Last week, (22 -24 Jan), saw the 60th Toy Fair take place in London, but the awards for Best New Toys revealed industry attitudes that remain firmly entrenched in the 1950’s. There may have been technological advances and changes in fashion since then, but today’s toys teach children to accept the same outdated, sexist and limited gender roles. An increasingly gendered approach to marketing sees toys more segregated today than ever before.
This year’s Toy Fair awarded the Boy’s Toy of the Year to ‘Web Shooting Spider-Man’ by Hasbro, and the Girl’s Toy was Mattel’s ‘Monster High Ghouls Rule Doll Assortment’. Let Toys Be Toys asked followers for their opinions. Answers included; Aggressive, hypermuscled masculinity and hypersexualized emaciated femininity. This doesn’t surprise me, but it sure is sad (@ElizabethVSweet), and Those dolls are hideous. & why ‘boy’ & ‘girl’ toys. My daughter loves Spiderman, so what makes it a boy toy? (@DillyTante).
Toy Fair also produced a Best New Toys list with 12 categories, including boy’s and girl’s toys. The three best boy’s toys were awarded to; The Trash Pack Ultimate Fighting Trashies Battle Arena (Flair), Dinosaurs (Schleich), and Horrible Histories Battle Arena (Worlds Apart). The girl’s toys were; Doc McStuffins Time for your Check Up Interactive Doll (Flair), Lego Friends: Heartlake City Pool, and Style Me Up! – Color Freedom (Wooky).
So, fighting and dinosaurs for boys, hearts and fashion for girls, no stereotypes there then. Okay the girls did get a doctor, albeit a very pink and lilac doctor, but still there’s no good reason why it should be labelled a girl’s toy. As for the dinosaurs, I’m sure Schleich would maintain that their toys are for all children, not just boys. Girls love dinosaurs too. All children love dinosaurs, (my daughter has several of them, although I no longer buy from toy shops that put Boys and Girls signs up, which limits my options somewhat). In cases such as this it would seem to be in the interests of toymakers to seek a wide appeal for their toys, so why are they marketed so narrowly? Is it down to social attitudes or profit? The answer may be the idea that selling to one gender means more products will be sold. If, for example, someone buys their daughter a pink globe, (shudder), then it follows that they will need to buy a blue globe for their son. The idea that a toy can appeal to both boys and girls may be obvious to parents, but it’s not one to which retailers and manufacturers pay attention. Profit must come before the wellbeing of children and the future of society obviously.
Research shows that non gender-specific toys are actually better for children’s development. Gender-specific toys can foster undesirable attributes in children, as girls are encouraged to focus mainly on their appearance, and boys encouraged to be aggressive. If parents buy gendered toys as proscribed by mainstream retailers, then daughters are discouraged from almost anything outside of a narrow domestic sphere, while nurture and communication skills are neglected in sons.
It’s about time Toy Fair joined the modern world and dropped these gendered awards. They help promote the harmful idea that children should only play with certain toys. There are plenty of other categories to use instead; construction, creative, outdoor etc. The sky is the limit, so let’s not limit our children. Let them play.