Dec 29, 2011

Gendered Toys, Lego and Pink

There has been a lot written lately about the way most toys are very strongly gendered so that they are either "for boys" or "for girls". Parents have long found this frustrating and have worried about the impact. If your little boy likes Dora, or your little girl likes Ben 10, tough luck - you cannot buy any "gender neutral" merchandise for these characters, whether it's toys, clothes or lunch boxes.

Lego Friends
This month Lego launched a range for girls, which has attracted some controversy. Lego's market research showed that girls' interests are beauty, community, design and friendship; girls like to play make-believe in an indoor-worldy setting, while hanging with friends and looking pretty. Hence the Lego Friends range to meet this "need". (In other words, Lego has found a way to make its toys look just like Strawberry Shortcake and other existing toys for girls).

Lego Friends - Stephanie's Outdoor Bakery.
Yay, we girls love baking!

As a mother of girls I can attest that yes indeedy, they do like these things. But whether this is "innate" or whether it is what has been fed to them since they were one, is an unknown thing. Like most mothers I think it is a bit of both.

We all know little boys who have enjoyed playing with dolls and girls who play with trucks and Lego; at a young age all kids play with everything. Sadly and perhaps (perhaps) inevitably, this tends to disappear around 3 years of age when kids tend to gravitate towards the toys "for" their gender.

So is this necessarily a bad thing? I'm not sure. Is it limiting? I have no doubt. Is it "natural" or inevitable? I think to some degree yes, but I've no doubt we exacerbate it.

Whose fault is it?

When I found out I was having girls I happily and excitedly bought up clothes and wraps and linen in loads of pink, lemon and mauve. Having never been fond of pink, I found myself buying up pink clothes and pink everything and loving it. If I was having boys, I would have happily and excitedly bought up everything blue and green. It's natural and fun to celebrate whatever gender your kids are in this way.  I always had other colours including blues, and the girls had toy cars, trucks, trains and blocks which were their favourite toys as toddlers.

Now the girls are six, they do strongly gravitate towards "girly" toys, and I do get annoyed at ads for whatever latest toys are marketed at them with emphasis on clothing design, beauty, "makeovers", baking, hanging out with pretty friends walking miniature dogs, etc. Because when they see these things, they do want them. And when they see things that are clearly aimed at boys, like Flick Tricks, Ben 10 stuff, or the rest, you can sense the peer pressure making them shy of expressing interest in these things, even if they are initially interested and even if I encourage it.

This works on boys too, of course. Squinkies look fun and exciting to all kids, but are "clearly" "for girls" - hence "Squinkies Boys" with motifs of skulls, garbage cans, ghouls etc. Hence too girls play with "dolls" while boys play with "action figures". (And why it's funny in Toy Story 3 when Ken is picked on for being "a girl's toy").

I am not too fond of Bratz dolls, but am not too bothered by Barbie. I loved Barbie when I was a kid (and Sindy - remember her?), and at least now you can buy Barbies in sporty swimsuits with flat-soled feet. Most of what I find distasteful in these toys is around the pushy marketing and the emphasis on playing with collections - a couple of dolls and a car/house/pool/camper are never enough!  I get a little sick of the saccharine emphasis on friendship and the kinds of girly fun that these toys all have together such as eating cakes, having sleepovers and doing makeovers. What's wrong with having an adventure, or saving people from danger, or travelling to other worlds?

When my girls play with their Barbies, they are always going to balls, going on dates with boyfriends, or occasionally attending musketeer school; all the scenarios come from TV shows or the Barbie movies they've watched (I know, I know - but please, have girls before you judge me!).  I have to admit I am shocked at how every TV show and movie for kids these days has "boyfriends and girlfriends", dating, or even marriage themes. Was it always this way?

Pink Stinks

In 2009 sisters Abi and Emma Moore started the "Pink Stinks" campaign, to protest the "pinkification" of little girls and offer more alternatives. Two years on it doesn't seem much has changed - yet. But there is definitely a feeling out there, that things are too limited for both boys and girls, and we don't want to go backwards after so many gains made in gender equality over the years.

Will the marketers catch on?

Interestingly, I have noticed that while little girls love everything pink around the ages of two to four, from the age of five or six they start to "move on" to other colours - usually via purple. (When I was a kid in school I remember it was from pink to baby blue). Thanks to school and peer pressure, my kids are now starting to reject pink as too "babyish" for them, at least in public. They'll still choose some pink things at home, but are more likely now to favour purple, tourquoise, white, blue or green.

Has the very saturation of pink created a self-limiting effect I wonder?
We can but hope.

Here are some of my favourite recent tweets on this subject:
(Apologies I have not yet worked out how to embed them prettily - will fix later if I can)

@tammois My girls are 6 and "moving on" from pink which they see as a little-girl colour; now love purple, blue & green. Yay!
@JackieK_ I was so grateful when my daughter moved on. She is now vocal that . :-)

    9yo girl: "Can you think of a good name for girls who don't want to be girly girls but aren't tomboys?"

    Kate @kateburge    
    @tammois The idea of Monopoly changed for girls with beauty salons and malls? Oh wow. Isn't that mental?
    I especially love this one - a good reminder that being diverse is normal, not "tomboyish" or strange:
    My daughter is perfectly conventional. Loves horses, dresses, hairclips, dogs, footy, cricket, utes, dinosaurs, pirates & Lego.

    What do YOU think?


    1. Thanks for writing this post, Jackie. I think it's important to acknowledge where any of us added to the 'pinkification' of our girls (or the blueification of our boys?) in the simple desire to give them what we thought they already wanted. I still struggle not to expect more of my 10yo daughter in the nurturing stakes and more of my two boys (12 & 7) in the engineering - and I bloody well know better, not only because I've studied gender and feminist theory, but also because I certainly didn't fit neatly into any of these categories. I think the central thrust of the campaign is about how children's toys are increasingly limiting their horizons to the pink & blue choices. It's like kiddie Matrix, and we need to give them the red pill instead (ie all of the above are social constructs, wake up).

      So the important question isn't whether a kid likes pink or blue or princesses or superheros or none or all of these things, it's whether we've made sure they knew all the choices were equally available and valid for them to make, regardless of gender.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks, Tammi - very well said. I only have girls but agree it is so easy to fall into traps of thinking and acting around kids that reinforce these things. And yes we need to always be offering more choice (when we can - try avoiding pink for little girls' clothes?!)

    4. The fundraising countdown clock has begun on a great 'gender-equality-in-toyland' PSA project. You can learn about it (and donate, or share, or whatever you might be inspired to do) here:

      If you support the idea of 'Playtime without limits'...feel free to share our cause via the Kickstarter link, and help us make a powerful-yet-cool project in 2012.

    5. The fundraising countdown clock has begun on a great 'gender-equality-in-toyland' PSA project. You can learn about it (and donate, or share, or whatever you might be inspired to do) here:

      If you support the idea of 'Playtime without limits'...feel free to share our cause via the Kickstarter link, and help us make a powerful-yet-cool project in 2012.

    6. The lego thing is a travesty - why not just introduce the pinks and purples to a general collection, like they're Smarties and there are more colours for EVERY kid to choose from? After all, doesn't lego just end up in one huge container (ours was an old suitcase, from memory)? Then you dip in and make whatever you like....

      I had a Barbie - Sweet 16 with Scratch-and-Sniff strawberry scent. She bored the crap out of me - I honestly did not know what to do with her and having two brothers meant that I was more in demand for lego, meccano, wicket keeping, chasey and monopoly marathons.

      With Sapphire, the pink was fully adopted until around the age of six when, as you say, they start to see it as 'babyish' and want to wear and use other colours. For her it has been green and at twelve she's showing some remarkably good taste.

      I think you're right - pink is rather limiting and anything that is pink and plasticy that's on the toy shelves is dismissed as 'babyish'.

    7. Agreed Kath - why not?
      Girls are being conditioned to think they have to like certain tableaus - no reason they can't build and play with bridges and rockets like the boys. Having said that, I do know my girls are not interested in that kind of play, and I guess this is the "gap" that Lego noticed too.
      Maybe they made their toys too "boyish" some time ago?
      Seems to me Lego is not so much about imaginative building anymore, more about playing with scenes and figures which are already half built.



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