Australian retailer Woolworths under fire for gendered pencil case display

Woolworths pencil case price tags on shelving display labelling pencil cases as boy and girl designs
The divisive display prompted Woolworths to apologise for its "dated" choice of labels. Photo credit: Woolworths / Facebook

In this day and age it's pretty common knowledge that boys can wear pink and girls can wear blue - but Woolworths appeared to miss the memo. 

The Australian retail giant has come under fire for an in-store shelving display that divided pencil cases into "boy" and "girl" designs - a move even the supermarket has now conceded as "dated". 

The display prompted outrage on social media after one shopper shared a photograph of the shelving labels to the supermarket's Facebook page, questioning why the products were not gender-neutral. 

The photo, taken at the woman's local store, showed colourful, pink-toned neoprene pencil cases labelled as "girl" designs, while the cases patterned with green, black and white were marketed for boys. 

"Really Woolworths - girls and boys pencil cases? Why not just 'pencil cases?'" the customer captioned the photos. 

Parents were quick to condemn the choice of wording, noting that children should not be pigeonholed by outdated concepts of gender.

"My daughter who is 14 would say the same thing and definitely would buy the so-called boys one!" one wrote.

"Apparently colours are owned by the sexes," another said.

Others noted that despite the labels, shoppers were still free to pick a pencil case as they pleased.

"Nothing stopping any gender purchasing either one," one said.

"At least they're the same price," another quipped.

"Who lets a sign dictate what colour they are going to buy?" a third added.

Woolworths has since responded to the complaint, admitting that the gender-specific labelling was outdated.

"We aim to ensure our products are inclusive and agree the names of these pencil cases are dated," a Woolworths spokesperson told local media.

"We're working to update the names of these products to better reflect community expectations and provide a more accurate description."

A consumer-led movement calling for children's products to be marketed as gender-neutral has gathered momentum in recent years. In October, toy company Lego confirmed it would remove gender-specific labelling from its products in a bid to put an end to "age-old stereotypes".

Last February, Hasbro announced it was renaming its popular Mr Potato Head toy to drop the 'Mr', giving the "Potato Head" line a less gender-focused identity. Also in 2021, a Kmart customer launched a petition calling on the retail giant to make its children's clothing gender-neutral.

And last month, multinational confectionery manufacturer Mars Incorporated announced it would be giving its M&Ms a "refresh" to demonstrate "the more dynamic, progressive world that we live in".

As part of the rebranding, the candy characters have been given a modern makeover to reflect "more nuanced personalities" and "self-expression".