Marketers spend lots of money trying to convince us that boys and girls need fundamentally different products. Unfortunately, girls often get undervalued in this process: provided dolls, kitchen supplies, and pink laptops with half the functions while boys get LEGO and other scientific toys that help them develop math and science skills.
Considering that girls between 11 and 14 see an average of 500 ads a day, and that the phenomenon of gendered marketing follows us throughout life, the messages of what girls should and should not do can become deeply ingrained. Boys don't benefit from narrow social roles or expectations, either.
Luckily, not all toy companies are buying into this division. These five toy companies are challenging the binary and, as a result, creating more equal opportunities — for both boys and girls.
Last week, Toys "R" Us U.K. announced that they are partnering with Let Toys Be Toys, an organization that works to dismantle the arbitrary divide between "girls" and "boys" toys. This is an extension of a campaign to remove "boys" and "girls" signage that other U.K. stores, including the supermarket Tesco, have already participated in.
Toys "R" Us is the first multi-national company to take part in the campaign, and Bust reports that their next steps include phasing out gender-specific marketing.
At the beginning of the month LEGO released their first female scientist, Professor C. Bodin, as part of their "Minifigure Series." This move came after an outcry in the past year over the creation of "LEGO Friends," a pastel-colored series marketed to girls that reflected stereotypical "feminine duties" (hair styling and fashion design) rather than teaching the engineering skills of LEGO's traditional fare.
The introduction of a female scientist to LEGO's main universe, rather than marginalizing the feminine in a separate and patronizing side project, is an important step forward for the company.
Last year, eighth grader McKenna Pope started a petition on Change.org for Hasbro to stop marketing the Easy-Bake Oven just to girls. "I have always been adamantly against anything that promotes specific roles in society for men and women, and having grown up with toys produced by the Hasbro corporation, it truly saddens me that such a successful business would resort to conforming to society's views on what boys do and girls do," she wrote. "Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norms that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult." Hasbro listened, and a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven will go on sale in fall 2013.
The Swedish Toys "R" Us Christmas catalog last year challenged gender stereotypes by using gender neutral photos. The catalog was created by TOP-TOY, which runs nearly 50 Toys "R" Us locations in Northern Europe. TOP-TOY retail marketing director Thomas Meng noted that the company wanted the catalog to "reflect the way that boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them. If both girls and boys in Sweden like to play with a toy kitchen, then we want to reflect this pattern."
In addition to toy kitchens, the catalog shows boys and girls playing with NERF guns, doll houses, baby dolls, and knight figurines.
Preceding Toys "R" Us U.K., who made the step last week, London department store Harrods debuted its new "Toy Kingdom" as gender-neutral back in the summer of 2012.
David Miller, director of Harrods Home, told The Guardian that company felt "it was a bit of a risk, when that formula traditionally works, to turn around and break the mold," but that the store was aiming to create "retail theatre" that attracted future customers.