In the latest victory against sexism, Toys ‘R’ Us is to stop labelling its products as being for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ after pressure from campaigners, joining such shops as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots, Harrods and Hamleys .
In its report the Huffington Post quoted a woman who sells engineering toys aimed at girls, who hopes to show it’s not just a ‘niche’ but rather they can ‘prove convention wrong’ by making it more mass market.
But what is wrong with being a niche market? One of the wonderful benefits of free-market capitalism is that it allows niches to flourish, so that people who once would have been forced into uncomfortable roles can instead find a place for themselves in the world.
Plenty of girls do like engineering, plenty are tomboys in their tastes, but they’re quite a small minority, and so the big money goes with Princess Pink’s Fluffy Fairy Castle of Fluffiness.
If campaigners argued that it was somehow wrong for girls to be so feminine then it would at least be coherent; but the rationale here is that stereotyping girls’ and boys’ toys undermines females who want to choose more traditional masculine roles. Yet the evidence suggests that stereotype threat play a very small part in deterring women from male-dominated subjects, and that girls and boys typically like different things because their brains are typically different.
Whenever you have one group of people who believe one thing for ideological reasons, and another who believe something else because their business model depends on it, I tend to trust the latter. Who do you think knows more about the minds of girls and boys — the academics who’ve spent years discussing gender feminism, or people who sell toys?
But why, then, have toys in recent years become so hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine? We’ve simply become richer, and the market has expanded and diversified.
And the people who sell things have also become much better at understanding what consumers want, market research has become more of a science, and the internet and data mining have allowed a much clearer idea of the demography of consumer desire. (No one understands you better than your search engine, a window into the soul’s darkest recesses.)
Capitalists have no ideology, for better or worse (usually better), but occasionally now the reality of the market — which shows human difference in a way that upsets egalitarian liberals – means that they have to pay tribute to the priestly caste, in this case by making a sacrifice to the gods of diversity. It’s been an occupational hazard of shopkeepers since ancient times, but astute as they are, these shops will simply find different ways to target their customers. You can’t buck the market, because you can’t buck human nature.