Dad Writes To Fisher-Price To Let Them Know Trains Are For Girls, Too

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

UPDATE 11-23-15: Fisher-Price response is at end of post.

This week I met Jake White on Twitter, a dad raising two daughters who love trains and engineering toys. He wanted to share his family’s disappointment with the current Fisher-Price holiday catalog from Toys “R” Us that featured only boys playing with Thomas trains.

Really – page after page of boys happily playing with trains. Zero girls.

His main concern was why, in 2015, do toy companies still cling to the belief only boys enjoy playing with trains and building things?

As Jake points out perfectly in his letters, “Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation. Those are not boy-specific endeavors.”

Below is the letter he sent to Fisher-Price Global Brands Executive Vice President Geoff Walker, published here with Jake’s permission. Jake sent a similar letter to Richard Barry, Toys “R” Us Executive Vice President, Global Chief Merchandising Officer.

November 17, 2015

Geoff Walker
Executive Vice President, Fisher-Price Global Brands

Fisher-Price Brands
636 Girard Avenue
East Aurora, NY 14052

Dear Mr. Walker,

Last week we received a mailer from Toys “R” Us advertising various Thomas & Friends products offered at Toys “R” Us stores.  I have attached copies of a few pages of the mailer.  My wife and I were excited about the mailer. She pointed out a coupon for a free Thomas train.  We were excited because both of our daughters, ages 6 and 3, love Thomas.  Especially our youngest daughter, Arwen.  In fact, she loves Thomas so much, her third birthday party in April sported a Thomas & Friends theme, complete with a Thomas banner, homemade train, Thomas plates and cupcakes, and Thomas favors for her friends.  Our oldest daughter, Abby, also likes Thomas because she is a budding engineer who loves putting together new and unique track formations and learning about how trains work.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  I wanted to turn the mailer over to Arwen, but, as I always do before handing over something to my 3-year-old, I flipped through it first.  What I saw was page after page of pictures of boys playing with Thomas engines and accessories.  In fact, there were seventeen pictures of boys included in the mailer.  I was absolutely shocked that I did not see a single picture of a girl playing with Thomas toys.  Not one.

I simply cannot understand how this could happen.  Surely there must be thousands, perhaps even millions, of young girls who love to play with Thomas & Friends toys.  Why would Toys “R” Us and Fisher-Price fail to make any effort to market these toys to girls?  On the back of the removable “Shopping Guide” the following question is posed – “Why Thomas & Friends?”  The answers are: “Discovery” “Imagination” “Problem Solving” and “Cooperation”.  Surely these are traits and ideas that should be encouraged in children regardless of their sex.  Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation.  Those are not boy-specific endeavors.

Needless to say, I did not turn the mailer over to my daughter.

I hope that, in the future, you will ensure that these types of products are marketed to all children, regardless of their sex.  Please respect children enough to allow them to make their own choices regarding the toys that they play with.

I attempted to raise this issue with your company through its “Thomas & Friends” Facebook page and Twitter account, but received no response.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jacob J. White

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

I really appreciate when parents like Jake and his wife Aiyana make the effort to provide diverse play experiences for their children, free of gender expectations and stereotypes. Most of the children our family knows play this way – childhood is more than shades of pink and blue.

I also appreciate when parents take the time to use their voices to create meaningful change for children, especially with toy companies who use outdated and limiting gender messages in their marketing and packaging.

Jake, a union lawyer, and Aiyana, a screenwriter, live in the Los Angeles area with their daughters Abby and Arwen.

 

UPDATE: On November 23 Fisher-Price responded to our post with the following tweets. Their response was encouraging and the PPBB Community is hopeful the Fisher-Price Marketing Team takes to heart the idea that all toys are for all kids.

FP Twt 1

FP Twt 2

FP Twt 3

On November 17 ABC News covered another parent’s similar reaction to the Thomas catalog – read the story here. In ABC’s report mom Rebecca Binder is quoted saying, “Girls love Thomas for the same reason boys do. The story lines are all about friendship and teamwork. I see her building complete worlds around her Thomas toys. I just don’t want Reece to ever think it’s weird that she likes them.”

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

 

 

New Fisher-Price Catalog is Woefully Gendered But Doesn't Need To Be

Despite it being 2013 and constant chatter on parenting blogs praising efforts by children’s marketers to be less gendered, toy marketers are still producing catalogs and show rooms that seem more fit for the 1950’s than modern day. Girls get kitchens, beauty vanities, and princesses; boys get moving vehicles, pirate ships, castles, and sports. No crossover. Really. Really?

There are trends in the toy industry that would allow the creative marketer to see past the gendered ghetto toy aisles and market the same toy to both genders. Considering the press the Easy Bake Oven-gate received or the more recent news of girls super hero underwear selling out in hours, you would think the potential for a shift in sales figures would encourage one or two of these guys to go out on a gender-neutral limb and see just how much money there is to be made. My little company is gender neutral, and I do okay. Or take a look at one of the leading toy companies in France, Janod is certainly doing it right.  Raising both a girl and boy child myself, I am thoroughly exhausted with them getting the message nearly everywhere we go that boys and girls exist in separate worlds (Looking at you, Lego and Nerf.)

As my almost four year old niece would say, it is bonknuts. And it really is. Bonknuts. The real world is not fractured by sex, yet our children are growing up being told one side is blue and active, the other is pink and pretty.

Fisher-Price is a brand I grew up with, and my children have many of their toys. The quality is great, and many offer opened ended play with little battery intervention (or batteries are never inserted at our house). Benny just got the Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle as his big present from Santa, and all of his Angry Birds plushies and vintage Star Wars figures immediately moved in. It wasn’t pretty when Amelia’s action figures from Brave attacked and Merida took over the world…..

One of our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community Members contacted me with a letter she wrote to Fisher-Price after receiving their Spring catalog. Alison De Paola said on our facebook page, “They didn’t even make an effort to be inclusive! The one page has the workshop and the kitchen on the same page – boy at workbench, girl at kitchen. Except if it were my daughter and my nephew, she would be banging away and he would be cooking up some gourmet meal. It would have been easy for them to mix things up just a little bit, you know? And outside of the babies there were no kids playing together of any gender! Normally I can let it slide a little, but seriously? The WHOLE catalog? SMH!”

It would not have been difficult for Fisher-Price to change the way children were photographed playing with their toys. They could have easily posed a girl with the tool bench and a boy in the kitchen.  They chose not to do it. The problem is not just with Fisher-Price because to be fair, they have to compete with the other toy companies and none of them are doing it any different. I’m waiting for the toy company that is willing to go there. One day Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies will be that company, but that is a little ways off…

Until then, we’ll have to keep letting the current manufacturers and marketers know what we want, just like Alison De Paola did:

“I was very disappointed in the Spring 2013 catalog that arrived in the mail today. If you page through the catalog, there is not a single girl over the age of two playing with something that isn’t pink. There are NO girls whatsoever pictured with the pirate, construction, dinosaurs, trains or other vehicles, unless you count the ridiculous pink and purple four wheelers. And not a single girl pictured playing sports. While I am certain that it’s not your company philosophy to discriminate on the basis of gender, it’s disappointing as a consumer to see what looks like such blatant gender bias – no boys playing with kitchen equipment either. Can’t kids be kids? Can’t we show a blend of kids playing with all kinds of toys? I would think this would be something your marketing folks would want to address. I sure hope the summer catalog is a bit more balanced.”

Nice work, Alison! As a mainstay in American children’s toys, I hope Fisher-Price takes your words to heart and makes some progressive changes in their next catalog!

 

Gendered images from Fisher-Price catalog, Spring 2013

C'mon Fisher-Price, girls play sports, too!