'No Gender December': Parents urged to 'buy a boy a Barbie' to break gender stereotypes

Parents are being urged to "buy a boy a Barbie" in the lead up to Christmas in the hope of smashing gender stereotypes that divide boys and girls and carry through to adulthood.

The advice is part of No Gender December, an annual campaign run by leading education publisher Good Education Group and backed up by the United Nations.

Chief executive officer Chris Lester said the grassroots campaign encourages parents to buy boys dolls in an effort to fight gender divisions that see girls and boys turn away from possible careers later in life, News Corp reports.

Pink and Blue toys: Gi Joe and Barbie are made by Mattel.

"According to those behind the No Gender December campaign, the movement correlates with the perception that STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) are fields dominated by men and avoided by women," Mr Lester said.

The divide starts in childhood, Mr Lester said, as "toy stores typically separate 'girls' from 'boys' toys, workplaces tend to be sharply divided between 'pink' and 'blue' jobs".

In Australia the professional gender divide is stark, with the Workforce Gender Equality Agency suggesting a "bloke quota" should be implemented to perk up the number of men in traditionally female-dominated roles like nursing and teaching.

Computer advertising began to focus on boys in the 1980s. Commodore Computers ad

"According to the taxman, women make up over 70 per cent of the education and training sector, and almost 80 per cent of all health and social workers," Mr Lester said.

"But they represent less than 12 per cent of the mining and construction industries, under a quarter of the manufacturing and transport sectors, and a tiny fraction of folks in IT."

At least in the world of IT, there is evidence of a direct correlation between the number of women in the US studying in the field in recent years and the advertising they were exposed to as children.

Sisters were doing it for themselves, then things changed in the mid-1980s. Source: Cray Computer ad c. 1983

In the mid-1980s home computer companies began marketing more specifically toward boys.

In the period from 1983 to 2011 the number of women studying computers dropped from 37 per cent to 18 per cent, according to the US National Center for Education Statistics.

Something changed with Lego toys.

Over the same period, formerly gender-neutral toys like Lego began to create toys specifically for girls and boys.

That prompted the Rachel Giordano, who featured in a 1981 Lego ad, to point out how different the boys and girls' toys had become with a side-by-side comparison of the Danish company's approach to girls' toys.