Despite it being 2013 and constant chatter on parenting blogs praising efforts by children’s marketers to be less gendered, toy marketers are still producing catalogs and show rooms that seem more fit for the 1950′s than modern day. Girls get kitchens, beauty vanities, and princesses; boys get moving vehicles, pirate ships, castles, and sports. No crossover. Really. Really?
There are trends in the toy industry that would allow the creative marketer to see past the gendered ghetto toy aisles and market the same toy to both genders. Considering the press the Easy Bake Oven-gate received or the more recent news of girls super hero underwear selling out in hours, you would think the potential for a shift in sales figures would encourage one or two of these guys to go out on a gender-neutral limb and see just how much money there is to be made. My little company is gender neutral, and I do okay. Or take a look at one of the leading toy companies in France, Janod is certainly doing it right. Raising both a girl and boy child myself, I am thoroughly exhausted with them getting the message nearly everywhere we go that boys and girls exist in separate worlds (Looking at you, Lego and Nerf.)
As my almost four year old niece would say, it is bonknuts. And it really is. Bonknuts. The real world is not fractured by sex, yet our children are growing up being told one side is blue and active, the other is pink and pretty.
Fisher-Price is a brand I grew up with, and my children have many of their toys. The quality is great, and many offer opened ended play with little battery intervention (or batteries are never inserted at our house). Benny just got the Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle as his big present from Santa, and all of his Angry Birds plushies and vintage Star Wars figures immediately moved in. It wasn’t pretty when Amelia’s action figures from Brave attacked and Merida took over the world…..
One of our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community Members contacted me with a letter she wrote to Fisher-Price after receiving their Spring catalog. Alison De Paola said on our facebook page, “They didn’t even make an effort to be inclusive! The one page has the workshop and the kitchen on the same page – boy at workbench, girl at kitchen. Except if it were my daughter and my nephew, she would be banging away and he would be cooking up some gourmet meal. It would have been easy for them to mix things up just a little bit, you know? And outside of the babies there were no kids playing together of any gender! Normally I can let it slide a little, but seriously? The WHOLE catalog? SMH!”
It would not have been difficult for Fisher-Price to change the way children were photographed playing with their toys. They could have easily posed a girl with the tool bench and a boy in the kitchen. They chose not to do it. The problem is not just with Fisher-Price because to be fair, they have to compete with the other toy companies and none of them are doing it any different. I’m waiting for the toy company that is willing to go there. One day Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies will be that company, but that is a little ways off…
Until then, we’ll have to keep letting the current manufacturers and marketers know what we want, just like Alison De Paola did:
“I was very disappointed in the Spring 2013 catalog that arrived in the mail today. If you page through the catalog, there is not a single girl over the age of two playing with something that isn’t pink. There are NO girls whatsoever pictured with the pirate, construction, dinosaurs, trains or other vehicles, unless you count the ridiculous pink and purple four wheelers. And not a single girl pictured playing sports. While I am certain that it’s not your company philosophy to discriminate on the basis of gender, it’s disappointing as a consumer to see what looks like such blatant gender bias – no boys playing with kitchen equipment either. Can’t kids be kids? Can’t we show a blend of kids playing with all kinds of toys? I would think this would be something your marketing folks would want to address. I sure hope the summer catalog is a bit more balanced.”
Nice work, Alison! As a mainstay in American children’s toys, I hope Fisher-Price takes your words to heart and makes some progressive changes in their next catalog!