Last winter, a sixth grade class at Gustavslund school in Växjö in south central Sweden reported Toys"R"Us to the Reklamombudsmannen (Ro), a self-regulatory agency which polices marketing and advertising communications in Sweden to ensure they are in line with guidelines set out by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
According to the youngsters, the Toys"R"Us Christmas catalogue featured “outdated gender roles because boys and girls were shown playing with different types of toys, whereby the boys were portrayed as active and the girls as passive”, according to a statement from Ro.
The group's teacher explained to the local Smålandsposten newspaper that filing the complaint was the culmination of more than two years of “long-term work” by the students on gender roles.
Thumbing through the catalogue, 13-year-old Hannes Psajd explained that he and his twin sister had always shared the same toys and that he was concerned about the message sent by the Toys"R"Us publication.
“Small girls in princess stuff…and here are boys dressed as super heroes. It's obvious that you get affected by this,” he told the newspaper.
“When I see that only girls play with certain things then, as a guy, I don't want it.”
Classmate Moa Averin emphasized the importance of children being able to be who they want even if “guys want to be princesses sometimes”.
Upon reviewing the case, the Reklamombudsmannen agreed with the sixth-graders complaint, and on Tuesday issued a public reprimand of the toy retailer.
According to the Ro's advisory committee (Opinionsnämnden), the Toys"R"Us catalogue “discriminates based on gender and counteracts positive social behaviour, lifestyles, and attitudes”.
Specifically, the committee found that the catalogue feature boys “playing in action filled environments” while girls “are shown sitting or standing in passive poses”.
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“Taken together, the catalogue portrays children's games and choice of toys in a narrow-minded way, and this exclusion of boys and girls from different types of toys is, in itself, degrading to both genders,” Ro said in a statement.
The public reprimand has no accompanying sanctions for Toys"R"Us, as the Ro has no authority to formally punish the companies it finds at fault.