socially reactionary.

    You will make a good dhimmi.

  • David Allen 24th Dec '14 - 6:37pm

    Jo Swinson said,

    “It is of course for children and their parents to choose the toys they play with, as we were just discussing. They should be able to make those choices freely”

    I would argue that this is too moderate. Fifty-odd years ago my little sister, like many others, was given a golliwog to play with. My parents had no racist intentions. Nevertheless, you can’t “freely choose” a golliwog these days, and I think that is right.

    Things are not getting better. Thirty-odd years ago we bought our own kids a cheery red-and-yellow tricycle which could happily be passed on from brother to sister. You won’t easily be able to buy such a thing these days. The reason why trikes are now either blue or pink is because that way, they sell twice as many trikes. That stinks. Positive action to remedy this (for example, not allowing a toy to be sold unless a non-gendered version of that toy is also freely available on the market) would be a good thing.

  • For those saying that gender stereotyping in toys is not an issue: would you accept such stereotyping if it were based on race?

  • Tsar Nicolas 24th Dec '14 - 9:18pm

    @Malc

    ” Bigger point is to encourage girls to aspire to become scientists, engineers, MP, Cabinet Member, whatever they would like to become.”

    Agreed – assuming that there are jobs to get, which where I live, there aren’t.

  • Tsar Nicolas 24th Dec '14 - 9:21pm

    I have read the comments and I am left thinking how Soviet the Lib Dems have become. what would Solzhenitsyn have thought?

  • If simon is at all representative of UKIP, then it’s clear that what UKIP has on offer is more fear, more loathing, and more divisiveness: anti-minority propaganda based on smearing with the broad brush. Yet he dodges and weaves to avoid being associated with UKIP’s reactionary sentiments, although he confesses to supporting them — yet he has no trouble declaring all Muslims to be responsible for the acts of fringe groups who are widely rejected.
    As I already said — though simon chose to misinterpret me — I have no fear that Muslim religious law will ever be implemented in the UK. There is no likelihood of that at all, and those who pretend to be concerned about it are peddling imaginary dangers. The danger that UKIP, or a coalition of UKIP and Tory reactionaries, will come to power and implement their reactionary agenda is, however, very real. That is what we should be concerned about.

  • David 1.
    I’m not going to defend UKIP, but I think Simon’s point is that getting worked up about the colour of toys or who buys what when there is genuine problems with religious extremism is a little pointless. The fact is we now have home-grown international terrorist, Trojan horse schools , grooming gangs, child brides reactionary elements and very obviously reactionary illiberal elements etc. from within a religious community yet are discussing the ill defined peril of sexual discrimination posed by the toys parents buy their sprogs. As a Liberal agnostic republican l find that religion and its oft times repressive, nature is a taboo subject is somewhat annoying.

  • I am a bit late to this as a result of Manflu, a virus designed by Millions of years of evolution to hit men worse than women. Jo Swinsons comments eemed to me like straightforward Liberalism, any implied threat of Legislation was too subtle for my eyes.
    My problem with Jeremy Brownes comment was that it seemed to be putting words into Jos mouth.

  • @Glenn: How is it ‘taboo’ when you’re writing about it just now? Indeed, it seems that the media can’t get their fill of overblown stories about crazed jihadis either primed to explode or boring from within — evidently taking the place of Communists in this new national mythology. The question is whether that’s a fair characterisation of the entire Muslim minority population, and whether we don’t inflict harm upon the whole country by setting religion against religion and culture against culture.

  • Simon, not being an issue and not being as important an issue as another issue are two very different things.

    Someone suffering from the flu may not have as serious an illness as someone with cancer, but they both are still serious illnesses that can kill you.

    Plus these ‘big’ issues you often moan about are often a list of much smaller issues that group together to create the narrative that leads to the big issue – the oppression of women is the same as this. The way we raise our children will heavily influence how they view the world and their place in it.

    Then again, someone who considers his own children less deserving of an education in the UK because they are not ‘pure white British children’ and who believes all Muslims are murdering terrorists is probably not going to ever look at things that much detail, is he?

    Finally, it is worth noting that both Jo Swimson and Lynne Featherstone have been at the forefront of championing women’s rights and standing against the worst crimes against women. Lynne has used her ministerial career to combat gender mutilation and Jo Swinson was fighting for protection from domestic violence to be a human right.

    What has UKIP done for women, other than telling them they are allowed to feed their children in restaurants.

  • Sorry, that should be:

    What has UKIP done for women, other than telling them they are NOT allowed to feed their children in restaurants.

  • David .1
    Well when I first posted the comment it didn’t appear, but to be honest I kind of regret posting it.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Dec '14 - 10:15am

    I’m just looking at this thread and saw that Simon posted a really unpleasant video late on Christmas Eve to try to justify his Islamophobic statements. It’s not the sort of thing that we want to see on this site. You Tube is full of nasty examples of hatred, racism and misogyny.

    The point is that liberals challenge these things in all their forms, wherever they come from and we won’t see one group of people scapegoated on this site. Simon will no longer be able to post without his comments being seen by a moderator.

  • In a few weeks time Mr J Browne will be a former MP and hopefully less time and attention will be devoted in LDV to his attention-seeking efforts in Twitter.
    This latest outburst from Mr B is another example of him hyping up the almost non-existent power of government whilst ignoring the very real power and influence of large unaccountable capitalist corporations.

    By and large it is not an over-powerful state that has too much influence over the minds and behaviour of our children.
    The people who are corrupting our children are the corporations whose only objective is greed and private profit.

    Mr B thinks this is all fine and dandy because he is a born-again Thatcherite.

  • David Evershed 26th Dec '14 - 4:06pm

    In response to John Tilley’s lasat comment, it is not the “capitalist corporations” who are all powerful – it is the consumers who buy te goods through a free choice.

    A belief in the (relative) freedom of individuals to make such choices; and for companies to market goods and services (relatively) freely is fundalmental to liberalism.

    Those who are against capitalism should join the communist party.

  • David Evershed
    Fundamental to Liberalism ?

    I suggest you read the Preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Democrats.

    Do you really believe in the mythical “free market” as the answer to everything ?

  • Clive Jones 26th Dec '14 - 9:32pm

    I have watched these posts with some interest. I have worked in the Toy Industry for nearly 36 years. For 12 years I was the Managing Director of businesses that manufactured and imported toys, employing between 50-70 people, so I have some experience of this subject.
    I know that there is no academic research that suggests that the colour of Toy packaging has any influence on children s choices of career. I also know that this has been pointed out to the department for Business Innovation and skills (BIS) on a number of occasions. I also know that there have been offers from the Toy Industry to work with BIS to undertake research to see if their are any links and that BIS has not continued the dialogue.
    BIS has called for the Toy businesses to change the way it marketed toys to children this Christmas a week before Christmas day. This suggests an awful lack of understanding about how a manufacturing business works. Marketing plans for manufacturers and retailers will be set months and sometimes years in advance of a selling period. How can this have been a realistic request.
    There are many other industries that promote product as either boys or girls. Why is BIS not interested in them?. Could the answer be that the media would not be so interested so there would be no “headlines” to grab.
    BIS would be far better spending its time and resources persuading the Department for Education to invest more money in better careers advice for children as they become teenagers and begin to think their options after their education. I am sure that most members of the public would have been much more interested to have heard and read about this being discussed in the media than the colour of Toy packaging and signage.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Dec '14 - 10:08pm

    At the same time as Clegg’s equidistant “anchored firmly to the centre” big idea and the Browne-Marshall-Laws attempt at redefining our economic philosophy resulted in the forcing out many radicals and egalitarians from the left of our party, the very same policies appear to have attracted a small number of people on a personal journey from Blairite Labour to goodness knows where.

    Commonly being disenchanted Labourites, these people do not share the instinctive Liberal distrust of concentrations of power and of authority in general. Crucially, rather than sharing our belief in cooperatives and communitarianism and in spreading wealth and power, they are readily able to find common cause with those who seek to maintain and extend the post-Thatcherite economic consensus.

    This is the very same unfettered capitalism which drives states and national and international economies into ever-closer alignment with monopolistic-motivated global corporations at the clear expense of the common good.

    Rather than suggesting that those of us who oppose this development should join the communist party, these people should, as John Tilley suggests, read Preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Democrats, decide if they agree with it and, if not, carry on their personal rightward drift. The Liberals and Liberal Democrats have had this political ground staked out for decades, if not generations. I understand that economically right-wing parties are available without attempting to redefine ours.

    An economic system that lacks true democratic oversight and empowers and enriches the few over the many does not sound particularly Liberal, democratic or free to me.

  • Stephen Hesketh 27th Dec '14 - 5:51am

    Clive Jones 26th Dec ’14 – 9:32pm
    But due to the product design and manufacturing lead times when would be the right time to raise this topic? Surely at Christmas time it is at least topical and the evidence there for all to see.

    I would suggest it to be likely that the vast majority of parents have been faced with a 3 or 4 year old informing them of the gender specificity of toy types or even colours.

    Where, if not from targeted advertising, do such young children develop these notions?

    Jo is right to raise this issue. Certain types of conformity are innate in us as human beings but most are nothing more than individual and personal restricting constraints placed on us by the time, place and society of our birth.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Dec ’14 – 10:08pm
    “…. economically right-wing parties are available without attempting to redefine ours.”

    Yes, Stephen, in your comment you have very accurately hit the bull’s eye.
    It raises the question – “Why did the Orange Gang join the Liberal Democrats in the first place?”

    Why did they join a political party that is NOT slave to the Thatcherite Consensus?

    The suggestion from Mr Evershed that Liberal Democrats who for decades have subscribed to and worked for the party’s beliefs should now join The Communist Party reveals something more about his beliefs than about ours.

    Is it that he does not understand Liberal Democrats or that he does not understand Communists? Perhaps both?

  • Tony Dawson 27th Dec '14 - 8:18am

    David Evershed:

    “Those who are against capitalism should join the communist party.”

    Capitalism is essentially a theology, not a process. It is a belief in the subservience of ordinary human individuals and their labour to the enrichment of the rich. It is NOT synonymous with ‘free markets’. In fact it can be quite often opposed to free markets. David Evershed might as well say “those not supporting the IRA should join the UVF”.

  • I’m with Jeremy, and very much agree with Merel above. If you let your kid get so embroiled in advertising and toys that it changes their perception of themselves, you’ve got a lot more problems than gender-values in toys. From my POV, Jo constantly tries to turn women into victims, I turned my daughter into a warrior.

    Sad to hear about the illiberal restrictions made on posting here. Had the content of stood we would of argued against it, instead of that you’ve succumb to censorship, the Liberals most apparent enemy. Most unfortunate, but there’s no shortage of Lib Dem nails and coffins around here!

  • I don’t know if this post will appear, since it is clear that my postings often cause discomfort. That’s what we Kippers do, break the taboos. It is why some people finds us refreshing. Others, not so much. 🙂

    But perhaps I will be allowed to correct Liberal Al. For some reason, he thinks that l have mixed race children. I do, in the sense that they are half Welsh, but not in the way I think he means. Not that that would bother me in the least, but it is wrong as a matter of fact.

    I made an oblique allusion to cosmopolitan family circumstances, which l immediately regretted, and he misinterpreted. Now he brings it up constantly and hopefully I will be allowed to put the mistake right once and for all.

  • ChrisB 27th Dec ’14 – 12:06pm
    “…. I turned my daughter into a warrior.”

    What a strange boast. It leaves me thinking about what possibilities your daughter has missed because you took it on yourself to decide to turn her into a warrior.

    What would she have chosen for herself given a chance?

    I hope for her sake that she is not one of those warriors being sent to Iraq in the next few weeks.

  • What a strange post; not that kind of warrior John. Someone that doesn’t give up and keeps fighting – like yourself. Lets hope she’s better informed than you prior to kicking-off though….

    >What would she have chosen for herself given a chance?

    She’s 11 years old, so yes, I’ve had to make quite a few choices for her; if she chose “herself” (she didn’t used to have much “self”, I’ve been helping her make that) it would probably of been Barbies, Bratz and My Little Pony; just like the others. I purposefully switched that out for Doctor Who and Taekwondo; she seems pretty happy about that now. The idea that small children are making many real choices for themselves is wild – it’s all social nudges. We still tell 5 years olds in school that a man got nailed to a piece of wood because they’re naughty sinners, so if you’re ready to make such wild leaps of imagination so as to consider what my daughter would of been like without my guidance then I’m completely assured you know what you’re talking about! Clearly these school reports are erroneous and your input will be her saving grace from her evil, repressive father; who wants 12 year old female black belts anyway?! It’s all so outrageous, I don’t know the damage I’m doing, if only I gave her a chance…she’s half-American, so I can always blame that. If parents would just leave their kids to their own choices they could be guided completely by mass-marketing and media; we wouldn’t need parents at all.

    Anyway, shes sat next to me crying with laughter, you could just argue with her about this stuff! I’ll try and persuade her to send you some reassurance over the next few days, I really think you should meet before deciding she’s a complete write-off/cannon-fodder. Given what you’ve written, perhaps a guest post scrutinising you would be the most appropriate engagement for her, at least she’d have access to better information. Thanks for your input, kept us amused! 🙂

  • Food Banks are serving an increasing clientele. Inequality is increasing and we can endlessly discuss an irrelevance. Shame!!

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Dec '14 - 11:55am

    @ Simon
    And yet you are surprisingly thin- skinned when individuals describe your members and party in ways that you feel. ‘crosses the line’.

    I have no wish to break taboos on here and describe your party in what I believe to be an honest assessment of its true nature, but I am sure that if I did many would find my descriptions refreshing (and apt).

  • ChrisB
    My youngest is 21.
    Eleven years old seems a very ong time ago. 🙂

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Dec '14 - 4:51pm

    Not being a rich capitalist myself, there is something that I don’t understand, if one is somehow trying to place the blame for gender specific toys on the toy industry. If gender specific toys and gender specific marketing were the invention or choice of the toy or gaming industry, wouldn’t that increase their outlay and limit their market?

    I would invent a toy that is not gender specific and market a toy as unisex simply to keep production costs lower and increase my market, thus increasing my profits. I don’t expect markets to be moral but I do expect them to be canny when it comes to maximising profit.

  • @John
    Congrats, but it was only a decade ago! I suppose a lot happens in that time, a lot certainly went on in the last decade…
    When do they start making you cups of tea? 🙂

  • Hey Jayne,
    Completely agree – it’s not the industries fault, they’re supplying the demand. People seem to want their kids to play with outdated stereotype toys and I agree strongly with Caron’s statement that “this should be offensive to all liberals”. Where I disagree is in her opening paragraph she says boys get the “Science sets, dinosaurs, space stuff” – this is exactly what my daughter has grown up playing with, indeed the first toy she ever asked for, aged 3, was a dinosaur. She’s not seen as a tom-boy, or boyish, I think a lot of things have genuinely moved on. Now is this true for the people whose name we dare not speak? The white van man, the Sun reader, the UKIP voter, the people who we’re afraid of stereotyping and thus can’t communicate with or identify. Perhaps not; there’s an edge of feedback for us in this topic, we’re not talking about ourselves, it’s everyone else we’d like to change to suit our world view, but they refuse ! 🙂 I expect the next 5 years will see a lot of this type of discussion.

    I think Jo points her finger in the wrong direction because she dare not point it where the blame truly lies. It leads to these apologetic squeaks about toys rather than telling parents they need to address their own sexual identity, because nobody’s going to vote for that! Once we realise this we can see this approach is futile and has led to a public perception that we’re as nanny state as Labour. It’s all UKIP fuel and to be fair to the blighters they’ve been kind enough to pop up and point this out. We’re so great already that we won’t listen, even though they’re probably gifting us a lot of the answers. After May, perhaps.

    Doctor Who action figures – either sex – FTW.

  • ChrisB
    A gender non-specific answer on tea-making in our family. As soon as they were big enough to be trusted with a kettle of hot water they were throwing tea-bags into mugs. Eldest girl and boy making cups of tea and coffee from seven. Second boy even earlier, but I was a single parent by then and he liked to help out. He was the only one to get a ‘domestic science’ certificate at school which went on display in his shared kitchen as soon as he went to university. The youngest, the one who is now 21 was older when she made her first cup of tea. She still cannot make a decent cup of coffee but she does not drink coffee herself so I guess that’s understandable.
    All played with the same toys when they were not making cups of tea. I do not drink alcohol so I guess there was rather more tea made than in the average household. 🙂

  • My daughter has made tea once or twice, it’s the frequency I’d like to see increase. I’ll explain to her that our household has lagged behind the Tilley’s in teamaking equality and it’s time for her to pull her weight.

    If this gender divide with toys isn’t true in our experience, who is it true for?

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