Coding Toys For Girls And Boys


“It seems that the more progress we make toward less rigid gender roles,” observes Susan Bailey after visiting a kids’ toy store, “the more extreme the gender coding of toys becomes”:

The toys were far more color coded than four decades ago. Back then bikes, trucks, airplanes and even dolls sported a wide range of bright colors—red, green, yellow as well as shades of blue and rose.  The pink/lavender vs. black/dark navy dichotomy is a division that, among other things, probably helps sales. Teach children and parents the color-code and you double your market.  What little brother will want to settle for his big sister’s pink tricycle?

Earlier this month, C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges argued that “the denunciation of all things pink should not really be our primary focus if we want to move toward a more gender equal world for girls and boys”:

The focus on the push back against pink and, by extension, princess culture is especially surprising when one looks at what is for sale in the boys’ aisle.

Take the first category of offerings for boys at the Toys R Us website for example – action figures laden with a variety of weapons who are designed to defeat the bad guys.  The closest offering for girls is a dolls category – featuring Barbies, the Little Mermaid, and Strawberry Shortcake. None of them are warriors.  None of them have weapons. We see a similar difference even when looking at the exact same categoryGirl’s Building Sets vs. Boy’s Building Sets. Girls apparently build houses, salons… and the occasional bridge. Boys? They build Super Star Destroyers and Monster Fighter Vampyre Castle… and the occasional bridge.  To be clear, the “pink aisle” of toy stores is deeply problematic. It encourages a narrow range of passive, primarily family-oriented and appearance-obsessed femininities.  But, as the toys on the (digital and physical) shelves indicate, we are encouraging equally restrictive and arguably more dangerous masculinities –  warriors, space fighters, and ninjas.

Rebecca Hains joins the discussion, saying she’d “like to see a movement that … challenges marketers to put an end to the incessant pink-washing”:

By “pink-washing,” I’m specifically referring to the instances where marketers or toy makers create a product that is pink for no reason other than to make it as girly as possible. After all, there’s nothing wrong with pink–it’s a perfectly nice color–but there IS something wrong when it’s a) promoting sex role stereotypes and b) basically the only color found in little girls’ worlds. They deserve a full rainbow of colors. …

The Let Toys Be Toys movement is doing terrific work challenging the status quo in the UK. By calling for toys to be desegregated–grouped by theme or interest type, rather than by gender—they’re empowering parents and children to think outside of the pink and blue boxes that marketers have been placing children into. I’d really love to see a comparable movement here in the U.S. and Canada.

(Photo of gender toy divide in Toys “R” Us by Brian Sawyer)