Boys’ Toys, Girls’ Toys and the TOTY Awards

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Who assigned the toy industry the responsibility of telling boys and girls with which toys they are allowed to play?

Why does the toy industry willingly lose sales by designating its products as off limits to whole gender categories?

There has been some excitement in the press recently about the toy industry's Toy of the Year awards and its designation of a "Best Boys' Toy" and a "Best Girls' Toy" category. It seems that Washington writer, Rebecca Hains (see "Boys play with dolls, and girls play with spaceships. Someone tell the toy makers") took umbrage at those designations and took the industry to task for them. As Hains puts it: "At the prestigious Toy of the Year Awards Friday evening, honors in two categories — the “Boy Toy of the Year” and the “Girl Toy of the Year” — will rely upon and reinforce the outdated gender stereotyping of toys."

The toy industry responded at the event by stating that the association was reviewing the practice of gender based awards.  Still, not everyone is on board with doing away with classifications that are seen by some as natural gender categories.  

I am not new to this discussion, in fact I am very much on board with doing away with gender classifications for the awards ceremonies.  As I wrote in November of last year in my article, "The TOTY Awards; Is it Time to End Boy and Girl Toy Categories?", the notion of assigning toys to a specific gender category seems oddly out of place in a 21st century marketplace.

Here are my thoughts:

Who assigned the toy industry the responsibility of telling boys and girls with which toys they are allowed to play?  Is it really our job to divide boys and girls into two categories and arbitrarily decide what toy fits where? For example, who decided that Star Wars (two nominations under the Boys' category and none under Girls') is a boy's toy? 

Why does the toy industry willingly lose sales by designating its products as off limits to whole gender categories?  How many sales are missed and for what purpose?

Why do some consumers express concerns that without categories they would not know what to buy?  I mean, any person who knows so little about their child or grandchild that they have to have the toy industry tell them what is appropriate needs more help than we can provide.

I think its time for the toy industry to go gender neutral.  What do you think?

7 thoughts

  1. My favorite local toy store organizes toys by age group or interest. They recognize that toys and play are inherently gender neutral. There is no girls or boys section.
    Assigning gender stereotypes to toys is limiting on so many levels, and potentially damaging to the psyches of young children. Sadly, the parents or grandparents I encounter that are most likely to support this divide usually cite sexist or homophobic reasons for doing so. We can set a better example and share a much more tolerant and wide view of we remove these labels.

  2. The saddest part is when my confident and inquisitive babies start school and get told “you can’t like that toy, it’s not for you.” A piece of plastic is a piece of plastic! Whatever way you decide to categorise it… It’s ALL make believe. Stop the gender segregating nonsense!

  3. We don’t need toys to be segregated by gender. Why should we limit our children that way? Would we tolerate segregating toys by race, so white children are allowed to play with some toys and black children are allowed to play with others, as if it were genetically coded into them? My daughter likes American Girl dolls and Star Wars lightsabers and LEGO and books and rockclimbing and martial arts and dressing up…by not limiting her, she can truly choose what she likes. There is nothing inherently female about a pink toy, or a kitchen toy, and it’s sexist to say that there is. Toys don’t have gender. Our children deserve variety and choice and every color in the rainbow. Pushing children into boxes only encourages sexism and disparagement of women in adulthood.

  4. Hi Richard,
    All perfectly said and I 100% agree with you. Also, this is not a new or radical idea. You and others online have been talking about this for years. In addition, as Elizabeth Sweet points out, in the 70’s there was much less gender focused marketing of toys. The 1975 Sears Catalog – less than 2% of toys explicitly marketed to boys or girls. The 1995 Sears Catalog, that number had jumped to 50%.
    So to those that argue this is some radical idea or political correctness gone wrong, the facts show otherwise. Not sure how an idea from the 70s can now be portrayed as radical.
    Ask me to define a building toy, I can do it.
    Ask me to define an educational toy, I can do it.
    Ask me to define an outdoor toy, I can do it.
    Ask anyone, including the TIA to define a Boy Toy or a Girl Toy and they can NOT do it.
    If we can’t define it, let’s stop marketing to it.

  5. Thing is, for our kids, it’s not just about selling toys. There are longer term impacts.
    Toys are part of the entire package of messages about what a child could and should aspire to be – if science, mess, war are designated for one gender and nurture, beauty and passivity for the other, you have to be a strong willed child to cross those lines particularly as your peers and adults reinforce them. The exclusionary marketing tells our kids THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. When products are produced to address this, they tend to be linked to the stereotype- girl science with pink, glitter and making make up, blue clothes on the baby doll for boys.
    We are unlikely ever to get to see the market segmentation financial data that would show whether pink-girl-princess-beauty etc. is really more profitable than gender neutral. And gender neutral is not all wooden blocks and wholesome. Recognising that girls (and boys) aspiring to be Rey and wanting the action figure of the film’s lead character, and that housework and childcare do not have to be in the girls section would be a start!

  6. It is way past time to do away with the notion of “boys'” toys and “girls'” toys. As I said in a post I wrote about Target’s decision to removed gendered signage from its toy aisles:
    “Consider that stores don’t label the housewares department “women’s” nor the hardware department “men’s.” Libraries don’t categorize books as men’s, women’s, boys’, or girls’. Why? Because those labels are too subjective. Retailers can’t possibly assume that only women shop for oven mitts and small appliances, or that men will be the only customers interested in drill bits or screwdrivers. Similarly, librarians would be raked over the coals if they ever decreed books about war and sports as “men’s,” and romance and cooking as “women’s…Other than the clothing department, we don’t accept gendered labels when shopping, so why do we allow them in the toy department?”
    When you assign gender to a toy, you’re assigning gender to the activity associated with that toy and, in the process, telling kids which behaviours and interests are “appropriate” for a boy or girl. Every gendered message–whether in a toy, book, TV show, or movie–is a piece of the puzzle that children assemble as they try to figure out where they belong in the world and what they are capable of. Why limit their options with arbitrary gender labels? Why not let them decide which path they want to follow?

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