Young Star Wars fan forces Disney to change sex-specific toy labels
Star Wars fan Izzy Cornthwaite wanted a Darth Vader costume and light sabre for her eighth birthday. But, upon exploring the UK Disney Store's website with her mum, Rebecca, she was sad to see that the outfit was listed as a "boys' costume". "Her face fell," says Rebecca. "Her eyes filled with tears and she said 'I can't have it, it says they're only for boys.'"
But Izzy decided not to take it lying down and, following a quick chat with her mother about gender stereotypes, she wrote to Disney to explain her dismay at the labelling.
A week later, she received a reply: "The description for this costume has now been amended as we understand that all our little Jedis enjoy Star Wars."
Izzy went online to check for herself, and was delighted to find that it wasn't only the description of the Darth Vader costume that had been changed - the wording on everything from costumes to toys, Disney Princess tutus to Hulk outfits was now labelled "for kids", instead of being divided by gender. Izzy is not alone in liking toys such as cars and fire engines, as well as dolls, from a very young age. Yet all stores clearly define their products by gender - "If you visited a toy shop, you would actually see boys and girls going to their respectively gendered aisle," says Rebecca. "Some might argue, 'What does this matter?'"
But Rebecca believes the impact of this early delineation doesn't end in the toy aisle: "We know that women are underrepresented in many work roles and I feel very strongly that I don't want Izzy to avoid a career later in her life because it is a 'boy's job', when I know she is capable of doing anything she sets her heart on."
We can take hope from this and the string of other incidents where companies have listened to young people's concerns about gender stereotyping.
Earlier this year, Clarks announced plans to bring out a wider range of unisex children's shoes after eight-year-old Sophie Trow wrote to complain that she wasn't allowed the dinosaur shoes she wanted as they were "only for boys". In a message shared by her mum on Twitter, Sophie wrote: "Why can't girls have dinosaur shoes? I don't like how girls have flowery shoes. I like dinosaurs and fossils, so I think that other girls might as well."
And last month, eight-year-old Els wrote to children's book publisher Scholastic to complain that it had labelled an exciting pirate book "for boys". After she started a petition and collected signatures from 80 friends and teachers at Bounds Green School, Scholastic agreed to end the gendered labelling of its books and removed gendered categories from its website. Els told The Independent: "Girls may not like things that are labelled 'for girls', they might want a monster book labelled 'for boys'. Books should be for everyone and we all like different things."
It's a positive sign of what change might lie ahead, as more and more young people are speaking out against gender stereotypes - and companies are beginning to listen. These might sound like small victories, but together they are part of a real shift in the way big businesses are approaching the marketing of children's toys and clothes.
This change has the capacity to have a major impact on young people's ideas about the world and their place in it.
"I want other children to be able to go into a shop and choose whichever toy they like," says Izzy. "I don't want them to feel embarrassed because they are a girl buying a 'boys' toy' or a boy buying a 'girls' toy'. I like Lego and Star Wars, but I have to go to the boys' section to look at them. I think this should change."
It's exciting to see a new generation of girls who already feel able, aged as young as eight, to stand up for themselves and declare their right to step outside the rigid pink and blue boundaries of gender stereotypes. May the force be with them.