Have Yourself A Very Sexist Holiday

As we enter the holiday season, the inevitable toy catalogs begin arriving on our doormats. Most of the celebrations this time of year involve some form of gift giving, and if you have kiddos, that means t-o-y-s. Toys, toys, and more toys! I have a 2.5 year old boy and 4.5 year old girl and I needed Christmas present ideas, so against my better judgement I picked up three of the catalogs from major retailers in my town to look through the offerings. We don’t watch tv channels that have commercials with the kids, so I wasn’t up-to-date on the latest and greatest from the toy manufacturers. I flipped page after page, bracing myself for what I knew would be pink and blue and pink and blue. Taken one toy at a time, things wouldn’t seem so bad….but when I had four catalogs side by side, and when I had all the pieces of the proverbial puzzle together….   

…my head exploded. Literally, right off the top of my neck. I know I talk about media literacy and sexualization for a living, but what I was seeing was unreal, unthinkable in 2010, and limiting beyond measure.   

I have pretty strong feelings about childhood being a time of rich play, imagination, and exploration. For both genders. Childhood should be feast of color and creativity and movement. I find it wildly offensive that as I looked through these catalogs, color, movement, type of play, and learning were all predetermined according to gender. A child does not need to be reminded of gender every time he or she picks up or looks at a toy. What I had spread out before me was approximately 160 pages of gender stereotype after gender stereotype, and all of it being sold by mainstream retailers because it is our status quo.   

As I looked through these catalogs, I saw zero boys nuturing dolls or pets, or playing with toys that encouraged fashion sense or manscaping. I saw zero girls constructing or destructing anything, moving vehicles, or holding weapons or sports equipment. Our kids, as young as preschool ages, were being sold extremely narrow definitions of gender roles.   

I refuse to accept the status quo. As you read through the numbers below and view the photos from the catalogs, replace “gender stereotype” with “racial” or “religious” stereotype and see if you think an ENTIRE industry marketed to children should stand on limiting and binary ideals.   

I want you to see what I saw. So here’s what I did – I tallied the number of kids in each catalog (Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us), then the number of boys and number of girls, I counted how many were doing gender-specific things, and how many were doing unisex or non-traditional gender things. I looked at main color themes and main activity themes. Main themes and gender-normal toys be marketed to boys were: vehicles, fighting/sports/weapons, and construction. Main themes and gender-normal toys being sold to girls were: fashion/beauty, pet/baby care, and cooking. The proof of the pudding is in the eating….   

(Note: When I refer to “gender-biased” and “non-tradional” toys – I am referring to norms given by the toy industry.)   

First up: TOYS R US

Total Number of Pages 80
Total Number of Kids Photographed 185
Total Number of Boys 97
Total Number of Girls 88
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 11
   
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 87 (vehicles, superheroes, sports/weapons, construction)
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10 (piano, map, art easel, play kitchen, outdoor toys)
   
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 84
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 3 (telescope, skateboard, guitar)
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Blue, gray, green
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Beauty/fashion, cooking, baby care
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, construction, fighting

    

Images from Toys R Us holiday catalog. Click to enlarge photo.

 Things to note in this photo:
 
Girls are focused on caring for other things, like pets and babies.  Boys had zero toys that demonstrated caring for something.
 
Girls are focused on activities centered around physical appearance, like the fashion wardrobe or mermaid beauty vanity, yet there were zero equivalent toys for boys.
 
Girls toys come in very few color options and contain zero primary colors.
 
Girls are all virtually sitting in one place and playing quietly.
 
Boys have large, loud movements while playing. They move things! Make thing! Experiment!
 
Boys toys have zero focus on attracting members of opposite sex.
 
 
 
 

More images from Toys R Us. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo: 

Of 88 girls featured, here are the 4 doing non-traditional gender things: guitar, ball, telescope, skateboarding. 4 of 88. (Do love that the guitar girl is getting her hair messed up, and the skateboarding girl is probably getting sweaty.)   

Notice the kitchen set in the middle of the page? The boy’s kitchen has blue trim, and the little fella is managing to make himself a piece of toast. Enlarge the photo and look at the girl’s kitchen – pink trim, pots on the stove, and she’s feeding a baby. The boy’s kitchen doesn’t even have a space for the baby.   

On the right side of the pic – notice how different the boy’s dress up and girl’s dress up is. Tough and ready for action! vs. tulle and petticoats to sit at tea. Every girl featured in dress up clothes was wearing some sort of giant princess dress, with zero other options.   

Also on the right – pay BIG attention to the types of body frames – huge muscles for boys, and ultra-skinny with giant heads for girls.   

    

    

Next up: Walmart

Total Number of Pages 53
Total Number of Kids Photographed 58
Total Number of Boys 32
Total Number of Girls 26
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
   
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 31
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 1 (cooking in a blue kitchen)
   
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 1 (robot)
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (farm, computer reader, scooter, ride on car)
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Red, black, blue
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Fashion, pet cars, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Fighting/heroes, vehicles, games

    

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Boys are taking over, building and moving things, and loudly playing with their worlds.   

Girls are playing sweetly and quietly prepare meals and stir some kind of batter.   

Girls focus on fashion dolls with impossible body proportions.   

Girls are never shown with weapons or sporting equipment.   

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photos:   

Barbie-looking girls drive pink/purple Barbie car. The only ride-on cars girls were shown driving were pink and/or purple.   

In the black ride-on car at top-middle, at first it looks as though the girl is in the driver’s seat. Now note which side the steering wheel is on.   

Love the pic of the girl playing with the primary colored robot!  

ALL Toy Story products in ALL three mags were marketed ONLY to boys.   

Note the Table of Contents – childhood divided into the boy side and girl side.   

The lower right hand picture drove me insane: Girl sits on her princess couch cheering on what is a cartoon elf shooting the basketball. Heaven forbid we put the ball in HER hands and let her take a shot.     

     

Finally: Target

Total Number of Pages 44
Total Number of Kids Photographed 61
Total Number of Boys 36
Total Number of Girls 25
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
   
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 33
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 3 (play kitchen, computers, bikes)
   
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (Imaginext Big Foot, scooter, Wii Soccer, Leap Frog computer, bikes)
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Dark blue, orange, red
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls fashion/beauty, cooking, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, sports, fighting/super hero toys

Images from Target catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Girls play with kitchens or tiny little houses that keep them quiet and sitting still.   

Girls dolls are focused on fashion and hyperfeminine attributes.   

Girls dolls all have SAME body size – which would be unattainable for a human with organs or a neck less than 20some inches thick to support those giant, giant heads.   

Boys build things!   

Boys move things!   

Boys fight!   

Boy toys have primary colors.   

Girls toys are overwhelmingly pink, purple, and aqua.   

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  

 These are the toys and messages available to you and yours this holiday season. I’ll show you a post next week that has my family mixing things up a little bit. Santa will be bringing my girl a cloth doll, a dolphin trainer doll, a marine biologist doll, a collection of baby sea animals, a stuffed dolphin, and Legos (primary colors). My boy will be getting Toy Story, a cloth doll, a stuffed cat, a tea set, and wooden train cars and tracks. Both kids will be getting puzzles, games, coloring books/art supplies, and story books. I refuse to accept the stereotypes being sold to my kids. I damn sure won’t be teaching them to my kids.   

Toys and playtime in my house look a WHOLE LOT like this, from One Step Ahead:  

At One Step Ahead, boys and girls play together. Boys have dolls and girls conduct trains. Science and sports are for both genders. THIS is what childhood should look like!

Comments

  1. Followed a link from PhD in Parenting.
    Great post. I have 3 boys and I have noticed the gender stereotyping as well. I am so tired of fighting, building, and loud toys. They are so big and cumbersome as well. We are doing craft supplies this year.

  2. I watched a video the other day talking about this, specifically looking at commercials, though, and the messages they send. It’s amazing how limiting they are, especially for girls (we’re supposed to sit pretty and take care of others, while boys get to experiment, build, invent, etc). Ugh. =(

    Thanks for the One Step Ahead rec, I’m also a big fan of the For Small Hands catalog! http://www.forsmallhands.com

  3. Followed a link from Kellymom.com’s facebook page.

    My word. Just a good reminder why I don’t watch TV and avoid malls around the holidays.

  4. What a great post with a powerful message. I have two girls and share your utter frustration with the sexist marketing aimed constantly at our girls. I love Commercial Free Childhood who fights this (and more continually). I love raising my daughters to be strong, independent minded and can recognize how sexist marketing is with pink and blue. My girls will know they are much more than shopping, ponies, princesses, sequins, and PINK! Even my 9 year old points out how boys aren’t the only ones who like trucks and she has a friend in class (a boy) who loves wearing his pink shirt (even if he is teased endlessly). Thanks goodness there are parents who can get beyond stereotypes and think about the messages we send children so early on.

    I opened my business Polkadot Patch Boutique to challenge stereotypes and dress children in colorful clothing that reflects childhood. It hasn’t been easy to buck the retail trend of children’s clothing because most manufacturers simply won’t produce non-pink or non-princess clothes because “That’s what sells”. I operate this business because I believe in offering parents choice and know there are plenty of them who share my beliefs.

    Thank you for this blog! I’m a new follower and glad to have found you!
    Marianne

  5. i’m just as un-thrilled as the next person at what the ads portray or infer, but just as with the battle against junk food, it’s up to the parents to introduce and provide their kids with positive, healthy play (and food).

    our kids are going to grow up in the world that spews forth gender-biases and happy meals. rather than shield my daughter to these things, i teach her about them and we talk about why they exist and what we agree or disagree with.

  6. I have 7mo old twin girls and I am amazed by one of their toys. Its the Vtech Learn & Discover Driver. It is just a steering wheel w/base that makes music and such. Well one of the things it says is “slow down little fella.” Really? In 2010 we are saying that? A steering wheel is only for a boy? Crazy.

  7. Great post. My son loves cooking and helping to cook. His cooking set is one of his favorite toys. So I’m thinking a play kitchen would be a great christmas gift. While there are more gender neutral kitchens than there used to be, they’re still primarily pink and frilly. Seems cooking is still in the realm of women and girls, at least in the eyes of toy makers. And good luck finding a tea seat that isn’t pink and purple! While my son loves trucks, balls, dinosaurs, and cars as much as the next boy, he also loves his “baby” (cabbage patch doll from my husband’s childhood), his teddy bears. I hate all the stereotyping and how early it starts in our kids lives!!

  8. Love the statistical breakdown – we have so many toy catalogues over here (in the UK) which are full of the same rubbish! Keep meaning to do the same sort of count – maybe with your framework I’ll get round to it this year!

  9. Wow. I do believe that that the biological differences between boys/girls and men/women sometimes affect our preferences, activities, and behavior. We are different. However, I hate that the media wants to decide for our children what those differences are, and that every child must conform to it’s idea of a typical boy or girl.
    My parents are making some/all? of their Christmas gifts this year and I’m hoping that my child will get gifts that fit his interests, without the narrow color restrictions, distasteful body images, etc.

    • The differences are far less than most people think, and in fact are quite small. Try reading Pink Brain/Blue Brain by neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot. She gives a fascinating review of the literature on this subject.

  10. Great post! I tend to throw most catalogs straight into the recycling bin, but I also know my 4-year-old girl loves the girly catalogs.

    Three years ago, when my boy was 5 and my girl was 1, I made each of them a cloth doll that kind of looks like them. They both like them, although by now my 4-year-old daughter has plenty of other dolls, too.

    Two years ago my son was really into cooking and writing his own recipes, so my sister gave him a blank book for writing recipes (with a decorated cover), and an apron she’d dyed and painted on.

    Actually, my sister generally gives the best presents ever: a set of silk scarves, hand-dyed in different colors. Those things have seen a lot of play in 5 years! A build-it-yourself bird house. A paint-your-own piggybank.

    I’m going to keep this in mind when I make or buy presents this year!

  11. You messed up the total numbers for the second 2 stores, btw. :)

    As a mom of 3 boys, I am so sick of the marketing. I’m trying to counter it, but it’s hard when everything they see is that pink is for girls & blue is for boys. At least we’ve managed a bit, last year for Christmas my middle son desperately wanted a Barbie camper. Wish we could have found one for him. This year the older 2 are getting electronics, so gender neutral & I think now I’m going to check out One Step Ahead for the toddler.

    • Oops! You are right, thanks for pointing that out. I’ll go in and fix it now. I had a four year old hanging off of me begging for a snack while I was trying to proof read! :)

  12. I was sooo disappointed when the stalwart of my childhood, LEGO, went gendered. They were reliably neutral and showed boys and girls in the product shots. Somewhere along the way, they divided it up – boys get building, war and space, girls get houses. Typical, and disappointing.

  13. My son recently decided he wanted a baby doll. He saw it in the store and ran towards it yelling, “Baby!!!”, grabbed it off of the shelf and brought it to me. The baby was wearing ALL pink from head to toe. There were no boy dolls and I knew his dad would have a fit … but we got it anyway. My son wanted a baby, there is no reason he can’t learn to be a good daddy now (after all, that is one reason little girls play with dolls, to pretend to be little mommies).

    He also likes “vroom vrooms” and tools.

    For Christmas, I wanted to get him a kitchen, as he likes to “help” cook. I only found pink ones. ALL of them were pink. Now, I don’t like pink, myself. I hate pink, worst color ever! So, I got him a pretend grill. When I went looking for food for this grill, what did I find? Ever box with pretend food in it was pink. The knives, pots, pans, other silverware, all pink.

    Honestly, I don’t care if he plays with pink things. I just don’t, if he likes it then fine but really? Do they ALL have to be pink? Everything? I like variety and color and change! It’s annoying.

    Anyway, thanks for posting. I’m glad to find I’m not crazy and if I am, at least there are others like me. Everyone I know wants there girls to be princesses and their boys to fight or blow things up … and they get them things that reflect that. I let my son decide what he wants to do and let him decide his toys. So what if he chooses the doll? (Apparently, I’m turning him gay … *eye roll* not even really an insult even if that WERE what I was doing)

    • A great alternative to the pink stuff you find in the store is wood! Plan Toys and Melissa and Doug have great options! You can also find just plain wood kitchens as well. I feel the same way. I don’t mind my son playing with pink toys, but I don’t want to pay for toys that are gendered. I just don’t want to support that.

    • I turned to Cabbage Patch Kids when I wanted to buy a boy doll for the son of my friend. He LOVED his little baby boy cabbage patch. So many brands, even if the doll is a boy, come in super pink packaging with a little girl on it.

      I also found a very cute little boy baby doll on Amazon, and a blue gingham doll stroller, which I bought for another little boy.

      I agree, boys need baby dolls! They are a very important toy.

    • step 2 has a great kitchen in green and brown. the plates and cups are very neutral too. i inherited mine for my daughter from my sister who bought it for her 2 sons. they both loved it!

  14. Great post! You would love http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/ It has a very similar outlook.

  15. While I agree the catalogs take it to the extreme, they’re also taking the path of least resistance. I think there’s lots of middle ground — cooking, crafts, sports — that appeal to both genders, but any experienced parent knows that boys tend to be more aggressive/competitive/combative than girls, and the toymakers know it too. This is a marketing ploy, not a conspiracry.

    • It’s a marketing ploy used by nearly all mainstream stores. That makes it a conspiracy. When these are the images that the majority of America’s children and parents see, it reinforces stereotypes such as “boys tend to be more aggressive/competitive/combative than girls.” Things which, when controlled for social factors, have been found to be largely UNTRUE. I will, once again, recommend the book by Dr. Lise Eliot. If you are truly interested in the RESEARCH on gendered thinking in neuroscience instead of your “experience,” read Pink Brain/Blue Brain. I’ll take the research over what “any experienced parent knows” any day.

      • Your article only proves what any adult with an IQ over the average speed limit already knows; that companies use stereotypes and statistics to market their products. I have a few ruminations you might wish to consider…

        -Perhaps the toy makers (and their merchants) don’t really care about the gender of the child. If a parent buys an E-Z Bake Oven for their boy, it is still money in their pocket. As far as manufacturers are concerned, a sale is a sale.

        -It might be that you are assuming there is something wrong with women who genuinely enjoy the tasks of hearth and home. My own mother took joy in being seamstress and chef, wife and mother…yet she is a successful businesswoman in her own right. And I know many a mother who takes genuine joy in her role of mother and wife, and wants nothing more. Certainly I agree that women and men should be allowed to step outside of the roles history assigns them…but what of those who enjoy the part?

        -Maybe the problem is bigger than a few toy ads. After all, if children are actually listening to mass media (instead of their parents and loved ones) regarding who or what they “should be”…is this not a problem in and of itself? Your article assumes this is true. Myself, I hope you are mistaken.

        -Your frank dismissal of the value of experience marks you more than anything else you could possibly say. Do you even HAVE children? I think that one who has actually stepped into the shoes of spouse and parent knows more than any ivory-tower intellectual poring over charts of numbers can ever hope to.

        In other words, calm the hell down and stop giving mass media so much credit. Should you ever decide to have children, teach them that they can be anything they set their minds to. And that includes fulfilling roles that were old when humanity was baking clay bricks in the sun.

        • Just a quick note for you –
          Robyn, to whom you are replying, is not the same person who wrote this article. I (Melissa Wardy) wrote this article, am a work-at-home mother of two young children. I addressed your comments about women having the right to choose career, home, or both in a post just the day before, here: http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/11/the-feminist-and-homemaker-inside-a-comment-on-toys/. No one here is saying that being a wife/mother/homemake is unfulfilling and anything less than a fulltime job in itself.

          Your point of children listening to the examples set by their parents is a valid one, but I’m sure you can also understand that the media and marketing our kids in America are subjected to, not to mention the social cues they learn from peers at school, is often out of our control and becomes “urban wallpaper” we are forced to raise our kids with. Avoiding it completely is impossible, which is why I (Melissa Wardy) and my company, Pigtail Pals, strives to offer girls empowering products and teach parents of young girls about media literacy.

        • Yes, I have children. A boy and a girl. And my EXPERIENCE (since you don’t care about RESEARCH) says you are WRONG. Both of my children enjoy playing with a wide range of toys, both those considered to be “boy” toys and those considered to be “girl” toys. Perhaps you should “calm the hell down” and recognize that both Melissa and I have been and continue to be staunch advocates of the idea that children CAN and SHOULD be whatever their dreams inspire them to be. Including susie homemaker or joe the construction worker. Neither of us has EVER said a word that makes it seem that it is wrong to engage in traditionally gendered activities, only that there is something wrong when those are the ONLY choices given to children.

          The reason I think my children are less polemically gendered? Because they are NOT EXPOSED to the media in the amounts that most other children are! If you really think that media, advertising, and toy offerings play no role in the choices parents make regarding what activities and toys are appropriate for their children, then I suggest you do what Jeff suggests all us stupid women do, and that is take a class on media literacy and advertising so that you can be informed regarding the psychology of influence behind these things.

        • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! You DON’T EVEN HAVE children and you’re challenging my opinion based on the assumption that I don’t, when I actually DO HAVE children?! Well that sure does make it hard to take you seriously, Eric. And for what it’s worth, I’ve been a high school teacher for 7 years to at-risk kids at a special school for teens who’ve been removed from the regular high schools. So, yeah. Maybe *that* might give me a little credibility in your eyes.

    • I’m a mom of 5, all girls, so maybe I’m not qualified but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree that “any experienced parent knows that boys tend to be more aggressive/competitive/combative than girls…” I have taught and worked with children for year, children of all ages and in all stages of development from preschool to high school. I will agree that boys are expected to be more aggressive/competitive/combative than girls and when they exhibit these behaviors it is most frequently dismissed as “boys will be boys.” Similarly girls are not expected to behave this way but when they do they are then chided and redirected to what many would consider more appropriate behavior for a girl. Even the language we use is different for the same behaviors boys and girls exhibit. If a girl is active and forceful she is called loud and domineering or unladylike and a tomboy. If a boy is gentle and sensitive or nurturing and likes to dress up he is described as girly or a sissy. I see it all the time. The idea that people will be/do what you expect them to is most certainly exhibited in children on a regular basis and the gender distinctions we cling to in our society are no exception.

      I have had the privilege to experience community with families that push back against predetermined character traits of their children based on gender and have seen boys and girls equally exhibit qualities often associated with the opposite gender. These children are secure, confident and loving life, accepted for who they are without artificial boundaries.

      My 9 year old is looking forward to a knights and dragons birthday party. She’s planning on rescuing the prince after she slays a few dragons and battles a few evil knights. I know without a doubt she will be the most aggressive knight on the field that day, that’s just her personality.

      I agree, this is a marketing ploy but that’s part of the conspiracy to a degree. We’re marketing artificial stereotypes and buying them because they sell. Because we’re willing to let the toy makers tell our children boys are one way and girls another instead of taking a stand and saying we want better, our children deserve to be themselves so the toy makers and marketers can take their crap and shove it.

  16. I wish there were ‘just toys- not girl toys or boy toys,’ as my friend Heather’s son put it. Great article.

  17. Sexism is alive and well!

    One Step Ahead sounds like a great company and I’ll have to look at them in the future–right now my son is only 1, and we aren’t bothering with toys at all.

    • Kids have to have some toys – play is a child’s work and crucial for exploration and understanding of the world. One Step Ahead is great! You might also like the Infantino brand for your little guy. When my kids were one year old they loved nesting blocks, stacking rings, balls, and push cars. Trust me, as he starts to crawl/walk/run/climb your bookshelves, you’ll need things to keep him busy!

      • Just to speak up for Laura G., she didn’t say her son didn’t play, she just said he doesn’t play with toys, yet. My daughter would get toys as baby, and only want to play with the box it came in! In fact, her favorite “toy” was an empty kleenex box. She also loved to play with measuring cups, spoons, and spatulas from our kitchen.

        • When my daughter was a little over a year, she spent an entire afternoon playing with a laundry basket, a pile of dish towels, and a piece of paper. Sometimes the best “toys” aren’t toys at all! My kids have their own drawer in the kitchen full of wooden spoons, measuring cups, funnels, and old pots. Ealier this year my daughter emptied my cupboard and made the skyline of Sydney with the boxes and cans of food. Opera house and all!

      • But some of my favourite toys for babies aren’t toys at all. Kitchen stuff – stacking cups, funnels etc etc

  18. This is a really great post, Melissa, and I know you worked hard on it. Despite my very pink website :) I still try to raise my children without locking them into gender stereotypes. Many kids do tend to prefer activities that are traditional to their gender, but we can still strike a balance and not limit their options. My boy loves sports and cooking, and my girl loves crafts, animals, science, and basketball. I believe that awareness through media literacy is the key to raising balanced kids today. This post is a great awareness-builder!

  19. We have a lot of Melissa & Doug toys at our house. Plenty of primary colors, wood, and imaginative play stuff. One of the first things we got was a wooden sushi set, then cupcakes, puzzles, cookie set and on and on. None of it pastel, no pictures of kids on the packages. And my girls play with the kitchen my dad fashioned for me out of an old wooden crate 30 years ago. It’s white, like our real stove, and sports the broken faucet from our kitchen (which I installed, since my husband doesn’t know a hammer from a hacksaw).

    At some point, I unsubscribed from as many catalogs as I could, which has greatly reduced the number of head explosions I experience.

    And I heartily agree with JenJen about Lego going gendered. I also hate that they’ve moved away from the more creative just plain blocks to all the kits, with detailed instructions to follow and unique, tiny pieces to get lost when the kit eventually comes undone. (At least with origami, you can always find another piece of paper when your crane gets flattened.) Add to that the fact that they’ve partnered with movie concerns and video game makers to produce heavily gender-biased kits and games, and my blood boils. (JenJen might want to look into FIRST Lego League for a forum for ungendered Lego free expression.)

  20. When I had my catalog done, I told the graphic designer that I didn’t want a lot of gender differentials. She was great and chose a gender-neutral color scheme for the catalog. The photo shoot we did was great too. The Mary Jane booties had to be on a girl, of course, but I made sure we didn’t cling too closely to gender stereotypes. We had a girl model the hiking booties, and another girl model the cleat booties in full football fan regalia.

  21. Great post! Just yesterday I had an “argument” with my dad’s uncle (who I see maybe twice a year…) about how I shouldn’t get my twin nine month old boys a doll for Christmas. He insisted it was girly and my dad would put a stop to it. I told him, nope, my husband and I would be getting both boys dolls so they could learn how to be good daddies! Maybe it will even be wearing pink!

    • My friend just had her third baby (and third boy). Her mom got the older brothers these very cute cloth babies of their own. Let me tell you – there is nothing cuter than a two year old boy sitting next to his mama as he nurses his baby and she nurses hers. What great daddy-building skills!!

  22. WHen I was a kid, I remember wearing my brother’s hand me down spider man thermal pjs… I loved barbies and dolls and girly things, yet I also liked to be creative.. both art and imagination. One year, my mom made my brother and I hand made “cabbage patch” dolls… eventhough his was a boy doll. When visiting my father on weekends, my step brothers had GI joes… who were a little small for barbie, but that didnt matter- they played just fine together. I also liked legos and tinker toys. It does seem that a lot of toys are geared toward one gender, but I think the parents should be the ones who introduce their children to all differnet toys and limit thier tv time (where kids seem to see most of the toy ads and ideas). Kids today lack the number one thing growing up that my friends and I seemed to enjoy the most- imagination. We could spend hours doing all kinds of things with nothing more than just our imaginations. Sure, we liked to play dress up, barbies etc- but the things I remember most were games we played, things we imagined and time we spent just being kids. Get the kids out from behind their ps3 and nintendo ds and give them paper and crayons, legos, etc… bring out the old blankets and build a fort under your table… go to the park… read a book,etc.

  23. What a great, comprehensive breakdown. I love the way you’ve presented this with cold, hard data. Shine the bright light and let folks see it the way it really is.

    Love what you do for girls, and yes, even women.

  24. Great post!! It really is alarming how gendered the big chain stores and major toy manufacturers are. And it’s always good to see a thoughtful analysis of the hidden messages in advertising. While I confess to loving Target, I was highly disappointed when their toy flier arrived last week – exactly as you described it – full of stereotypes. My son is not quite two so we’ve been able to easily find alternatives to blatantly gendered toys – I worry what will happen as he gets older and becomes more aware of the images and such that are out there. We’ve just found out our second child will be a girl. I have no doubt they’ll grow up sharing and loving many of the same toys :-)

  25. What a great post. I find the websites of most toy sellers just as bad as the flyers. Girls’ make-believe toys are pretty much restricted to domestic chores, with no rescue or adventure toys, while boys’ make-believe is all about fixing, rescuing, and some kind of law enforcement or fighting. (UFC fighters, SWAT team, and army costumes anyone?) Thankfully we have Mastermind Toys in the Greater Toronto Area, which does not promote gender stereotypes in any way on its website–no horrible “boys'” or “girls'” categories there. For the record, my two sons are getting, between them, a Playmobil dollhouse and farmhouse, some musical instruments, a play kitchen, some RC cars and planes, a little Clone Wars stuff, some board games, books, and a magic set. We just recently used the gift cards they received for their birthdays and my 4-year-old son chose a baby doll and accessories, along with a little stuffed toy based on Olivia, from the book series of the same name. It is so freeing to go into a toy store and have my sons not feel the least bit self-conscious about choosing the toys they like, regardless of the gendered messaging that toy sellers seem so determined to force on them.

  26. The WORST example of sexism in toys I have seen is companies that create “girly” versions of classic infant/toddler toys. Playskool is one I’ve noticed because my daughter has several of their toys. Here’s their Busy Ball Popper:

    The classic/neutral version:
    http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3526297

    The “girly” version:
    http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3565443

    And the Step Start Walk ‘n Ride:

    Neutral:
    http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2331997

    “Girly:”
    http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3312372

    I could go on & on because there are so many toys for infants/toddlers that come in pink “girly” versions. It’s really disgusting & I refuse to buy any of them for my daughter.

  27. This reminds me of the time we were at Bass Pro Shop and saw a toy truck and tent set for girls in … pink cammo of course. Oh, and the pink crossbow for girls was a nice touch too. lol.

  28. LOVE this article.. although hate that it has to be written in this day and age… reallY???
    Anyway, wanted to share that in addition to One Step Ahead and Melissa and Doug, I got my Step 2 cataloge today and they mostly passed the “sniff test.” Boys and girls playing with gender neutral kitchens and such… Am thinking that’s why I’ve been ordering from them, even though I had never though it through quite so much. I definitely wanted to buy my daughter a kitchen set that looked more “real” rather than on ethat was pink… I’d confuse the hell out of her, especailly since her daddy is the cook in the family! :-)

  29. I don’t have kids and it wasn’t so long ago I was a kid myself but I was in the toy aisle today to pick up some things for my work Toys for Tots collection. I grew up in the late 80s/early 90s and the only thing I’ve really seen change since then is that toys that used to be more gender “neutral” (playing cards, balls, Legos) are now either “boy” or “girl” colors. When I was younger my brother and I used to share legos and they were all colors, not just pink and purple or blue and green.

    Great blog post!

  30. I was just cruising through Target earlier and noting that the toy aisles are color coded to guide me straight to stuff for my girls. I hate it. My daughter is not quite 3 and I am doing all I can to combat gendering in her life. For Christmas, she’s getting a Care Bear (Grumpy!), books, and stuff for her dress-up doctor kit. For my younger daughter, a shape sorter and blocks.

  31. I’m new to this blog. Fantastic research you have done here. I am also tired of the sterotypes in advertising even though girls seem to be drawn to pink & boys to blue, girls to dolls & boys to weapons :-( I’ve worked with children & have a daughter.

    My daughter is 5yrs and I have never pushed colour or having a favorite colour onto her. Quite the opposite, but She loves pink. I am happy to say, She also loves cars, dinosaurs & playing in dirt and with insects very gently, lol. I might add along with dolls and girlie dress ups.

    We don’t receive advertising in our mailbox and keep away from it wherever possible, which is almost impossible but it is innate in our kids I think despite the advertising.

    I still admire what you have done and I am now even more concious of it from reading here which has got to be a good thing :-)

  32. Too true. I bought all my girls’ toys from specialty catalogs this year – check out Growing Tree Toys (www.growingtreetoys.com). One thing that surprised me is that someone out there knows I have an almost 7-yr-old because we’ve suddenly been deluged by catalogs from expensive doll-makers, some of whom will custom-makes a doll to look exactly like your child. Creepy… and why do I think that my friends with boys the same age are not getting the same catalogs?

    I do wonder what part of the Y chromosome is responsible for extreme fixation with Star Wars Lego. I know plenty of girls who like Lego (if you can find them a set that’s not obnoxiously boy-oriented) but don’t know any who have formed a cult around it. But ALL boys this age are nuts for Star Wars Lego. What gives?

  33. I noticed this issue recently and I’d like to recommend Discovery Toys for all you parents who want the best for your kids! :)

  34. I found this article via someone on Tumblr and I LOVED IT. SO MUCH. I’m not a parent yet, just a college student who always takes note of stuff like this. So, this analysis was fantastic, if a little upsetting because the gender stereotypes are so RAMPANT.

    I remember Discovery Toys. It’s like Avon, people have to sell it (though you can shop online, I think), but they’re “learning toys” that were really fun. Furthermore, none of them were super gendered. I loved Marbleworks. You put them together and then ran marbles down the paths you made, kinda like Tinker Toys. On their website, the catalog is sorted by age groups, NOT gender. Everyone can enjoy Discovery Toys. Highly recommended!

  35. I was flicking through the latest Ikea catalogue a while ago and an ad jumped out at me, so I photographed and blogged it. It really encouraged me. It’s so easy to mix it up a bit!

    http://raspberrycordial.tumblr.com/post/1398069791/this-is-what-a-toy-ad-can-look-like-massive-props

  36. Ihavealife says:

    Seriously? Get a life people! There are more important things to worry about than pictures of*gasp* girls playing with dolls and boys playing with trucks and such!

    • And such!

    • I was going to go into a big rant about how you obviously aren’t informed about the relationship between stereotypes, the media, self image etc. etc., but really, if you even took a look at all of the comments posted on this page from parents who are sick of stereotyping, and watched the television for even 30 seconds, you’d see how this is a MAJOR issue– One that tells women they aren’t beautiful enough, that men shouldn’t “feel” or express emotions… This is such an intrinsically entwined issue that to not care about it, would be to not care about our future or how our future generations value themselves and others, to not care about the rapid increase of body dissatisfaction in both genders… really mate, this is a VERY important thing to worry about.

      • I think you make such an excellent point about how boys are affected by this kind of marketing. My focus is on girls, but I absolutely agree that our boys need to be advocated for. I am raising a son, and I want more than anything for him to be a caring, thoughtful, strong, loving, brave, tender man and devoted father (should he have children).

        We have to allow our boys to feel and express emotions. We HAVE to care. I’m glad you do, and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  37. I don’t think you can go wrong with the imaginative toys that aren’t totaly pre-formed. In our house we have lots of silks instead of dressup clothes, marble run, Kiva Planks (fantastic for any age), active toys (balls, pogo sticks, stilts) as well as dolls, stuffed animals and a crane. The only toys my two girls (now 8 and 11) rarely ever play with are their dolls and the wooden toy crane. There are so many possibilities. But then my children don’t watch TV and don’t get to see those cheesy catalogues.

  38. I wrote about this in my blog last night….you can check it out if you want: bevthegreat.tumblr.com
    I agree with you, the gender-stereotyping in toys is absolutely ridiculous. Why shouldn’t boys want easy bake ovens? They don’t make those in colors other than pink and purple. Why is that?

  39. I’m so glad to see other mama’s care about the whole sexist toys that are enforced on kids thing. My 8 year old daughter loves anything animals. She is really into “How to Train a Dragon” and got really mad when ALL the toys, clothes, and gear was designed for BOYS ONLY! WTF is up with that? They assume girls won’t care about the movie or want any of the items? I had to buy her a boys shirt and boy shoes so she could wear her favorite toothless dragon. It angered me to no end that all the advertising never once showed a girl. They really missed the mark and left out half the market! Apparently dragons are too scary for girls (even though there was 1 dragon training girl in the movie… the only female I even recall seeing).

    Another thing I’m so proud of, my daughter dislikes barbies, dolls, dressup, princesses, pink/lace/frills. She wants to play with things that are artistic and imaginative. I once overheard a conversation between her little friend and her talking about princesses. The friend asked her, “Who is your favorite princess?” My daughter proudly answered (at age 5) “I don’t like princesses because they are NOT real.” Haha! WTG my realistic thinking girl. :D I have never once forced any of these ideas or interests on her. This is just her own little personality. I fully expected to have a little diva girl who only liked dolls, dressup, and pink/lace/frills. I’m happy that I got the unexpected. :)

  40. Ladies, the advertising being criticized here is designed to earn millions for the companies represented.
    For those that disagree with it, or are downright offended, maybe think about returning to college, work for that degree in advertising and obtain employment in that field, so that you can try to convince the CEO’s, their board of directors and stockholders that they are wrong. And good luck with that. :p

    • Hey James –
      I think the Ladies here “get” that the marketing is meant to earn millions. Several of the women you are suggesting return to college to work in advertising or toy development already own buisness that make the kind of products we’d like to see for our kids. There’s no degree needed to be a proactive, media literate parent.

      As women control more than 80% of household spending, I think our discussion here is both valid, and valuable. Several of these toy companies watch and read this blog, so I think our message is being sent.

    • I’m sure you could be more condescending if you tried, James, but I’m not sure it would make anyone listen to your insulting comments any more.

    • Cheers for the mansplainin’, dude.

  41. We, too, don’t watch any commercialized television (opting for netflix and pbs.org instead), so my kids are blissfully ignorant of the marketing that is so loudly forced on all of us these days. It really does make Christams shopping so much easier when your kids aren’t being told what to buy!

    I’ve got a 9 year old boy and a 4 year old girl (and a 5 month old son, but we’ll leave him out of the equation since all he wants for Christmas is more time on the boob.). On any given day, my little princess can be found dressed up as a ninja (that’s what she chose to be for halloween), a pirate, wonder woman, spiderman or anything in between. She does love the color pink like non other and she loves her some lip gloss too, but she would chose Toy Story and Star Wars over Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty any day. My 9 year old is a fairly typical boy, he was also a ninja for halloween and he has his fair share of light sabers and swords, but he also has mad love for his stuffed animals and nurtures them just as much as my 4 year old nurtures her baby dolls…maybe even more than she does and he loves to help me cook.

    I wish I could say that I made a very concentrated effort to keep gender stereo typing out of our home, but it really just came about because my kids don’t have the option but to play well together (we homeschool so they’re together 24/7) so they didn’t have the option to walk on the straight and narrow path of gender specific play, they had to learn to smudge that line or there wouldn’t be any play at all!

  42. oh, and when my mom took my kids clothes shopping a few weeks ago, my little girl came home with a bag full of toy story and transformer clothes, all from the boy section…and pink glitter mary jane sneakers! that girl, she’s one of a kind! I’ll never forget the Christmas that Grammy decided to buy my son Star Wars jammies and buy my daughter Strawberry Shortcake jammies. She cried and cried until Papa went to the store and got her some Star Wars jammies of her very own! lol

  43. We are pretty numb to this now. From a very early age, we’d show our oldest daughter (now 6.5) these kinds of things and ask her questions like: do you find it odd that a boy is never shown playing in a toy kitchen, even though daddy does all the cooking in our house. Or, that all the girls are wearing pink or pastels and are never near a toolkit, yet mommy wears jeans and a navy blue sweatshirt while building her bedroom furniture!

    Our daughters can (and do) flip through catalogs now and point out such things. Just like everything else that matters, it’s all comes down to us parents caring and being aware of such pigeonholes and stereotypes, and having good conversations about what we see all around us.

    • Yes! Critical thinking is a beautiful thing, is it not? Kudos to you and your wife for teaching your daughters that at such a young age. I don’t know whether the status quo will ever change, but your daughter sound well-prepared to navigate around it!

  44. Give me a break. Most girls like dolls and most boys like trucks. Do we have to turn everything into some sort of battle?

  45. My kids’ school has a fabulous teacher for their mixed age 1st through 3rd grade classroom (Montessori). Every couple of years she and her co-teacher offer the children a well crafted lesson on gender discrimination. It is amazing what those kids point out on their own in terms of instances of gender bias that they know is being pushed on them. The year my older daughter was in this class, the kids in the class decided to write a letter to some toy catalogs (though none of the retailers you have here) to register a complaint about some of the very things you point out here.

    I don’t think they ever heard back.

  46. Barf. My son really wants a kitchen for Christmas. So, I was so excited when my mother-in-law emailed me asking for requests this year. I told her: Kitchen for my son (age 3, and his sister age 1), or board games, or bike.
    She emailed my husband and said she “no way can buy a kitchen for her grandson”. Which astounds me because her son, my husband, my son’s father; cooks, washes dishes, makes coffee and stands in the kitchen every day and nothing bad has ever happened to him like….I’m not sure what she’s afraid of….him not being a “man” or somehow “catching the gay”???
    I’m still reeling from this.
    Great post, Melissa :)

    • Rest assured, my son plays with our toy kitchen all the time and has yet to sprout a vagina. We have an awesome Step 2 kitcken, it is tan with maroon and gray accents. Our dishes are a mix of colors. Also? They rarely “cook” in it. Yesterday it was a dinosaur surgical ward, and today Benny was sitting in the sink playing with his farm animals on the counter.

  47. Sue Borremans says:

    Food for thought! However, we don’t have to live this way, just because that’s how it’s marketed. We’ve always encouraged whatever the kids are interested in (within reason), and let them pick. My boy is 5-1/2; my girl 3-1/2. She plays with his stuff, and he hers. They both play with stuffed animals and dolls and themselves as the adults (caretakers) and babies. They both play with the Transformers and cars and “battle” stuff (some of which they create from other toys). I encourage this – any time there might be something of “boys can’t…” or “girls can’t..” I ask why and correct this. Both my kids run around my house (much to my chagrin). She still prefers purple, and he has gone from green only to blue to “I like all the colors.” They both like dinosaurs. I don’t let what the marketers suggest be what we live. Best wishes to all!

  48. Another great alternative is Toys Et Cetera, http://www.toysetcetera.com/
    You can shop by age and/or child’s interest!
    Lisa, Chicago

  49. Also look at http://www.novanatural.com/ for many gender neutral options.

  50. Hi,

    This is the first time I have been to your blog (got the link from a friend). I am ashamed with the marketing that has contributed to the continual oppressive “social gender roles.” Although I don’t have kids yet, this is definitely something that I am going to be aware of in my home.

    I wanted to share the title’s of two books with you that I think might be of interest. I read them while I was in college taking a gender and sport class. The titles of the two books are “Taking the Field- Women and Men in Sports” and “Out of Play- Critical Essays on Gender and Sport”. Both books are by Michael A. Messner. Just a thought… I found both books to be really informative on the role of sport and gender relations.

    I am really happy to have found your blog and will most definitely be back!

  51. I second Novanatural and Magic Cabin. The catalogs are noticeably absent of pinks and blues in favor of primary colors or natural wood items.

  52. The sick thing is that it’s SO pervasive. I have 3 boys (9, 7, 4) and a girl (1).
    My kids are homeschooled, we do not watch TV, so they have little exposure to this kind of thing, but the boys will not play with anything pink. “It’s a girl colour.” They do play a lot of gender-neutral things, and our toy kitchen gets a lot of use as a restaurant, but the dollhouse is dusty. I have had dolls in the house since day 1, but the boys rarely played with them. But my 18mo girl LOVES the dolls. She carries them around constantly.

    • As a playgroup organizer I found a toy car from Target Australia reduced to clear which was about half its original value. I then decided to but it on the spot the money being tight. All the children play in it and love it a lot…it was the last one hence the discount and I had no choice of color…it is a horrid pink.

  53. Funny really, the whole pink & blue thing was flipped around in the 1950s. Did you know that pink was once the colour for aristocratic boys to wear, a watered down version of red, a manly colour. Girls wore pale blue.
    In the 60’s when I was a little girl I remember having 1 toy car that I loved until it fell to bits. I never had leggo, mecchano or a pedal car, though when I saw them I wanted them. I got my first Barbie when I was 7 & yes I did love dressing her up, but only because in my mind she was a dangerous & glamourous spy, just like James Bond (my teenage sister had a James Bond annual).
    My daughter loved her leggo, she built cars as well as kitchens & my nephew had an adorable doll with gingham & pigtails he named Ditch Digger that he loved :) Let your kids play with what they want. If the boys want a doll & a teaset or to go shopping with your handbag, who cares? Most guys these days cook & help with their kids. Your little girl may be a Disney Princess this week & a pirate the next, let them know its all ok.

    • I did know that about the history of pink. I believe the change came in mid-late 1940’s after the Nazi Germany forced homosexuals to wear inverted pink triangles. The Japanese associate their beloved pink cherry blossom with a woman’s vagina, so that may also have had some influence post WWII. In both cases, pink became associated with feminimity.

      • Gomushin Girl says:

        The Japanese associate cherry blossoms with warriors and militarism, not vaginas. Besides, I very much doubt postwar Japanese had much effect on US gendering of color. Evidence points to the blue for boy pink for girls coming to America from Europe, but what little literary and visual evidence there is is still quite fuzzy.

        • What I read was: “In Japan the color cherry blossom pink is associated with the vagina, and therefore, in Japan, softcore pornographic films are called pink movies.” Weisser, Thomas; Yuko Mihara Weisser (1998). Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films. Miami: Vital Books : Asian Cult Cinema Publications. p. 20. ISBN 1-889288-52-7.

          I’m in no way trying to be insulting to the Japanese people or culture. The theory for the change that I read was the combination of the Nazi’s using the pink triangle to identify homosexuals combined with the beauty of the cherry blossoms arriving in DC and the travel marketing to “take your lady to see the blossoms” might have trended the change post WWII and shifted pink to more feminine attributes and culture.

  54. Hi I have a 4 yo who LOVES Thomas the Tank, building and so on…her fav color is dark blue. I hope she stays this way, and I often offer her blue or pink(recently for a lucky dip) she got a car she loves…

  55. Not to mention the commercials (and those annoying voice overs: loud & rough for the boys & low/sweet/demure for the girls). And this is why (on average) a male high school grad still makes more money annually than a female college grad (the continued perpetuation of negative stereotypes still marches on in 2010 and, apparently, years to come). Calling Julia Sugarbaker.

  56. Hi there, I noticed that in your breakdown of the toys r us ad, you put 0 “boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys” and that the boy in the blue kitchen is a unisex toy. By the definition of your complaint a kitchen, (blue or otherwise) is a traditional gender toy. Putting a barbie in a blue dress (yes, she has blue dresses) does not make her a unisex toy. Now, is there anything wrong with a boy playing with a play kitchen? No. However, ask any child if they want to play dolls or bank robbers and I think you’ll find the answers are going to be MOSTLY oriented towards their gender (not all kids are alike, some boys want to play quietly and some girls want to be rambunctious). A friend of mine wanted to NOT get her boys “war toys” or anything “gender specific”, so she got them Lego blocks, a non-gender biased toy. The first thing her boys did with them? That’s right, fashioned guns and started play shooting each other, (and her little girl grew up to use them as well, she made a doll house out of them!) Even before there were toy magazines, children have been playing segregated games that they naturally enjoy. Children are smarter than you’re giving them credit for and can already tell the difference between a girl and a boy and they can tell that they like different things. Boys aren’t playing with dolls not because they think they’re not supposed to, but because that’s not what interests them. Girls mature faster than boys, they don’t want to run around like some hooligans, they want to play nice because they enjoy it and they have the capability to do so. Children have an amazing innocence that allows them to look past society and do what they do best, play and have fun. (Children also look towards their parents for clues about life, maybe mom should get on the floor and play some video games once in a while, or better yet, mom and dad play together!) If the toy companies didn’t offer the kids what they wanted in the way that they want it, they’d go out of business. Big companies like that don’t make things the way they are, they spend millions of millions of dollars to find out HOW things are RIGHT NOW and pander to that. Ask your child what they want for Christmas, have them circle things in the catalog. If your boy doesn’t want a dolly, don’t get him one! If your girl wants to play with a science set, amazing! Kids already know what they like. They have since time began and no one, not even you, is going to tell them otherwise.

    • I’m going to ignore the majority of your comment as had you read the previous 90 comments to yours, you’d see how erroneous your thoughts are.

      I will address you comment about the coding of the kitchens: I considered all kitchen unisex, independent of color. All the catalogs showed boys and girls playing in kitchens, so that seemed to be a universal unisex item. I never said a toy kitchen was a tradional gendered toy, I said limiting girls toys to the kitchen (along with two other themes) and selling kitchens that have girl versions and boy version with very sexist differences is gender stratified.

      What kinds of things do your kids play with?

      • First, I find your foremost comment indecorous and audacious. How dare you accuse someone of specious THOUGHT in an open forum? I should curb my ideas because of things others have said before me? I don’t think so, I’m entitled to my opinions, same as you. However, in the spirit of thing I’ll move past it.

        My kids? Blow torches and knives, the usual. It’s what happens when you grow up in a family of magicians and public performers, so not a good litmus for this discussion. However, the girls and boys play together with whatever they want. Girls still like things pink and frilly and boys like things blue and (what I would describe as) cold. And yes, there are plenty of “Gender specific” things they play with. Now girls are regularly playing with “boy” things and styles without regard or ridicule. The boys however, if seen doing “girly” things are immediately ostracized and not by the adults. I believe your view of this situation is licentious in that you seem to be placing blame for the social double standard on the toy companies when anthropologically the blame starts at home and later, the schoolyard. Toy companies pander to norms we (and our children) set up. Maybe you should look to yourself as a parent and a role model (and the social norms you adhere to) first and then move your attention to sources that are following YOUR example.

        Now I remember growing up and the play kitchen was the standard for “gender specific girl toy.” I know you never mentioned it as a gender specific toy, that’s your problem, it is. That’s why I never got an easy bake oven as a kid (or any kind of play kitchen item, I understand an easy bake oven is not exactly a play kitchen). It has always been the go to standard for “gender specific girl toy.” There was a huge argument in the social science community back in the ’60s that if you get your girl a play kitchen she’ll grow up thinking she’s supposed to stay in the kitchen and become a waitress or stay at home mom! That idea had been brought back up in the ’80s. In fact, in the spirit of YOUR very crusade, toy companies started putting boys and girls in their magazines playing with kitchens to depict a diverse culture. That’s why Barbie became an astronaut and doctor instead of retaining her previous vocation of “flight attendant.” Calling a doll an action figure was the way to get boys to play with dolls!

        You see, your concerns have been brought up before you.

        I’d probably find your thesis more convincing, or at least somewhat reasonable, if you had done and noted some kind of research on the subject so you could have sighted precedent and backed your claims with something more than your local toy magazines. Happy Thanksgiving, unless you’re in Canada, then I’ve got the wrong day.

        • P.S., you “where did pink come from” comment to Leonie GH could have used some research as well, sorry but the Nazi thing is way off base and could have easily been avoided with a little digging.

          • P.P.S. – For goodness sakes you are disagreeable. I actually have researched that topic. Why don’t you provide me with your own data for gender color assignment and we’ll see where we end up.

        • Feel free to explore more of the blog, and the Blog Roll page, where all the resources you crave are listed. I think you would really, REALLY, benefit from reading several of the books listed there. The post that has you so riled up was merely an organized tally of the observations I saw in three catalogs that arrived at my home, not an overall thesis on society, early childhood play, and parenting. Calm down, friend. I’m not removing all of the blame from parents or social norms, I am simply processing the messages being sold by the toy companies – media literacy.

          By and large the gender stratification you protest as anthropologically based is more a creation by marketers than by nature.

  57. Great post! Thanks for doing all this research and putting it out where the rest of us can use it. Just tweeted and put it on the front of our website. Keep it up!

  58. Love Love!!! This i was an only girl growing up in a all male home mother wasnt around and the toys i played with were definitely not girly all except my barbies my dad would buy toys that were unisex so we could all enjoy them rather than just me or my two older brothers Ex: board games, skates/ skateboards Video games such as mario brothers… when i take my kids to the store i give them the chance to decide what they really want regardless of what it is last year my son got a kitchen set for Christmas he loves it along with what he calls his baby’s (stuffed animals) you definitely hit this spot on keep up the good work and i cant wait to see what u have next!

  59. I read every single one of these comments, every single one…and I find it a little upsetting how you’re quick to knock down the few people who disagree with your post. True, some were a little nasty themselves, but I think we also need to embrace that people do not agree with us also and that is an important lesson to teach our children too.

    I’m not a mother, btw, I’m just a college student who stumbled on this from a friend. I loved all those girly toys, and some “boy toys” like legos and video games but I turned out alright. I love Disney, and Sleeping Beauty is my favorite, but my parents also raised me to be independent and be confident about myself. I think that is much more important and had a bigger impact on me than the media does/did…

    The problem today is really the parents, in my mind. Not the media. If the parents spent more time with their kids, then the media wouldn’t NEED to be the parents.

    • I didn’t knock down the few people who disagreed with the post, I knocked the people who were extremely rude or who were judging parents by spewing more stereotypes, yet weren’t parents themselves.

      I’m a rather friendly person. I don’t have an issue with people disagreeing with me, I have an issue with people who publically behave like jackasses.

      When you do become a parent, you will very quickly see how difficult it is to escape the urban wallpaper we are forced to raise our children with. It is not as easy as you think, and I promise, it isn’t all our fault.

  60. Consider yourself bloglined. :-)

    Also, I get toy ideas for my 2-year-old from the Michael Olaf catalog or look for Melissa and Doug wooden stuff–and I avoid the big box stores, purveyors of crap from China, like the plague. In fact, I mostly shop for toys at garage sales (recycle/ reuse and all that good stuff).

    My daughter, by the way, is really into her Thomas the Train set at the moment. Much more than into her doll. :-)

  61. THANK YOU! This is excellent. I neither have nor want children, but it really annoys me to see gender stereotypes enforced from nearly birth. My little cousin is just gone one year old, and looking for toys for her is frustrating. The only really neutral toys I’ve found are music or crafts stuff, and even those are split in to boy and girl in certain shops.

  62. (I was linked to this off of tumblr, very interesting and thought provoking.)

    I must admit though, I winced seeing the Monster High girl dolls right next to grotesquely muscular adult male dolls. I’ve never actually seen male dolls made to resemble young men or teenagers that weren’t cast as comrades or boyfriends in a mostly-female product line. Admittedly from what I can tell those male dolls look like pro wrestler tie ins, but I guess there just wouldn’t be “action figures” whose interests were pursuing hobbies or making friends rather than shooting things and saving people.

    • Alex –
      Your comment totally has me chuckling. You make very good points, and many times the body images portrayed for boys isn’t much better than girls, just on the opposite end of the spectrum. The concept of using male figures as props in a woman’s world (ie: Barbie) isn’t great in my book. I think it does a disservice to the dynamic, intelligent, caring men we have in the world.

      We all need superheroes, just maybe they don’t need to be so muscular that it looks as if they will squish the person they are saving.

  63. I hate all the sections they gender. I’m surprised they haven’t managed to gender toothpaste more than they already have. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were more room for other colors- but you can walk into most sections of a store and see the line where it goes from blue to pink. There is no blur. There is maybe a tiny section of gender neutral toys, and most of those get gendered. Like art- do you want Princesses or Sharks in your coloring book?

    It’s hard to find anything that isn’t binary-gendered. Clothes, toys, body washes, deodorant… it rarely exists.

    “For both genders.”

    For ALL genders!

  64. I SO agree!!! That’s one of the reasons why I love Discovery Toys so much! Very little gender-bias (they *do* have some “girly” things, but very few). Plus, the kids are using their imaginations and LEARNING!

  65. marsjunkiegirl says:

    But the fact is that most boys want to play with boy toys and girls want to play with girl toys. Why should we grouse about that? Just let the kids pick what they want (within cost requirements, of course). I’m really more concerned by the fact that marketing to small children makes them consumers at a young age, before they are taught the value of finances and the concept of saving for things that make one happy in the long term.

  66. 2 pigtail shirts seem a lil piggy.. says:

    I agree with pretty much everything said in this blog… the last picture should be the way all ads should be!
    however, on the side bar of this, in the ad for the tshirt for the pigtails shirts… there are two shirts that made me scrunch up my nose.. the dr one: call me in the morning.. and the firefighter one: i look good in red.
    both these shirts conjures up feelings that i would associate as “sexist” on levels. Drawing the attention to how a girl “looks” as being important and also, implying (yet again, like in so many media outlets) that girls are overtly, sexually available… not sure how those shirts are helping anything.

    • Thanks for that feedback, but I think you are missing the point. Pigtail Pals was created to offer empowering designs to girls with a play on words of the sexist and stereotyped messages they hear in childhood. So the fire fighter “Looking good in red…” while she climbs the ladder to lead a rescue with her truck in the background actually has nothing to do with her looks, it has to do with her actions. The pun is intended. It is redefining what that slogan could mean to a girl.

      As for the doctor shirt, the slogan came from the old addage “Take two of these and call me in the morning” the trusted male family doctor would have told the mother during a housecall years ago. The face of medicine has changed since that time, which is why our trauma doctor stands confidentally in front of her ER and puts a new spin on the phrase.

      If you follow the company and our work for a bit longer or in more depth, you’ll quickly see that we are against the constant sexualization and bombardment of sexual messaging the media sends girls (and women). We just do it with a little tongue in cheek sarcasm so we don’t lose our minds along the way.

      You can read more about what Pigtail Pals is all about here: http://www.pigtailpals.com/whdoregime.html

  67. I work at Toys R Us and I have to agree – the store is actually split into three sections (which just promote gender roles): A (Girls’ toys), B (Gender neutral toys) and C (Boys’ toys). Guess which section is the smallest.

    Imaginarium and Leap Frog are very gender neutral, though (although most Imaginarium toys come in pink/purple versions).

    (As a side note, you also mentioned racial stereotyping. We actually have dolls that come in cartons labelled “Caucasian” and “Black”).

  68. I have 3 girls ages 4, 2.5. and 8 months. We try to be mindful in every plaything we purchase for our children. What message does it send? How well is it made? Is this something my child would truly enjoy?

    Our playroom is painted yellow and has a big blue and green hanging cuddle swing. We have a train table equipped with plenty of wooden trains, cars, tracks, and buildings. We have primary colored wooden blocks, legos, linkin’ logs, and other building materials. We have a playstand adorned with a rainbow playsilk and a wooden kitchen underneath. We have dolls, faeires, and dress up clothes. We don’t buy things with characters on them. I think all of this helps to mix it up a bit. I LOVE that when I walk into our playroom it doesn’t scream GIRL or BOY!

    My 4 year old has decided on her own that her favorite color is pink. I’m not sure if it’s because she loves princesses and fairies and the toys and books that feature them are usually pink or if she really just loves the color pink. My 2.5 year old’s favorite color… blue!

    We love Nova Toys, Magic Cabin, and the like!

  69. My mom up and walked us right out of “Peter Pan” when I was little – as soon as Peter got to go bounding off and Wendy got to stay home and clean.

    All I can say is: Thanks, Mom.

    And thanks for this post. I don’t have kids, but still!

  70. When I was younger, in about 2000-2001, there was a line of barbie-esque dolls called Get Real Girls. They were snowboarders, skateboarders, soccer players, etc. They had a “passport” filled with visas from their world travels, and they came with a slight personality profile. I loved those dolls. They were “women’s empowerment” type… they weren’t all boob-a-rific, and they had normal, athletic figures.
    I don’t know if they still make them, but I think I still have mine…

  71. Girly Girl:) says:

    Feels so sorry for your kids, because the vast majority of the REAL world is gender differentiated! You can say all you like but you set your kids up for a hard fall in the real world when you teach them that there is no real gender, I on the other hand embrace that gender difference for my kids and allow them to be who they want to be. I have my manly boy, my tomboy girl, and my little princess girl. I love each of their individual quirks and they fit in just nicely with the REAL world. I know this post will get hammered by the militant feminist out there, but hey I have an opinion just like you do and mine flows with the majority of people out there:)There is NOTHING wrong with embracing the feminine life. There is nothing wrong with girls wearing pink and playing with dolls, there is nothing wrong with boys wearing blue and playing with trucks. I think you all need to really loosen up and stop trying to make your kids into your imaginary ideal!

    • Hi Girly Girl –
      Thanks for your concern and sorrow for my children, but I assure you, they are happy and vibrant and fit into the real world and with their playmates just fine. I think you might be new to the blog, so welcome, and I just want to point out that there is a differrence between “gender differences” and “gender stereotypes”. One is biological (though not as great as you may think, “Pink Brian, Blue Brain” would be a good read for you) and the other is fabricated by marketers and society. Replace “gender stereotype” with “racial stereotype” and see how it sits with your heart as a way to raise our kids.

      I encourage you to read back through some of my others posts, as I agree, there is nothing wrong with feminimity and enjoying being a girl or a woman. I love being a woman. That is indeed what I want for our daughters. It is the definition of “feminine” I take issue with in the children’s marketplace. You might like these:
      http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/09/your-royal-highness/
      http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/11/the-feminist-and-homemaker-inside-a-comment-on-toys/
      http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/07/for-now-dolls-like-these/

      You’ll also find that your comment won’t get hammered by the “militant feminists” out there. We accept all points of view, as long as they are placed respectfully. Thanks for dropping by, and please read some of the other posts. Your kids sound like a fun bunch!

  72. this is fantastic! do you still have the catalogue from toys’r’us? im doing an english assignment on gender roles and would like to use this as a source. any chance you could provide me with the date and location it was distributed?
    thanks

    • Glad you liked the post, but I’m afraid I might not be able to be much help on your question. I cut up the catalogs to make the photos for the post, so I no longer have them. The catalogs would have been printed in early November, and distributed nationwide. The Toys R Us and Target catalogs arrived in our mail. The Walmart catalog was handed to us at the store. Sorry again that doesn’t really answer your questions.

  73. Hello, I’m a college student, and I’m currently writing up a large paper on gender stereotyping and it’s effects on children as this years coursework. This site has some really interesting and valuable information relating to gender stereotyping in media and children’s advertising, so I was wondering, would it be okay for me to include some information and qoutes from the site in my coursework? I would of course reference and credit you for anything I use. If this was to be okay, I would be very grateful.

  74. First, let me just say that I LOVE this article. I think the overwhelming pinkness of the girl’s department had a big role in why most of my toys were stuffed animals and Breyer horses and legos and K’nex. Plus I had three younger brothers, so I got to enjoy the whole spectrum of toys. (The pinkness and negative stereotypes of girl toys meant that they played with “girl” toys much less than I played with “boy” toys, however.)

    Second: what’s a “pet car”? (Wal-Mart activity theme for girls)

  75. Tandis Shams Fard says:

    That is great that you refuse to give your children the wrong, misleading message. More parents should think that way, and then maybe we can progress when it comes to stopping these typical “gender roles”.

  76. My two oldest kids (3&5) just looked through that Target add tonight and it was very interesting. The 3yr old boy of course said “I want that and that and that and that” until he got to a pink page and said “that’s for girls”. He didn’t even look at what was on the page. I can’t believe how strong that thought is in his mind. As a baby, when we move him out of our bedroom, he and his big sis started sharing a room. Not because we only had one bedroom, but because we didn’t want the ‘girl’ room and the ‘boy’ room. We had a sleeping room and a play room. All toys went into the primary colored room; paint, furniture, decorations, and almost all of the toys were gender neutral. Not as easy as I thought it would be. We even repainted an old wooden kitchen set. The girl does love her Princesses and and her favorite color is purple. The boy’s favorite toy is anything on wheels. I’m okay with this because they came into these preferences on their own. But they also love to play together with just about every toy we have. Trains, dishes, Toy Story anything, little princesses, balls, dress-up clothes, blocks, stuffed animals. Come to think of it, the same boy who doesn’t want anything from the ‘girl’ page had a baby(stuffed animal) in his tummy(shirt) last night and was refering to himself as ‘mommy’. I love that my kids can have the freedom to like what ever and be whoever they want inside our house. I dream of the day this can be true everywhere and for all kids. I do my best by trying to only spend my money on things that help the cause. I do also enjoy pointing out to others how rediculous marketing has become.

  77. Love your post and analysis! My daughter was just looking at one of these catalogs the other day and said to me “I know where the toys are that I want – I just have to turn to the pink pages”. AHHHHH! So I nicely listened to her talk about the toys, told her that was great, and then handed her the Discovery Toy brochure and asked her to look at some of the blue pages in the catalog she had — and of course she found some really cool things on the other pages.

    As parents, I think we just have to remember to try to keep some balance when presented with media images/advertising aimed at our kids.

  78. Thankyou Melissa for the research and the all the information listed so clearly. I was looking after my friend’s two year old daughter recently and had the tv on. The same clear-cut distinctions you describe and show from the catalogues are just as blatant on tv commercials. The sad thing was that this little baby, who could only really say a few words and sentences, called out excitedly, “Princess!” every time a revolting, pink hued commercial came on telling girls to look beautiful and care for their babies…It’s scary how ealy this social conditioning begins.

  79. I have two boys and a girl. I fully expected my daughter, the youngest, to be a tomboy because she had two older brothers to play with and got all their hand-me-downs. Plus, both of her parents buck a significant amount of the gender stereotypes. She’s a dramatic, flamboyantly feminine little diva- who loves math and writing and wants a skateboard for Christmas and is eagerly awaiting her eighth birthday when she will be able to take circus lessons. She’s awesome and fearless and ambitious and has ‘frenemies’ in primary school.

    My middle child is a very logical-minded guy- who has random bouts of extreme silliness. He is far more introspective and cautious than either of his siblings and happily plays with legos for hours creating all kinds of amazing stuff. We lovingly call him our little old man, because he would much rather be left alone to do his own thing and gets rather grumbly when you try to engage him in something more rambunctious. He’s awesome and smart and determined and driven.

    My eldest is… amazing. He’s brilliant and passionate, political and artistic. He does humanitarian work, and wears nail polish and eye make-up… to an all boys Catholic school. He is a staunch feminist (or ally if you are of the opinion that only women can be feminists), a vocal gay rights supporter, a caring friend and a not so great boyfriend (at 16 he has a short attention span for relationships… and pretty much everything else.)

    In the nine years between my oldest and my youngest I’m finding that there has been a HUGE step backwards in terms of gendering toys. Boys and girls versions of classic board games are now available- sometimes to the exclusion of the original. Marvel Heroes Yahtzee? Disney Princess Checkers? WHY?!?!?

    My daughter loves fashion dolls. Her current favorite is Monster High. I confess, I LOVE Monster High, despite the completely unrealistic body types and giant heads. For one thing, they are monsters (werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc) so, I can talk to her about how REAL people couldn’t possibly be shaped like that without being very ill (which got me an eyeroll and a ‘duh, their heads would snap off, Mom’ from my daughter). But beyond that, these dolls have personalities, and interests… and many of them specifically challenge their own sterotypes. Dracula’s daughter is a passionate vegetarian who loves animals and faints at the mere mention of blood. Her ‘diary’ talks about the challenges of making her ‘old school’ father see that she isn’t going through a phase and stop pushing her to be someone she’s not. Clawdeen is a jock- she’s a “Fearleader” but also on the track and basketball teams.. and she sings. Ghoulia is a slow moving zombie, but the smartest kid in the school. On top of that, the BOYS have personalities and interests. They aren’t just props for the girls. Deuce Gorgon is a popular jock, who LOVES to cook and is always experimenting in the kitchen. Holt Hyde is a DJ who loves to dance and has a temper. Claude Wolf is on several sports teams, but also has a perfect GPA because getting into a good college is important to him. So, while they talk about clothes and shoes and SQUEEEE BOYS! a lot, so do most teenaged girls who are trying to forge their own identities, and the doll series (which is admittedly based on a book and now has a tv series to support it) challenges quite a few stereotypes and gives a wide range of play personalities for my kids to experiment with.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by phdinparenting, Amanda ReCupido, womensmediacenter, Melanie Klein, RevolutionOfRealWmen and others. RevolutionOfRealWmen said: 'Have Yourself a Very Sexist Holiday' – FANTASTIC piece by RRW ALLY™, Melissa Wardy of @PigtailPals: gender… http://fb.me/O0SM6VFr [...]

  2. [...] This blog from was published yesterday (on November 19, 2010) and is already making it’s rounds. [...]

  3. [...] list for the kids and watching the catalogs stream into the house I am not really that surprised by the situation this blogger describes but I just want to know when people will stop buying into this [...]

  4. [...] Melissa at Redefine Girly is taking on sexism in Christmas toy ads. [...]

  5. [...] Melissa at Redefine Girly is taking on sexism in Christmas toy ads. [...]

  6. [...] a friend of mine posted a link on [...]

  7. [...] this heavily color-coded world of children’s play, policed through gendered toy ads, catalogs and cartoons, this J. Crew advertisement comes as a breath of fresh air.Without eliciting much [...]

  8. [...] this heavily color-coded world of children’s play, policed through gendered toy ads, catalogs and cartoons, this J. Crew advertisement comes as a breath of fresh air.Without eliciting much [...]

  9. [...] R Us: Let’s face it, they do an excellent job reinforcing the gender status quo. In fact, Pigtail Pals has a really comprehensive take-down of their holiday ads. Is there a reason why there’s a [...]

  10. [...] R Us: Let’s face it, they do an excellent job reinforcing the gender status quo. In fact, Pigtail Pals has a really comprehensive take-down of their holiday ads. Is there a reason why there’s a [...]

  11. [...] for toys that exclude males from playing with toys geared towards girls. Numbers indexed from this article at Pigtail Pals actually charted the images of boys and girls playing with toys in these catalogs from the [...]

  12. [...] Of course it doesn’t stop there, gender-specific toys also reinforce traditional gender roles, with “girl toys” like baby dolls and toy kitchens/appliances, encouraging girls to assume nurturing, motherly, domestic roles and “boy toys” encouraging construction, engineering and sporting. (For a fuller breakdown on how pervasive this practice still is, check out this post at Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies.) [...]

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