Failed Attempts at Gender Neutrality and Acceptance in the Toy Industry

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  • Topic: Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie, Mattel
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  • Published : April 24, 2013
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Lombrozo 1
Claire Lombrozo
Film and Media Studies 70
Diana Pozo, Wed. @ 3
11 March, 2013
Failed Attempts at Gender Neutrality and Acceptance in the Toy Industry
In recent years, toy industries have made an effort to manufacture toys that are “gender neutral” and “accepting” of all types of children. Nowhere is this more evident than the actual toy aisles, which in previous years boasted pretty pink Mattel Barbies in the girls' aisle, the epitome of the “Cult of True Womanhood”, and action figures and guns in the boys' aisle, an ode to masculinity. Today, the girls' aisles are packed full of inhuman dolls such as Novi Star, an alien girl, and Mattel's Monster High Dolls, who more closely resemble the villain in horror films than any domestic goddess. As an employee of Toys “R” Us, I have witnessed the change from girls wanting the newest, pinkest Barbie to the latest, scariest Monster High Doll. The boys' aisle is also making a change, namely Nerf Guns for girls, Easy Bake Ovens for boys, and a new branch of Legos called “Lego Friends” for girls. Although these changes would seem a move in the right direction towards gender neutrality, there are still many flaws. For instance, Hasbro's Nerf Guns and Legos for girls are still pink and purple, stereotypical girl colors, and Mattel's Monster High Dolls still wear inappropriate clothing and high heeled shoes, reminiscent of classic images of femininity. While Hasbro, Lego A/S and Mattel have made an effort to produce toys that are gender neutral and relatable to unique individuals, their attempts have fallen short and are still feeding into the “Cult of True Womanhood” stereotype.

Why are girls being pushed towards Nerf Guns and Legos instead of pretty Barbie dolls? In the article “More Dads Buy the Toys” by Stephanie Clifford, Dr. Susan C. Levine, chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago and co-principal investigator at the National Science Foundation’s Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center stated that “Research shows that playing Lombrozo 2

with blocks, puzzles and construction toys helps children with spatial development” (Clifford np). So, instead of playing dress-up and housewife with dolls, girls are being encouraged to play with active toys that teach them how to build things and create, which is beneficial to their brain's development. This is one reason why Lego came out with “Lego Friends”, so that girls could also participate in the construction of Legos, even if what they are constructing consists of beauty salons and shopping malls.

Another key factor in toys becoming “gender neutral” is that, surprisingly, dads are starting to shop more than moms. “Consumer surveys show that men are increasingly making the buying decisions for families, reflecting the growth in two-income households and those in which the women work and the men stay home” (Clifford np). Fathers want to be able to play with their daughters now more than ever, as they are more frequently the ones to stay at home and take care of them while the mother is at work. For this reason Lego Friends and Nerf Guns for girls are perfect, because Dad can participate in active play with his daughter more easily. As toy companies realize that they have to start marketing to the dad as well, girl's construction sets such as Lego Friends and Mega Bloks Barbie are becoming more popular. “Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys for Walmart U.S., said that, with the Barbie addition, construction toys aimed at girls will represent about 20 percent of the toy construction category by the end of this year, while last year there were just a handful of products” (Clifford np). However, these new products for girls still fall short of being completely “gender neutral”, as the Mega Bloks Barbie and Lego Friends still come only in purple and pink, and mainly consist of girl figures in dresses going shopping or to just hang with their girl friends, feeding into the passive,...
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