If the Internet is to be believed, the TOP 10 THINGS YOUR FEMALE CHILD WILL BEG FOR THIS CHRISTMAS includes a brightly colored Furby, glittery Monster High dolls in glamour dresses, and a pink NERF archery set inspired by (you already know, don’t you?) the Hunger Games sensation. While it seems standard, albeit predictable, fare to protest the problematic nature of the first two toys, or at least the anorexically skinny and sexualized horror doll franchise—sorry Furby, you’re just terrifyingly cute and annoying at best—my issue with the latter is the mentality toy companies share wherein they slather could-be gender-neutral toy candidates in pink and purple hues in order to specifically target “the female demographic.” Bonus points for incorporating cutesy decals of hearts, stars, or cupcakes. In the case of the Hunger Games-inspired NERF set, isn’t it a little obtuse to assert the need for gendered products? I’d argue that Katniss did reasonably well without toting a bow emblazoned with heart decals and the idea of such presumptuous frivolousness with her murder weapon of choice would have no doubt been lost on her completely.
Running searching for “gender neutral toys” or “feminist friendly toys” yielded marginal results, and the latter more so (feminist + toys seems to be a much more adult search query.) While there have been great strides with toys crossing gender boundaries, manufacturers seem firmly rooted in the belief that things simply must be made feminine for women. Check out this video clip from ABC News, where Laurie Schacht raves about the latest toys as being gender neutral, when in fact many of them are traditionally “girl” or “boy” toys that have been gloriously reskinned to appeal to the opposite gender.
Gender neutral: you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
In case you were wondering, neutral means that it isn’t ascribed to a pre-set gender by way of marketing or appearance, not that it’s a “boy” toy that girls also play with or a “boy” toy also has a “girl” variant.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my share of over-the-top cuteness for cuteness’s sake, but I don’t feel that encapsulates my interests as a whole. It’s beyond absurd the amount of products that have been “girlified” which were previously perfectly suitable for both genders; If young girls have waning interest in such toys, perhaps it had something to do with the blatant male marketing rather than the fact that they didn’t come in garish girl colors. When faced with the decision of what LEGO set to grab from the shelf, why should we nudge our budding youth to veer toward the poolside playset instead of an awesome dinosaur? We definitely don’t want them thinking they have to pick the pool scene because they’re supposed to. And might I be so bold to suggest that toys can have multiple color schemes without falling into the detestable pit of gender marketing? It truly is possible, it just takes some willpower to not choose the rote way of advertising that states in overtly clear terms: these toys are meant for girls.
I’m sure by now the Internet has left even the most remote rock-dwellers aware of Goldie Blox, an engineering toy for girls. A step in the well-intentioned direction but still falling a bit short, the sets, which are distinctly geared toward girls despite the huge amount of press surrounding this supposed “gender neutral” toy, are meant to spark girls’ interest in STEM by capitalizing on it’s anti-sexist image a girl-power advertisements. It’s a noteworthy effort, but it panders to the girlification culture the industry is hungrily embracing by inadvertently playing into subtle sexism. The brand uses an adorable blonde darling as the product’s frontwoman and traditionally girly themes to sell the engineering projects. It can’t be enough that a girl wants to learn how to build, must she submit herself to the position of female-profession, wherein her gender is used as a prefix for her interests? (Think: the girl engineer, lady scientist, etc.) The underlying message suggests that girls need something catered specially to them in order to have confidence and develop the same spatial reasoning skills boys do.
Despite the intent, toys packaged with pretty bow and cutesy themes are playing into stereotypes we so desperately need to avoid, a difficult prospect when children are constantly bombarded with advertisements. It’s not just girls that lose out on being confined to a specific gender box. The stigma that comes with a girl playing with boy toys is nominal at best and even applauded in most cases, whereas the reverse is dangerous territory and still widely stigmatized in Western culture. We’re reinforcing adult-perceived gender on children who in turn learn negative stereotypes at a young age.
In many cases, it’s a Catch-22; if companies don’t make a version designed for girls, people will bitch, and if they do, people will bitch even harder. Maybe we should take a note from Sweden’s Top Toy and start featuring boys and girls in adverts for all toys until we stop pigeonholing our children into preset roles.
By Amanda Duncil, Blog Editor
All Images via Google Images