Retailer Mothercare under fire for vintage housewife child ads

The images included girls in hair rollers pushing a cleaning trolley and vacuum.

Story highlights

  • Toddler girls with hair rollers and skirts promote kitchen and cleaning supplies
  • Parents and advocates say 'shame on you'

(CNN)British retailer Mothercare is facing a backlash after advertising its range of cleaning toys with young girls dressed as 1950s housewives.

With her hair tied in rollers, one young girl wears a polka dot swing skirt while pushing a vacuum cleaner.
Under "features and benefits," it lists "introduces children to real life."
    The same images are used to advertise toys, including a cleaning trolley, on the Early Learning Centre site, which is owned by the same company.
    The photos met a slew of livid parents and advocates on Twitter.
    In a statement to CNN, Mothercare said:
    "At Mothercare, our aim is to offer a wide range of toys to appeal to the many different tastes and play interests of little ones. We feature both boys and girls playing with many different toys."
    The company added: "In the 'Playing House' section of our website we feature both boys and girls playing with a range of household items."
    Mothercare depicts a couple boys within this toy line, but they're all dressed in contemporary clothing.
    Notable UK-based campaign "Let Toys Be Toys," which calls for the end of gender-based toy and book limits for children, tweeted a photo criticizing the items.
    "No, not retro toy ads from the 1950s, but Mothercare/ELC, 2017," the organization added.
    British celebrity supernanny Jo Frost slammed the products, too.
    "How disappointing, i guess nxt week it will be boys with toolbelts& hard hats on. This is not exactly the Early Learning i can appreciate," she tweeted.
    While some shamed the marketing team behind the idea, others threatened personal boycotts.
    "I love @MothercareUK and #elc but after seeing this I will have to go to somewhere else for toys," said one woman.
    One woman posted a side-by-side comparison of this ad next to a 1979 ad for Mothercare homemaker toys, showing close to nothing has changed overall for little girls since then.
    Studies outline a distinct role that toys play in the psychology of young children. Kids base their future aspirations on what they perceive as available to them.
    The industry has grown more gendered in recent decades, research shows.
    Exploiting the myth of gender-specific colors, labels, and roles kindles a self-fulfilling cycle. It's bit of a cop out that also ends up backfiring, says Bjorn Jeffrey, who co-founded a company that makes digital toys for kids 3-7.
    It makes ethical as well financial sense to offer a genderless choice as the market is twice as large, he says. The open choice also encourages more creativity.
    "Kids get a lot of ideas early from play about what they can do, what they like and what they can aspire to," says psychology professor Deborah Tolman of the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York. "By making those themes gender specific, it leaves out a whole range of possibilities."
    Reinforcing these gender limits goes hand in hand with fueling derogatory attitudes toward other identities, like sexual orientation and sexuality.
    "If kids are coming into social situations with more constrained ideas about what boys and girls should be from playing, you can see how that would contribute to the negative reinforcement of ideas about identity and sexuality," says Tolman.
    Shocked parents tweeted their hope that the Mothercare images were a spoof. However, as of Tuesday morning they were still on Mothercare's site.