Tag Archives: Early Learning Centre

Early Learning Emergency – revisited – one year on

It’s a year since we launched our Early Learning Emergency campaign which tackled the gender stereotyping which is evident everywhere you look by the high street giant, the Early Learning Centre. That campaign made every national newspaper in the UK, TV, radio and blogs galore, and ended up in print in 43 countries around the world. Surely the Early Learning Centre must have noticed that we touched on a subject which stirred up a huge amount of emotion and which gathered support from thousands and thousands of parents, teachers and children around the world?

To celebrate the anniversary we thought we’d go back and see if we could detect any changes made by the retailer in terms of products, labeling and the store experience. In other words let’s see if they’ve learned anything over the last year …

ELC report cardSo here’s the Early Learning Centre report card. We’ve used the dressing up clothes pages as a barometer here. These pages are especially powerful in terms of the imagery, language and the products on offer to girls and boys as they define the boundaries between each and plant those all important ideas about what the future might hold for them.


Last year we pointed out the ELC Christmas catalogue was hugely segregated in terms of the way it portrayed girls and boys. Girls were seen in passive roles throughout and were noticeably absent or playing only small parts in any action, adventure and discovery type pages.

In particular we noticed that the dressing up clothes were so outrageously gender specific that girls were pictured only as princesses and fairies (with an old fashioned nurse being the only exception) while boys were pictured as super heroes, a range of professionals and as adventurers. Last year in the spread entitled ‘things people do’, there was one girl (old fashioned nurse) and 7 boys all playing at different professions (police officer, firefighter etc).

This year there has been some significant positive change! Things people do is now called ‘ when I grow up’ and guess what? There are now girls being a police officer, a fire fighter and a vet (blue not pink) alongside the boys.

We are thrilled about this. And it’s a great start as well as clear recognition of the points we made this time last year and most importantly action!


The language used within the catalogue was a real problem last year. Time and time again the word pretty being used to describe girls. Pretty princesses, pretty in front of the mirror, pretty, pretty, pretty. What does this tell a girl about what she’s worth?

Well this year, again there has been an effort to move away from this adjective. While there is still an abundance of pink princess dresses and sparkles the language in the catalogue has changed. I struggled to find the word pretty this time. Instead, the wording is very carefully gender neutral – even in the most pink pages – it’s your child and not your daughter who is being encouraged to play and make believe.

So again, a good effort but still more to do and further to go.


The product lines still have a way to go. We are very disturbed by the vanity mirrors which are sold as toys for three years and older. Placing a three year old child in front of a mirror is nothing short of sexualisation of girls. We have to see it as this and we need to remove this from catalogues and stores across the retail world.

Sadly as well, the in-store experience remains a highly gendered segregated affair. In my local store I was hid hard by the prominence of these so called vanity mirrors – of which I counted at least three different models – stacked high and in prominent position.

So, in summary we are really pleased that the Early Learning Centre has taken on board some of our concerns and have made a really good start in making their catalogue more inclusive and more positive for girls and boys.

So we are awarding them a C+ this time round.

“Good effort ELC. You still have a long way to go but we are pleased that you are listening the concerns of parents and taking positive steps forward.”

Today’s papers were full of the news that the Government is launching an inquiry tomorrow which will examine whether new rules need are needed to prevent retailers stocking inappropriate items to pre-teens. So this is just the start. We think that ELC along with all other retailers need to take responsibility and live up to these responsibilities. We’ll be following these developments closely and look forward to being a part of that process.


Three wheels good

It may seem trivial, but it isn’t. I was pleased, as were friends of mine, to see that at last those three-wheel scooters – if you are a parent of a 2-6 year old, you’ll know which ones I mean – are available in colours other than blue and pink. I know so many mums and dads, who are in a total quandry about which colour to get for their girls. This because they simply don’t want a pink one or have already got a daughter with a pink one and they want one which is different, but not blue. Because blue gives a message as well. How on Earth did these colours get loaded with so much meaning, that we’re worrying about this nonsense? And where did all the choice go?

We’ve been eagerly reading some correspondence that a woman called Christine Emily Campbell has been having with the Early Learning Centre (ELC). She is creator of the Facebook group ‘Construction toys are for girls too‘, and has been in dialogue with the them about their blatant, stereotypical genderisation of all things in store. This now happens to the ridiculous point that the globe itself – yes the entire world – has gone pink for girls.

What does a pink globe teach girls which a blue and green one can't?

What does a pink globe teach girls which a blue and green one can't?

The ELC have responded saying that there exists all sorts of ‘scientific proof’ as to why it is that girls like pink. They say:

“According to child psychologists, research now shows that gender is a major factor in determining children’s colour preferences, with most boys typically preferring blue and girls preferring pink from infancy. To meet the needs of these colour preferences and to ensure children are given a choice, Early Learning Centre are offering limited products in both blue and pink variations.”

They go on to say:

“… the freedom [for children] to make their own colour choices plays a major role in enhancing their development”

Choice? What choice? Frankly, we just don’t buy it. And I mean that literally, as well as figuratively speaking.

I point you in the direction of the girl in the 80’s Lego ad, and only wish that this beautiful image wasn’t so startling and

When girls were girls!

When girls were girls!

shocking. It’s because of its lack of pinkness that I just can’t take my eyes off it! We’ve become so brainwashed into believing that all this is ‘natural’, that when we see an image like this, it’s somehow bizarre. And yet it’s what we all looked like as kids in the 70s and no-one thought we ‘weren’t girls’. No-one thought we had to be dripping in pink to express ourselves, but most importantly we had a choice.

ELC claim that girls naturally prefer pink (take a look at the Wikipedia entry on the colour Pink – specifically Pink and gender), but it’s no wonder they ‘choose’ pink and only pink, because there is no other choice except for blue. And no girl wants to be called a boy. This illusion of choice is extremely convenient for the corporations marketing stuff to our kids. Trivial it may seem but there’s mega bucks being made here.

Interestingly enough, you’ll pay a premium for a non pink or non blue scooter – a whopping 10 quid extra – but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because at least it’s a choice.

Abi & Emma at nursery in the 70s

Abi & Emma at nursery in the 70s

You pay a ten pound premium for a yellow one!

You pay a ten pound premium for a yellow one!