At first I reacted with glee. ‘How wonderful!’ I thought. I pondered the implications of a similar move here in Australia and started to wonder how long it would take for this idea to trickle through.
But as the day wore on I mulled it over again. Something didn’t sit right. I read the article again. The rationale behind the move was sparked by criticism from Swedish advertising watchdog Reklamombudsmannen (RO) who felt that Top Toys had fostered old-fashioned gender stereotypes by featuring pictures of boys dressed as superheroes and girls as princesses in their catalogs.
I can understand the logic behind the new catalog – “Traditional gender stereotypes you say? No problem! We’ll reverse them!” But it doesn’t really get to the crux of the matter does it?
You can picture boys playing with dolls and girls playing with guns, but while strong gender stereotypes exist in society then it’s really just that – a picture.
There are differences between girls and boys, their preferences for toys and the way that they play…but these differences are not as simple as ‘boys like blue’ and ‘girls like pink’. I wonder to what extent we condition these preferences… you only need to take a look at the selection of clothing available for newborns to see that tradition is still very much at large.
My eldest daughter has always shown a strong preference for toys that would traditionally have been classed as ‘boy’s toys’ such as diggers, trucks and trains. I guess you would call her a ‘tom boy’, she likes running and climbing and rarely sits still. My youngest daughter prefers dolls and would rather sit quietly with a book than run around in the park.
It has been fascinating to watch my girls develop, each has a different personality and different toy preferences. By allowing them the opportunity to explore a variety of toys each has developed their own preferences independently.
What does ‘gender neutral’ mean anyway? When I think of ‘gender neutral’ toys I picture things with no gender connotations at all such as building blocks, spinning tops and bouncy balls. Many toys such as kitchens and shops should also fall into this category… but many toy shops pitch them at girls by making them pink.
Perhaps we can start by removing the labels. Rather than department stores advertising ‘toys for girls’ and ‘toys for boys’ we could use signs such as ‘role playing toys’ and ‘action toys’. Stores such as Ikea are already doing just that and producing a wide range of toys with no clear gender bias.
I’m all for challenging traditional gender stereotypes, but would argue that it’s not as simple as giving all the boys doll houses for Christmas… It is our responsibility as parents to allow our children to explore their own inclinations by allowing them to experience a variety of toys without the confines of gender stereotyping.