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
Executive Vice President, Fisher-Price Global 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.
Jacob J. White
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.
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 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.