Gender-neutral toy catalogue
December 2, 2012 2:18 AM   Subscribe

"Top-Toy Group, a licensee of the Toys "R" Us brand, has published a gender-blind catalog for the Christmas season."
Top-Toy also is working on adjusting store displays and packaging to reflect the gender-neutral approach, said Jan Nyberg, Top-Toy's sales director in Sweden. Boys and girls can now be seen playing together on boxes of "Happy House," Top-Toy's own kitchen set.

"We can't decide what the big toy makers' boxes should look like as their products are made for the global market, but we can make changes on our own boxes and in our stores," Mr. Nyberg said.
Press release from Top-Toy
More pictures from the catalogue
posted by frimble (77 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
In many cases, she says, she suspects the gender-neutral platform is a marketing ploy. "It's a mistake to think that companies typically do this out of ethical belief," Dr. Wade said. "Most of the time they are doing it strategically."

Elisabeth Trotzig, who serves as the ombudsman for RO, applauds Top-Toy. "I'm convinced others will also follow this line," Ms. Trotzig said. "It's especially important when it comes to children and young people since they don't have the same experience and opportunity to evaluate marketing communication."


I agree. Whether it's done out of ethics or simply a recognition of the direction the culture is going, kids looking through the catalogue are going to be seeing boys and girls playing with the same toys, and that's good.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:58 AM on December 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


The pics of both boys and girls shooting the ray guns, or cooking in aprons, seems "normal" to me, nothing I would've thought twice about. The one of the boy with the hairdresser set and hairdryer does seem like a real switch, and not an entirely natural one.

But maybe that's just me with my ingrained concept of who plays with those toys. On the other hand, how many boys would really play with toy hairdryers and play Salon with girls? On the other other hand, maybe that's strictly because boys--we all--have been conditioned to think that way.
posted by zardoz at 3:18 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


They did this because Reklamombudsmannen (the Swedish advertising watchdog) pulled them up on (and fined them?) for previous years' stereotypically gendered catalogues. This isn't "ooh, look how awesome this company is!" - it's "ooh, look how awesome regulation and oversight are!"
posted by Dysk at 3:22 AM on December 2, 2012 [84 favorites]


The proof will be in the purchases--I have a very strong hunch that culture, biology and peer experiences will prevail--there will be movement towards the middle/gender-neutrality but the shift will not be significant.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:41 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a question, this is gender neutral. If your kids think vacuuming is fun, why get a toy vacuum? Just let them vacuum!
posted by Drinky Die at 4:00 AM on December 2, 2012 [45 favorites]


"Gender blindness" sounds like a topic for a really great Oliver Sacks article. "The Man Who Mistook a Woman for a Man", or something.


On the other hand, how many boys would really play with toy hairdryers and play Salon with girls?

You know, I think kids like imitating their parents. My son likes to play at doing things he sees us do around the house. Whenever possible, we try and let him help out, whether it's putting away the silverware or helping carry some clothes to the dryer. He doesn't think of those things as masculine or feminine, because they aren't. Likewise, if a kid sees different genders using hairdryers, they're not likely to think of them as specifically GIRLY or whatever.
posted by dubold at 4:14 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Agreed, the gender definition of some toys is an issue- the lack of it not so much.

I can easily imagine boys mucking around with an easy-bake oven and I can as easily imagine them being turned off that oven if its hot pink and in the gurls section.

Kids are curious, gender stereotypes get in the way of that.
posted by litleozy at 4:18 AM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can also easily imagine boys mucking around with gender-neutral dolls, but sure as shit those dolls aren't going to be playing house for long.

Somehow I don't think the general fascination of mechanisms/moving objects vs interpersonal dynamics (or however the fuck you want characterize the less extreme faces of the male/female divide that separates severe autism from borderline personality) are going to be altered by gender-neutral playthings.

Edit: systemizing/empathizing are probably more reasonable shorthand words.
posted by legospaceman at 4:29 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The proof will be in the purchases--I have a very strong hunch that culture, biology and peer experiences will prevail-

Biology is a strange thing in there- do you believe that hairdressing is somehow biologically determined?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think this is great, although I did chuckle at the bored expression of the girl with her toy weapon. You've got to sell it, kid!
posted by orme at 5:11 AM on December 2, 2012


Kids will play at anything; they don't bar themselves from toys naturally. Is there anyone here who didn't play with toys that were 'supposed' to be for the other gender?
posted by communicator at 5:13 AM on December 2, 2012


legospaceman: I'm not sure what autism or borderline personality disorder have to do with anything, but you seem to be saying autism= male and borderline=female. I'm not sure how that makes any sense at all--you are aware that both males and females are diagnosed with both disorders?

Or as in your edit, you are somehow saying, I think, that male=systemizing and female=empathizing? I personally prefer to be around people regardless of gender who have both skills. I am a scientist, so systemizing is a pretty important skill to me, and I am human, so I prefer to hang out with people who have empathy. I have a (male) autistic friend, a sweet, caring guy, who would be very offended by you defining him by a supposed lack of empathy.

I'm not sure why so many people have so much riding on gender determinism or why they get so freaked out by girls who like Legos and boys that like dolls.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:14 AM on December 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


Kids will play at anything; they don't bar themselves from toys naturally.
But most parents will select "appropriate" toys. Or grandparents will.

If this is an issue for you, the catalogue is a start. But that's all.
posted by Mezentian at 5:19 AM on December 2, 2012


If your kids think vacuuming is fun, why get a toy vacuum? Just let them vacuum!

I invite you to test this theory by finding a three-year-old and handing them a Dyson and finding out how good a job they do on the floors before getting distracted by the toy kitty they find under the sofa.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:20 AM on December 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


Mezentian, I really don't see anyone claiming that this catalogue has solved the problem of aggressively gendered toys. Gendered toys are the foundation of a lot of the sexism that still shapes society, I think we should be concerned.

Like "biology" ever considered the color pink.
posted by lydhre at 5:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


In many cases, she says, she suspects the gender-neutral platform is a marketing ploy. "It's a mistake to think that companies typically do this out of ethical belief," Dr. Wade said. "Most of the time they are doing it strategically."

1. Treat boys and girls equally.
2. Sell lots more toys.
3. Profit!
4. ????
5. Get criticized anyway because of side-effect effect.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:36 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If your kids think vacuuming is fun, why get a toy vacuum? Just let them vacuum!

I invite you to test this theory by finding a three-year-old and handing them a Dyson and finding out
how many of your personal belongings a three-year old can suck into the vacuum cleaner while you aren't looking.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:37 AM on December 2, 2012 [36 favorites]


Hell, some kinds just really, really have those gendered prefrences really early. I checked in with my family to get a sense of what my niece and nephew would dig for Christmas, and my mother told me about how my nephew is really into cars and trucks and stuff. My nephew is only one and a half. "I don't get it," my mother marveled. "No one went out of their way to try to get him excited about cars and trucks, and in fact sometimes he likes playing with your niece's toy stroller, but there's something about cars and trucks - he actually gave his toy truck a ride in the stroller once!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2012


I invite you to test this theory by finding a three-year-old and handing them a Dyson and finding out how good a job they do on the floors before getting distracted by the toy kitty they find under the sofa.

My nephew is four and the Dyson is about as tall as he is, but last time I visited I watched him do a perfectly acceptable job of vacuuming the living room. Kids like to do things their parents do, plus playing with a big noisy machine is fun.

I like the idea of having kids of both gender playing with all the toys in the photos. It seems more like what I've seen in real life anyway, maybe because of the type of people I'm friends with.
posted by shelleycat at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phew! For a moment there I forgot the price was in Swedish Kroners and not Euros.
posted by infini at 5:44 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do we even have a female version of the word barber in English? Barberess?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:45 AM on December 2, 2012


I like this idea of this, but it seems to be a bare-minimum measure of appeasement to this so-named "Reklamombudsmannen" authority. The toys are shown next to children regardless of gender, but all the toys are still color coded by gender, with the "girly" stuff awash in pink, and the boy stuff all black and blue. I know biology isn't supposed to determine a preference for either color scheme, but they do carry a lot of cultural significance that, as someone mentioned above, might shape peer experiences.

Again, good idea, but there's still a great deal of ground to be covered here.
posted by triceryclops at 5:46 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kids like to play with toys that are fun. What "fun" means varies, of course, so it just makes sense to show all kinds of kids playing with all kinds of toys. They'll figure out which ones make sense for them.
posted by tommasz at 5:48 AM on December 2, 2012


Housework toys are depressing no matter what gender is playing with them. It's like having a tax day play kit. I never would have played with those things as a kid, I was too busy making sword arms out of construx.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:56 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


When my kids were little, it would drive me nuts when we'd go to McDonald's and they'd ask if we wanted a "girl toy" or a "boy toy." I went through a phase where I would try to correct the person behind the counter - "Why don't you just say 'truck' or 'Barbie'?" and even wrote a few letters to McD corporate, but realized it was never going to change. Forty years after Free to Be You and Me, I can't believe this is still something we need to educate people about.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:13 AM on December 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


A saleswoman said she hasn't seen much difference in store displays but noted employees now are trained to avoid stereotypes when talking to customers. "If someone asks for a present for a 5-year-old girl, we don't automatically take them to the dolls section," she said. "Instead, we ask them what her interests are."

Does she enjoy pretending to be confined in the home to nurture young? Or perhaps killing in the name of the homeland?
posted by nanojath at 6:16 AM on December 2, 2012 [52 favorites]


There are some very valid criticisms in this thread, but none of them would have made one iota of difference to 8-year-old retrograde, who would have loved this catalogue. My family were fully supportive of my tomboy tendencies and never tried to push dolls or pink on me, but advertising was always there to smack me back to reality. Yes, I could have the slot-car racing sets and the action figures and the plastic weapons, but everything from the packaging to the section of the toy store reinforced the idea that they weren't meant for me. I even remember being reluctant to play with those toys with boys, because I assumed they'd be better at them than me. A single catalogue may seem like a pretty small thing, but I am positive that my childhood self would have treasured this thing, and I would have been fully conscious of why it meant so much to me, too.

Ironically, I think this catalogue would also have made me more likely to consider some of the "girl" toys, which I rejected to show everyone how tough and not girly I was. Perhaps not the hair salon or the princesses, but oh, I'd have loved that kitchen.
posted by retrograde at 6:16 AM on December 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


Do we even have a female version of the word barber in English? Barberess?

Isn't the female version of the barber just barber? As in, one who... barbs??

Apparently it comes from the Latin barba, meaning beard. So the word barber actually is indeed gender-specific, but only for the customers -- a barber is someone who trims the hair and beards of men! You could certainly be a female barber, I imagine, but your clientele would be largely male.

I find this interesting because it seems to be one of a small category of "almost-gendered" words, like midwife. You don't have to be female to be a midwife (though most midwives are, for obvious reasons). The same with barbers, mutatis mutandis.
posted by narain at 6:17 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


How gender blind is it when the salon game is called "Fashion Girl?'
posted by merelyglib at 6:20 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like "biology" ever considered the color pink.
posted by lydhre at 5:31 AM on December 2 [+] [!]


Well, reddish maybe.
posted by chavenet at 6:25 AM on December 2, 2012


Interesting that they offer pink and blue toy vacuums, and depict the boy and girl playing with the "appropriate" color toy.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Their press release has links to the catalogues at the bottom. I think this is the one they mean (BR Toys is part of Top-Toy).
posted by amtho at 6:36 AM on December 2, 2012


Kids will play at anything; they don't bar themselves from toys naturally.

Well, that's the $64,000 question, isn't it? I mean, absolutely everyone who has raised kids or knows people who have raised kids in the post 60s world has lots of anecdata to offer about kids raised by very strictly 'gender neutral' parents who glommed insistently onto the most gender-stereotypical toys and forms of play from the get-go. I know several families with parents who, when they were expecting their first child, were ardent on the subject: there was no way they were going to allow their child to be brow-beaten by the wider culture's gender stereotypes. Friends and relatives were sternly cautioned not to give gender-constrained gifts; no fluffy-pink for the coming girl, no rocket-ships on blue flannel for the coming boy etc. etc.

And yet, and yet...for some reason it seems to be especially true in the cases of these families that the girls are obsessed with everything pink and sparkly and princessy and ballet-dancery etc. etc. while the boys have always turned every gender-neutral toy into guns and/or trucks and bulldozers.

Now, of course, you can't actually raise two sets of randomly divided children in two strictly separate artificial worlds in which one is rigorously gender-neutral in all its manifestations and the other is like ours (where it's positively a strain to buy any clothing, say, for a young girl that isn't a flounceypinksparklebomb)--damned restrictive IRBs! There's no doubt that gender norms and gender expectations are incredibly insidious and remarkably pervasive, so that much of the "she was never exposed to any of this Princess stuff, she just naturally gravitated to it!" narrative is inevitably false to some extent. But the question of to exactly to what extent seems to be extremely difficult to answer.
posted by yoink at 6:42 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's been interesting watching my toddler develop personal toy preferences over the last year and a half. As someone who hated dolls, pink and especially Barbies as a little girl, it's hard not to project my own preferences on her. But she loves sparkles and baby dolls. She also likes things with wheels, legos, blocks, books, crayons and anything with buttons. Her favorite toys right now are a toy laptop, a synthesizer shaped like a cat's face, and a rotating selection of stuffed animals.

She's too young to pay any attention to criticism about her toy choices, but I wonder how that will change as she gets older. Will she start refusing to play with anything that's not pink? If she wants a Barbie should I say nothing and buy it? If she loses interest in her train set will it be because of something someone said, or will it be because she's just bored with it?

I've decided to stay out of her way and buy her what she wants, limited by budget and gift-giving occasions. She's too young for a lecture on body image or gender policing. Also, as I recall from my own childhood, frequent lectures just caused me to stop listening and shut myself off. I'll just have to trust her to think for herself when the time comes, which, of course, is terrifying.

Still, that won't stop me from giving her books, science toys, and building toys whenever she shows the slightest interest. But I will give them without comment.

The only place where I draw the line on pink toys is where there are identical toys, one available in pink and purple and the other in a more neutral color scheme. Somehow the pink/purple version always costs more. For example, her beloved toy laptop was $17. The pink version was $25.

So, I would love to have a gender neutral catalog to pass along because I'd rather she ask "What do I want?" as opposed to "What am I supposed to have?"
posted by Alison at 6:47 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, absolutely everyone who has raised kids or knows people who have raised kids in the post 60s world has lots of anecdata to offer about kids raised by very strictly 'gender neutral' parents who glommed insistently onto the most gender-stereotypical toys and forms of play from the get-go.

This seems like a misunderstanding of the goal, though.

I know parents who are doing this sort of gender-neutral thing with their kids. None of them are doing it in order to TOTALLY ERASE GENDER VARIATION or create some absolutely unisex world. None of them will think it's a catastrophe if their kid grows up exhibiting gendered behaviors.

For most of them the goal is just "Let's let the kids decide for themselves how to behave, based on their own preferences." Which means that some percentage of kids raised this way (maybe a majority, maybe even a large majority) will end up with gender-stereotypical behaviors, and that's cool too.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:50 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a question, this is gender neutral. If your kids think vacuuming is fun, why get a toy vacuum? Just let them vacuum!

Real vacuums are very noisy. If the baby is trying to sleep or mommy has a hangover, a toy vacuum would be less irritating. Plus toy vacuums are smaller and lighter. Having said that, I would never buy my kid a toy vacuum, lawn mower, iron, or any other housework tool. If they want to play household you can always invite them to actually help by dusting or washing dishes or sweeping the porch. Little guys love to help (for 5 minutes until they get distracted.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:51 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


None of them are doing it in order to TOTALLY ERASE GENDER VARIATION

Which I nowhere suggested was the goal.
posted by yoink at 6:53 AM on December 2, 2012


but all the toys are still color coded by gender, with the "girly" stuff awash in pink, and the boy stuff all black and blue.

If you go into a Target or a Fred Meyer or whatever I don't think they explicitly say the Pink Aisle is for girls, but its pretty clear it is. Even with her hippy liberal anti-bias Seattle education my daughter "Knows" this. on the other hand she doesn't seem to have picked up any notion of toys that are exclusively for boys and adores guns, cars etc... Her princessy phase of a few years back being something she has evolved out of now. It's a good job, too, because if you considered the pink aisle solely for girls and the rest solely for boys it would be a pretty grim little selection.

(Of course, mostly we try to direct her to the hippy toystore with lots of wooden toys and cooperative board games and no Barbies or guns. She is getting wise to this though.)
posted by Artw at 6:55 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


everyone who has raised kids or knows people who have raised kids in the post 60s world has lots of anecdata to offer about kids raised by very strictly 'gender neutral' parents who glommed insistently onto the most gender-stereotypical toys

Perhaps it gets attention because it is rare. And what about all the millions of kids who don't do that? My kids (1 boy 1 girl) never dutifully conformed to gender categories, they shared their toys and played together on a range of different games. I think that's pretty typical.

Statistically far more parents raise kids in accordance with conventional gender norms than in opposition to them (because that is what 'conventional' means) and so there are far more instances of girls going against conventional parents than of girls rebelling against hippy parents. Just because there are more conventional parents than otherwise.

So why is the latter - which must by definition be rare - so loudly spoken about? I think because it reinforces social norms. It reassures us that children are 'naturally' categorised into two simple types, instead of a bunch of random little ruffians with a whole range of characteristics, as I believe they actually are.
posted by communicator at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also I have raised two kids and I have twelve nieces and nephews and all my friends have kids and I have never met any 'kids raised by very strictly 'gender neutral' parents'. And that's speaking as a lefty Guardian reader. I think most parents are too busy and stressed to be strictly anything.

Nor have I have any kids 'who glommed insistently onto the most gender-stereotypical toys'. I know it's what people say, but I can't think of a single example from all the kids I know.

I think the whole thing might be a bit of a myth.
posted by communicator at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is this the latest gambit of the International Gay Conspiracy?
posted by American Christmas Devil at 7:51 AM on December 2, 2012


I think the whole thing might be a bit of a myth.

I think you're lucky and unusual.
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hell, some kinds just really, really have those gendered prefrences really early. I checked in with my family to get a sense of what my niece and nephew would dig for Christmas, and my mother told me about how my nephew is really into cars and trucks and stuff. My nephew is only one and a half. "I don't get it," my mother marveled. "No one went out of their way to try to get him excited about cars and trucks, and in fact sometimes he likes playing with your niece's toy stroller, but there's something about cars and trucks - he actually gave his toy truck a ride in the stroller once!"

Isn't pushing things in strollers typically a "girl" thing? I think that these "babies DO have preferences!!!" stories are often affected very heavily by our biases (our meaning literally everyone who is human and has a human brain).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:01 AM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, also, the whole "parents were gender neutral" thing totally erases the fact that parent have unconscious biases, and that there is an entire culture surrounding the child including childcare.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:02 AM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, that's the $64,000 question, isn't it? I mean, absolutely everyone who has raised kids or knows people who have raised kids in the post 60s world has lots of anecdata to offer about kids raised by very strictly 'gender neutral' parents who glommed insistently onto the most gender-stereotypical toys and forms of play from the get-go. I know several families with parents who, when they were expecting their first child, were ardent on the subject: there was no way they were going to allow their child to be brow-beaten by the wider culture's gender stereotypes. Friends and relatives were sternly cautioned not to give gender-constrained gifts; no fluffy-pink for the coming girl, no rocket-ships on blue flannel for the coming boy etc. etc.

And yet, and yet...for some reason it seems to be especially true in the cases of these families that the girls are obsessed with everything pink and sparkly and princessy and ballet-dancery etc. etc. while the boys have always turned every gender-neutral toy into guns and/or trucks and bulldozers.


It's just another anecdote, but my daughter was very much a dinosaurs-and-pick-up-trucks girl until she went to preschool at age three and saw what the other girls were playing with. I suspect they had some conversations with her and reinforced the normal gendered play ideals, because she started telling us emphatically that some toys were for boys and some toys were for girls and she needed more of the girl kind.

Our son is very into cars and trucks and power tools, but also has no qualms about joining his sister in imaginative play about cooking and fashion. (They are now 6 and 3). So far the 18 month old girl has mainly expressed interest in musical instruments and blocks. Just one random family, but our kids don't seem particularly drawn to traditional boy or girl toys until someone tells them they should be. And preschoolers definitely will enforce social norms, rigorously.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I would never discount exposure to other kids as a factor.
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


" Pope Guilty "--while I doubt if hairdressing is biologically driven I do firmly believe that a number of things we ascribe to culture/learning maybe significantly influenced by genetics/biology--preferences for certain textures/colors/shapes etc--also--I think the evidence is overwhelming that males are more prone to things that stimulate/encourage/reinforce aggression and females to things which stimulate/encourage/reinforce nurturing. These things are certainly reinforced by learning/culture/modeling but a genetic predisposition to certain activities certainly facilitates acculturation.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:15 AM on December 2, 2012


I think you're lucky and unusual.

While I was cleaning the kitchen just now (! stereotypical female activity alert) I was thinking about this. I mean, seriously how many 'gender neutral' parents are there on Earth? Where both parents are really into it and live the life? I have a fairly conventional middle class circle and I don't know any. I guess there are some radical gender-warrior couples in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo or Seattle or Manchester, but I think even in those places they are a small minority. I am guessing only a few thousand families on the planet. Maybe a few tens of thousands.

So how come 'everyone' knows a family which has tried this and failed? It beggars belief.
posted by communicator at 8:20 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Klingons have it easy. Just get everyone a bat'leth, done.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


So how come 'everyone' knows a family which has tried this and failed? It beggars belief.

Meh. That's patenting in the real world - everyone with kids I know has a gap between how they'd like to raise them and how it turns out.

You may be having 100% success up on Mount Smug but TBH right now I'm suspecting you of being a little bit full of it.
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


And - sorry to go on but the disjunct between my daily life and what 'everyone knows' kind of bugs me today - I find it hard to believe that everyone else's kids self-police in the way described here.

Of course my daughter played with girls toys, but of course (to me it seems unremarkable) she played with boys toys too. There's her brother kicking a ball or going 'vroom' with a toy car, what is she supposed to do, refuse to play with him? Does this happen in any family? Brothers and sisters refusing to share and steal toys off each other?

And there's my son, seeing me bustling about in the kitchen, is he supposed to instinctively know he isn't supposed to play at being mummy? I remember him before he could talk carrying little cups around like me. And I know such a lot of kids, my best friend had a daughter about a year ago, and that kind of rigid social conformism just doesn't seem to be what little children are like.

I think it's more than when, in the random shuffle of play, one does something particularly gender-appropriate everyone goes 'Oh look at that!' and everyone remembers it because it is kind of cute.
posted by communicator at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think people worry way too much about this stuff. My son at age 10 wanted to be a Marine. He was obsessed with warfare, guns, etc. At 18 he basically a pacifist freshman history major. Meanwhile my 16 year old daughter enjoys riding horses, Sci-Fi, and programming in Python. If you stay out of their way kids will figure out who they are on their own. Parents obsessed with gender stereotypes certainly can impede that process and in some cases cause emotional damage trying to force a stereotype, (or anti-stereotype) on a kid. However it's been my experience as a parent that kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. Our ability as parents to force an outcome is much more limited than any of us would like to admit.
posted by COD at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Isn't pushing things in strollers typically a "girl" thing?

More likely it's a "copying big sister" thing in this particular case.

I think that these "babies DO have preferences!!!" stories are often affected very heavily by our biases (our meaning literally everyone who is human and has a human brain).

* shrug* Eh, I trust my mother's assessment that he's really legitimately freaking out over trucks and she's not just projecting it. She's the one who sees him more often and has the Masters' in Early Childhood Development and the 20 years of experience working in preschools.

Although, the thing he likes most of all -- even more than trucks - is putting things into boxes and then closing the boxes, and then going back and opening the boxes and taking them out so he can put them back in again. I don't know WHAT that's about, but he digs it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the saddest part about "The Pink Aisle" is the feedback loop that's maintaining the status quo. Manufacturers and retailers will insist that the toys have to be pink because other colors won't sell as well, and meanwhile parents buy pink the most, because it's pretty much all you can find on the shelves.

Take the example of Hasbro, a toy company savvy enough at marketing to have a decades long history of half hour kids cartoons that exist primarily To Sell Toys. The latest incarnation of their My Little Pony toyline and associated cartoon is no different in this regard, despite the unexpected periphery demographic that's sprung up about it.

The show has a magical alabaster-white princess pony (who's magical powers deal with daytime and sunlight, so the color of her coat is symbolically important) ruling over all the other ponies, but when it came time to start making the associated toys, they molded her out of pink plastic, because that's the industry standard for a girls toy at that pricepoint. It's an interesting dichotomy, because the box art still shows her as a white pony, because they can't just ignore the influence of their primary marketing tool.

It wasn't until the show and toyline introduced an additional princess pony who was legitimately pink (with magic based on strengthening bonds of love) that one retailer felt comfortable in requesting an exclusive version of the original princess where the toy matched the show (though I'm sure that having a periphery demographic to fall back on made that decision easier for them). And since ultimately, it's consumer dollars that drive these decisions, I went ahead and bought twice as many of the white princess as I would have normally, and donated the extra to Toys-for-Tots.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:34 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


* shrug* Eh, I trust my mother's assessment that he's really legitimately freaking out over trucks and she's not just projecting it. She's the one who sees him more often and has the Masters' in Early Childhood Development and the 20 years of experience working in preschools.

Okay, I'm not accusing anyone of being a liar, but my point is that we're all people steeped in a heavily gendered culture, and it's pretty impossible for anyone to escape that so I don't buy anyone (not just you or your mother, literally anyone) saying that they are an objective observer. The myth of the completely objective observer is just that--a myth.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well... yes?
posted by Artw at 8:48 AM on December 2, 2012


Im so glad and lucky I have my very own nephew! For me its easy to pick out toys and things for him, I just get him things that I would have wanted at his age. My sister encourages him when he wants to help her with householdy things, and does not make a big deal or issue out of Girl/boy crap. My partner has three nephews, all three under ten and parents who nuture tough boy men and two nieces who are extremely feminine which baffles me . When I was a kid, I could only wish and pretend to get any of those cool toys in the catalogs since we could not afford them. I loved pouring over the pages to look at all that new cool stuff, but only the sections for boys. Boys, in my little mind had the best and coolest of toys, clothes, sport teams and respective accessories, cool colors and patterns on everything that was for boys. I thought I was very unlucky to have been born a girl since everything they make for girls is pink, frilly, boring, and usually had nothing to do with the outdoors or sports. Luckily, the parents didnt care about that ( they really wanted a boy anyway! ). So I dressed, looked, played, like I wanted. Which got harder and harder to navigate as I grew older. Like, oh shit, those boring girls are starting to look pretty cute. It seemed I would have to get past my aversion to pink and sissyness to be near them. Long story short: It includes a closet, First trip to the gay bar, and lots of oh shit revelations good n baaad. It is very hard to have to be so young and have to agonize over not fitting into a neat prepackaged life that is boy or girl- pink or blue. My whole life people either wonder what gender I am, or just assume Im a guy. Some are offended ( Im tricky?), grossed out ew, see a freak flag that im not wavin, fewer think im alriiite, and you know what? I'll tell you what, more than a few peeps think im just plain ol sexy...
I think Sweden is so awesome in making attempts to make gender equality visible in its media. Imagine, a modern country that cares very much for its genders, no, it cares for its humans.
posted by SteelDancin at 8:50 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


RE: vacuuming as a kid - it was totally my chore I did every weekend for the parents around age 8 or later. I was fully equipped with a small handheld bag vac to get the carpeted stairs. It was loud, but most importantly: FUN! (Sisters did the dusting, I did sweeping of the hard floors, the rest is lost in memory)
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:55 AM on December 2, 2012


Late reply, but:

legospaceman: I'm not sure what autism or borderline personality disorder have to do with anything, but you seem to be saying autism= male and borderline=female. I'm not sure how that makes any sense at all--you are aware that both males and females are diagnosed with both disorders?

Or as in your edit, you are somehow saying, I think, that male=systemizing and female=empathizing? I personally prefer to be around people regardless of gender who have both skills. I am a scientist, so systemizing is a pretty important skill to me, and I am human, so I prefer to hang out with people who have empathy.


1. Did I really have to make clear that these are broad generalizations and that everyone's their own person? Is that level of pedantry really necessary? Everyone is on a gradient. For everything. No shit.
2. Nonetheless, do I now really have to make clear how laughable an idea it is that males and females, if charted on a billion different metrics, including actual brain structure, would not, in composite, have significantly different means, driven by nurture AND nature?
3. Are you kidding me?
4. If you browsed the above, then with regard to BPD vs psychosis, borderline makes more sense to me. maybe I'm just partial to this theory because I came up with it on my own after learning about autism, but if you think of males and females charted on just about any metric, they will often average out to two partially overlapping normal distribution curves (example). It makes sense then that there would be less female autistics because they have a longer way to go to get an extreme of male behavior, and the same would be true for males and BPD. Or as this guy puts it:

Their research suggests that not only are male and female brains different, but that they exist on a spectrum with autism and psychosis at either end. “The female brain is a little bit partway toward psychosis and depression and the male brain already naturally partway toward a sort of autistic cognition,” says Crespi.


I have a (male) autistic friend, a sweet, caring guy, who would be very offended by you defining him by a supposed lack of empathy.

We are talking about nature vs nurture, not about your one specific friend. My friend with trisomy 21 would be very offended if you said he is slow but it would be ridiculous to bring this up self-righteously when I'm in a forum discussing how Down's syndrome affects IQ.
posted by legospaceman at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2012


[This thread should not become a discussion of which psychiatric/neurological/etc conditions are linked with which sex, or whether autistic people are empathetic; this thread is about toy advertising. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are reinforcing our child's interest in anything that won't actually get her killed. At 19 months she plays with trucks, blocks, and dolls equally. But just this week I joined the gym and each time I've left her in the daycare the care-provider suggests a doll and stroller to play with. Each, and every single time.

Dr. Eliot's research indicates that there may be small biological differences that can be magnified or minimized by the culture they are raised in. If the US became a bit more willing to present toys as gender neutral we could test that hypothesis. I'd celebrate whether it was for ethical or financial reasons, just so long as it happened.
posted by Doctor Force at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread is giving me flashbacks to that time in kindergarten when a teacher decided I was spending too much time in the book corner. "Sorry, today the book corner is actually supposed to be closed! Why don't you come with me over here instead and play with these kids instead?" I obediently dropped my book and followed her....to the Playing House corner, where she parachuted me into a pre-existing "family" where the other kids decided they could slot me in as Mother. OMG GET ME OUT OF HERE. The book corner was still "closed" for the next few days but I went to every other play station aside from Playing House until the book corner re-opened and I settled myself back into a comfy bean bag there with a stack of books, feeling all HOME THANK GOD.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:35 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


communicator: how many 'gender neutral' parents are there on Earth?

In the book Women Don't Ask that I've recommended several times around here, there's a great passage about its feminist authors realizing that they'd settled into unconsciously gender-stereotypical habits that they didn't know their kids had learned from:
By the age of six, psychologists believe, "children are experts at gender schemas," able to recognize and understand the multiple gender cues all around them. . . . At the dinner table, men often remain seated and women serve . . . Even families that consciously strive for gender equality can send unintended messages to their children about control issues. Linda, for example, has always made considerably more money than her husband, who is a university administrator. Nevertheless, when the two of them went out together, . . . Linda rarely carried cash and deferred to her husband to pay . . . Once, when their daughter was three, Linda stopped in a drug store for something and the child saw a stuffed animal she wanted. "Do you have enough money to buy that for me, Mommy?" she asked. "Do girls have money, or is it just boys that have money?" . . .

Similarly, in Sara's household, her husband was the person who usually fixed things when they broke . . . Although Sara is perfectly capable . . . her husband enjoyed taking care of [replacing lightbulbs, pounding nails down etc] and she got into the habit of leaving them to him. Then, when their older son was four, he broke a toy when his father wasn't around. Sara told him to bring it to her . . . "No," said her son. "Daddy will fix it. Daddy knows how to fix things." Sara realized that she had her husband had been teaching their son lessons about the limits of female competence. They had also been teaching him that men can control the physical world and the proper functioning of objects in ways that women cannot. (Sara now fixes toys, recharges batteries, and changes a lot more light bulbs.) . . .

Research has shown that many parents encourage boys to be more independent than girls . . .
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:04 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


* shrug* Eh, I trust my mother's assessment that he's really legitimately freaking out over trucks and she's not just projecting it.

I'm sure he does love trucks. But he's a boy and it's the trucks you're talking about, not all the other stuff he also does. If he was a girl I wonder if it would be something else that gets picked up as the interesting topic of conversation (I'm betting yes). This stuff gets reinforced in so many weird different ways, I'm sure we don't even notice a lot of it.

Personally I'm still totally smug about getting my nephew hooked on robots instead of the boring trains my dad had him into, and I don't care what that says about gender because I'm a girly girl with robots on everything. I recently bought my other sisters daughter books about penguins because my husband loves penguins, so I'm not sure what kind of gender role that's supposed to be sending either.

Kid's toys are fun. I like seeing all the kids playing with all the things in the catalogue and think that is a nice message to send. I hope it spreads.
posted by shelleycat at 11:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Hell, some kinds just really, really have those gendered prefrences really early. I checked in with my family to get a sense of what my niece and nephew would dig for Christmas, and my mother told me about how my nephew is really into cars and trucks and stuff. My nephew is only one and a half. "I don't get it," my mother marveled. "No one went out of their way to try to get him excited about cars and trucks, and in fact sometimes he likes playing with your niece's toy stroller, but there's something about cars and trucks - he actually gave his toy truck a ride in the stroller once!""

Pfft - just get a log - you can roll like a truck and baby like the lady in Twin Peaks. PROBLEM SOLVED!

Seriously, though - why are we so quick to make this a "masculine/feminine" thing. Perhaps it's because the boy likes rolly things -- something about motion itself, and it's not about whether it's car/truck.

Take a doll, put wheels on it, and then take a vehicle, and remove the wheels, and see if there's a difference in what the kid prefers.

Anyways, I dunno. I've heard some people say "well my kid just likes pink, and they're so young that they can't be encultured yet" -- and yet... back before recently, pink was the boys color, and I'm sure, if you listened in on conversation, this would have been the same sort of thing in reverse... "My girl just loves blue!"

I don't buy it. Babies simply do not come out preformed neurologically to prefer a specific plaything.

Colors, I could *perhaps* see some wiring up (I think I saw some evo-psych claim that pink helped with berry detection -- but you know... "evo-psych" ewwwwwwww)
posted by symbioid at 11:54 AM on December 2, 2012


This is all well and good, but I have a dream:

That some day, I'll be asked "Which toy would your child prefer?" when ordering a Happy Meal - instead of the usual "Boy or girl toy?" so that I will not have to waste any more breath on the employees of the dirty clown with my usual response of "Toys are toys - what are the choices?" -- and then have to say politely, but tartly "My daughter says she'd prefer the Transformer."
posted by peagood at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was somewhere around 11 or 12 years old when I deliberately put aside the pinkwithheartsandflowers autograph book (anyone remember those?) which had caught my eye and picked up a steel grey gender neutral one. I remember it clearly. It was never a default position for me, I've fought for balance on the line drawn exactly down the middle. Even my other handle and the original gmail is gender neutral while my legal name is so weird for a female that it tends to be written in its masculine form. The word is androgynous. Which has nothing to do with physical sex orientation.
posted by infini at 1:03 PM on December 2, 2012


If I ever gave in to the beast it would go all Hello Kitty on me and then I'd irritate the shit out of myself.
posted by infini at 1:04 PM on December 2, 2012


* shrug* Eh, I trust my mother's assessment that he's really legitimately freaking out over trucks and she's not just projecting it. She's the one who sees him more often and has the Masters' in Early Childhood Development and the 20 years of experience working in preschools.

Okay, I'm not accusing anyone of being a liar, but my point is that we're all people steeped in a heavily gendered culture, and it's pretty impossible for anyone to escape that so I don't buy anyone (not just you or your mother, literally anyone) saying that they are an objective observer. The myth of the completely objective observer is just that--a myth.


Yeah, the cliched example of this is a parent saying, "We gave our boy dolls and he just pretended they were guns." Another way to look at the example of your nephew is to say, "He loves dolls and nurturing so much that he nurtures his truck like it's a baby." Not that that's likely the totality of what's going on, but still.

I was a kid who was into both trucks and babies, and I know several kids like that, too. I think it's pretty common. This catalog is awesome. I pretty much was this girl. Castles and dragons ftw.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:43 PM on December 2, 2012


Sociological Images wrote about this a few days ago.

Also, I want to play evolutionary psychology bingo with this thread.
posted by NoraReed at 9:17 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do we even have a female version of the word barber in English? Barberess?

I think the gender neutral word would be barbron.
posted by chemoboy at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2012


THIS is what progress looks like.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:03 PM on December 3, 2012


Meanwhile in Australia..... today Toys R Us are advertising 20% of Boys LEGO Construction.....
posted by doogyrev at 6:58 PM on December 3, 2012


Speaking of gender-neutral, this week's Clone Wars had a spunky, probably sassy pink astromech called QT-KT.

Arcee wept.
posted by Mezentian at 1:38 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mezentian: "Speaking of gender-neutral, this week's Clone Wars had a spunky, probably sassy pink astromech called QT-KT."

At first, I was going to point out that KT was originally a fan-created astromech droid that the founder of the 501st Legion charity Star Wars cosplayers, Albin Johnson, created for his daughter Katie when she was dying of brain cancer, but that was a different droid, R2-KT.

The only thing I can think of is that R2-KT's cameo in the Clone Wars CGI film was popular enough that they wanted to expand on the character, and made a different droid so that it wouldn't seem they're trying to exploit Katie's passing. (They'd released an action figure of R2-KT, but it was a convention-exclusive. If they make one for QT-KT, you'll probably see it on toy shelves everywhere.)
posted by radwolf76 at 8:05 AM on December 4, 2012


spunky, probably sassy

R2 is gonna be pissed.
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on December 4, 2012


TheForce.net reports that they came up with a new KT droid, because the dialogue would have been confusing to have two R2 droids on the same mission. I guess R2-D2 pitched a diva fit and wouldn't come out of his trailer until they changed the script.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:18 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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