Recently there was a story about 9-year old Grayson Bruce who was bullied for bringing a My Little Pony lunch sack to school. His North Carolina school responded by asking the child to leave the bag at home as it was a “trigger for bullying.”
In this industry we talk a lot about gender, gender-based marketing, and the idea of gender-neutral products. We talk about how girls are often more willing to play with boys toys than boys are to play with girls toys – and Grayson’s situation is a glaring example as to why. Was it worse because it was a little boy using a brand marketed to girls? Maybe. But I’d guess that if a little girl showed up to that school with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox I’m sure some of her classmates might look at her a little funny too. Regardless, the fact that children are bully due to gender-based marketing is sad.
Through years and years of marketing, we’ve ingrained both children and adults with the idea that there are “boy’s toys” and that there are “girl’s toys.” While we’ve never come out and said it, the marketing implies that playing with a toy that’s for the other gender isn’t right. Yes, there are some open-minded parents, like Grayson’s mom, who allow their children to play with what they’d like regardless of gender, but overall our society tends to adhere to the gender stereotypes we’ve latched onto for years.
This is not a problem we can solve overnight. In fact, it may take a few generations to stop labeling products “for boys” or “for girls.” Consider that little boys once wore dresses and that was a societal norm. Things take time to evolve – in any direction – but nothing is ever going to change if we don’t start taking baby steps in the right direction.
Sadly, Grayson’s experience isn’t the only one regarding a boy being bullied over enjoying My Little Pony. 11-year old Michael Morones tried to commit suicide in February after being incessantly teased for being a fan of the show. Grayson and Michael's experiences are just two examples of many (not all involving My Little Pony either) and if bullying based on gender-based marketing isn’t a call to action to make marketing less gender-focused, I’m not sure what is.