Origami Girl

Monday, 27 June 2011

In which playmobil lets the team down

I have mentioned playmobil a lot on this blog and thought this might be the chance to say something a little more serious about it. I realise that this may seem something of a rant but I feel it is an important point.
I still enjoy playing and collecting children’s toys. I linger by the Lego in whsmith and buy playmobil from ebay when I am feeling down. However there is something that I have noticed in doing this. It's sexist. I'm not talking about Barbie vs. Action Man. That's been done. I am talking about the more subtle things. There seems to be a trend towards sexism rather than a movement away from it. For example, Lego basic bricks. When I was little I had a red box of bricks with a girl in dungarees playing with them on the side of the box. In my local shop they have 2 boxes. A pink one with a girl in pink playing with her pink bricks and a red one with a boy playing with the set. Why the need for 2 different ones? It seems that much of children's toys today seek to divide gender at a very early age. It is not just dolls for girls and cars for boys but sets of even Lego and playmobil which have the chance to be gender neutral seeks to divide children up.

This is a particular problem for me with playmobil. I go on the website (www.playmobil.com) every so often to see what new sets I have and this is what it looks like:
As you can see each series is represented by a face. There are 2 more rows than the ones you can see. However out of a total of 30 series' 3 of them are represented by an image of a girl. Not pirates, not spies, not exploring, not even the zoo. However there is one thing in all of this that makes me mad and it is this:
It made me mad enough that I wrote a letter explaining why which I would like to share today.
(I would also like to add before I begin that these toys are clearly labelled as 'Multi Set Boys' and 'Multi Set Girls' and can be viewed here and here)

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a long time collector of playmobil and I love the range of toys you create, picking up the catalogue year after year. However I have noted with sadness the sexism within Playmobil for some time now, particularly the fact that there are far more male figures overall than female ones, in almost every category other than the very traditional domesticated roles in the house. Within the modern house, for example, in all the rooms you have a woman cooking, cleaning or ironing -but a man sits in the office. He must be very smug with his lot in life I am sure with so many women to take care of him. This kind of set up reinforces sexist ideas that are no longer relevant in a 'modern house'.
I have put up with these issues for some time, however the latest 'boys' and 'girls' sets (product numbers 4438 and 4439, see ) have been the last straw.

I am particularly insulted, not just by the clear division of toys according to gender, but also by the nature of the different roles that you are offering to young children.

The boy is offered: knight, king, viking and archer whereas the girl is offered: bridesmaid, damsel, elf and princess. I would like to draw to your attention to the fact that the female roles are all passive and secondary ones. She is not even a bride or a queen. The elf could just as easily have been labelled 'sorceress' but you seem to have once again opted for a label that is unimaginative and more importantly, unempowering. The boy's figures are all clearly active roles, giving them weapons and positions of power. The girl is left to pretend her figure is looking in a mirror. I would ask what the difference is between a 'damsel' and a 'princess' in this conception of them? In an age when girls have Fiona the ogre as a role model and Disney have just released a film about Rapunzel who fights with a frying-pan, perhaps you could have handed one of them a sword.

As someone who has played with playmobil all my life I would point out that the sets I have consistently collected have been cowboys, pirates and knights. Furthermore I am not the only girl who has such interests, I have frequently seen little girls picking up the knight sets in toy shops. The gender division in your products is therefore outdated and unnecessary. Furthermore, the sexism seems to have been on the increase as when I was a child the fantasy series then was not buried in a wash of pink passive princesses. The sets had female figures who were witches and beautiful dark queens.

In conclusion therefore I hope that you could rethink the roles that you assign to each gender and remember that your toys are an important factor in forming a child's attitude to the world.

Respectfully Yours,

Ruth Coustick


  1. Absolutely brillaint and such a well written letter. Thank you so much for bringing up this issue that is ever present in toys, but something I always unfortunately failed to notice. I truly do hope for the sake of women everywhere that in the future ALL toy brands may rule out such sexist toys for little children.

  2. this is saddening. apparently however, toy companies make so much more money from gender-specific toys over gender neutral targeted toys, they don't have much choice financially but to go along with it. i read that in a study somewhere *cite*. doesn't make it right of course.

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