"Sometimes I wish my Barbies came with a sword, like the boy toys do,” says our nine-year-old friend, Taylor. “I don’t want a boy Barbie, but I want a girl with a sword or a special power.” Taylor isn’t the only girl who is asking for less gender-specific toys from toy companies. Recently, a video on YouTube called “Riley on Marketing” had over three million hits. In the video, Riley, a four-year-old girl, has an epiphany while standing in the toy aisle — surrounded by pastel pink boxes of baby dolls– that all the girl toys are pink and all the boy toys are blue. Riley’s clearly on to something, given the recent uproar about Lego’s introduction of a gender-based line of toys for girls called “Lego Friends.” The toys come with accessories such as lipstick, hairbrushes, purses, and puppies. If the toys had been marketed simply as “Lego Friends,” perhaps it wouldn’t be so much of an issue. Rather, Lego specifically states on their website the toys were created for girls: "LEGO Friends: The new LEGO theme — for girls!"
Similarly, Pottery Barn Kids came under fire for having photos on their website (and in their catalogues) of little girls playing in pink kitchen sets and with toy irons and vacuums under the headline “Great Gifts For Girls Ages 3-7.” It’s not necessarily the pink and blue themed-toys that are causing a stir (though some gender-neutral colors might be nice), but the specificity in the marketing these items towards only girls and the sports, dinosaur and car-related ones towards only boys.
In the image accompanying this post, you’ll see a Lego ad from the 1980s and a page from the current website for Pottery Barn Kids. In nearly thirty years, it seems we’ve regressed with gender stereotypes instead of progressed.
What can parents and caretakers do to help change this? Boycotting, emailing, calling, writing to the offending companies to tell them what you think of their policy is a start. However, one of the best things you can do is start right in your very own home. Change your thinking about gender-specific toys and colors. If your daughter wants an action figure or your son asks for a Barbie, put aside any stereotypes you may have and don’t persuade them to pick something else. Children are naturally curious. Feeding that curiosity helps them to become better people that are more understanding of the world around them. Putting them in gender-specific boxes teaches them the limits of the world. And, don’t we all want to raise the next generation to reach beyond their wildest dreams, break boundaries, and change the world?