The Great Big Toys R Us Book; a gender critique

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This is the 5th, and last, in a series of gender critiques of mass market retailer toy catalogs.  Today I am taking a look at “The Great Big Toys R Us Book.”  Previously, I have reviewed the Wal-Mart,  Target, Kmart and Sears catalogs. 

I have to say that it was with some personal interest that I began my review of the Toys R Us catalog.  Last year I had noted that the Toys R Us catalog contained pictures of 4 ride-on cars in which a boy was driving and a girl was the passenger.  None of the pictures showed a girl in the driver’s seat.

That posting led to a conversation with Toys R Us and eventually an opportunity for me to speak to their buying staff about gender and toys.  Based upon Toys R Us’s interest in the subject, I was wondering what this year’s toy book would look like Vis –a- Vis gender.

Well, Toys R Us did not disappoint.  For starters, “The Big Toys R Us Book” had more gender equity than any of the others I reviewed.  It contains 93 pictures of boys and 83 of girls; 47% of the images were female.  That number is close to parity and looks pretty good compared to the ratios in the other catalogs that ran from 17% for Sears, 34% for Kmart, 36% for Wal-Mart and 37% for Target

The over-all numbers looked good but what about those ride-on cars that started it all.  Well, if you look on page 67 in this year’s catalog you will find police car driven by a girl with a boy passenger.  Not only that, there are twelve pictures of ride-ons in this year’s book and riding in them are 9 boys and 11 girls.  When you figure that Sears, Kmart and Wal-Mart showed zero girls in cars, that is quite a statement.    I would be interested in seeing sales of cars to girls in Toys R Us compared to the other retailers.

Another area that interested me was construction; typically a male preserve.  Well, not only does the book show a girl prominently playing with Lego but the boy sitting next to her is watching her do it.  When I met with Toys R Us I had showed them pictures of construction toy packaging from the past in which the boy played with the activity while the girl admiringly looked over his shoulder.  This then was a notable reversal.

I am going to be taking same time to review all of the information we have gathered and come back to you with more detail and analysis.  Until then, keep your eyes open for how the toy industry handles gender and let me know what you see.



6 thoughts

  1. As a girl I loved girl toys AND boy toys, but more importantly, I enjoyed playing with both boys and girls. A lot of girls have brothers, and our highly gendered toys discourage boys and girls from playing together.

  2. Hi Richard. It was nice to see you at the WIT event last night. It’s great that you made such an impact on TRU’s advertising. Stereotypes like these need to be broken! Can you believe I’ve had toy professionals (only a few, thankfully) tell me they were surprised a “young lady” like me was the editor of a magazine?

  3. Richard, I totally thought of you when I was reviewing the catalog with my kids the other day as I had also responded to your post last year. And oddly enough, last Christmas, my daughter received a yellow camaro. Now, here is the funniest part, she wants a jeep and not of the pink variety. She also has announced that she is a tomboy at 6 years old as she has discovered that boys are much more fun. Like mother like daughter – LOL! So, although kitchen research, I believe there are a lot of non-girly girls out there that are more interested in Legos, Nerf and ride-ons and some retailers are starting to recognize and address it in their communications.

  4. I would be interested to learn if it made a difference to girls wanting the products but also would boys be less inclined to want a product that is aimed at a girl in the ad?
    Are we promoting a society of masculinised girls and feminised boys?
    A close friend says her childhood was ruined by parents with good intentions. in the end there are evolutionary driven differences between the sexes and too much political correctness might actually be another source of the corrosion of childhood. why can’t we let boys be boys and girls be girls? I am wondering if you encourage catalogues to show boys maternalistically cradling baby dolls. I can see the good intentions but studies show people were happiest in the 50s when men were men and women were women and everyone lived naturally without confusion. i admire the worthy intentions but worry that the strive for absolute equality may ultimately lead to psychological problems and unhappiness in the feeling fulfilled sense.
    My own game, the Culica is naturally gender neutral. But are all games or toys? are differences to be celebrated or destroyed?
    Would be interested to know your view on if political correctness can go too far too often. is play gender neutral? Research indicates not. a boy and girl instinctively play differently when given a loaf of bread for example.

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