Toys R Us in the UK has recently decided to stop gender-focused marketing of its toys. They will start showing girls and boys playing with the same toys rather than focusing on girls’ toys versus boys’ toys. This came about after lobbying by UK-based parents group Let Toys Be Toys, which included a change.org petition.
Meanwhile Lego, which has a record of 4 male characters to every 1 female character, has introduced Professor C. Bodin, a female scientist. More notable than the fact that she is a scientist is that she has no pigtails or pink clothes, and she’s identified as a scientist rather than a female scientist. A solid step forward. (I won’t comment here on Lego Friends, which may be two steps back.)
GoldieBlox, a toy company founded by an engineer from Stanford named Debbie Sterling, offers a brilliant angle on this whole issue. Their Disrupting the Pink Aisle campaign (video below) is a perfect response to this whole issue. It shows girls in pink dresses and ballet outfits hammering ballet shoes to a skateboard, making a bicycle sidecar for a teddy bear, and otherwise making things. One of the beautiful things about this response is that it shows girls in all their pink and princessy glory but makes the point that they are more than that, that they can wear a pink leotard and a tool belt.
As a creator of products for kids and a father of two daughters, I can appreciate this on a couple of levels. It’s easy to point fingers at the toy industry (and I know the title of this post suggests I’m doing that), but at the end of the day they’re responding to what the data is telling them, and it’s the industry as a whole, including toy execs, marketers, and parents, that are reinforcing the gender stereotypes.
(For a close look at a mother’s trip to the toy store with three daughters from the perspective of a Service Designer, look at this Customer Journey Map).
And it’s also easy to blame the color pink and Disney’s success with generations of princess characters. But the real answer lies somewhere between the picture at the top of this post, What it is is beautiful, and an understanding that the grownups have to take ownership of the lessons we’re teaching and the messages we’re reinforcing.