Now that we’re well into the holiday season, it’s been interesting to see a rise in the promotion of gifts for girls that eschew traditional gender stereotypes. Alongside this trend is renewed pushback against segregation of toys by gender within department stores. About a year ago the famed British department store Harrods revamped its “Toy Kingdom” and made the significant decision to not separate toys along gender lines. Now, New Moon Girls, a venerable publication committed to fostering girls’ self-esteem has started a petition to ask Target to “take down the pink and blue walls so boys and girls can enjoy the toys they like freely.” And in Sweden there has been pressure to get Top Toys, the country’s main toy distributor, to stop publishing catalogs with “outdated stereotypes.”
It’s also been interesting to see an uptick in girls themselves speaking out against the constraints of gender-stereotyped marketing. This YouTube video of 5-year-old Riley speaking out about the unfairness of products marketed to girls went viral last year, reiterating that girls themselves don’t want the overflow of pink directed at them. Another social media campaign just launched in which 13-year-old sister McKenna Pope explains she wanted to get her brother, who loves to cook, an Easy Bake Ultimate Oven for the holidays, but he protested, saying it wasn’t a toy for boys, since there were no boys pictured on the box. She’s asking Hasbro to think through their marketing strategy again, and mentions how commonplace top male chefs are in American culture. Hence, why not have gender-neutral packaging on the box?
By contrast, it’s been heartening not only to see the launch of GoldieBlox, a product designed to help young girls explore engineering, but the lightning-quick support the product, now in production, garnered. There was the recent debut in Canada of a new doll meant to hew more closely to a “real girl’s” body. “Toys are not just toys,” said Lucie Follett, co-founder of Arklu, the small London-based company that makes the dolls. “When they have overly sexualized bodies they can have damaging impacts on girls’ self image.” The New York Times recently wrote about more fathers buying gifts for girls and the shift that this creates in what girls are given to play with. The recent release of Mega Bloks Barbie Build ‘n Style line is much anticipated as the first Barbie product that involves building and construction. It is a kind of progress, yet the sets still look pretty pink.
Research has continued to support the idea that girls learn what their gender function is meant to be through what they are given to play with or what is marketed to them. This collection of toys for infants and toddlers includes several makeup sets.
Happily, multiple websites that support girls have offered up guides that reinforce that gifts for girls don’t have to be all about pink, princesses, and powder puffs. Ms. Magazine offers “Put Down that Barbie!: A (Non-Gendered) Gift Guide for Girls, which is detailed by age. The website A Mighty Girl also has a Holiday Gift Guide which includes “Small but Mighty” Stocking Stuffers as well as The Ultimate Guide to the Independent Princess.” Melissa Wardy at Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies also has a wide variety of T-shirts and other products geared toward changing up stereotypes for both girls and boys.