Not just for boys | What role do toy companies play in gender equality?

Today marks Black Friday, the day when retailers slash their prices and customers can benefit from huge discounts on an array of goods. Originally an American tradition, many UK shops have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years offering those brave enough to battle the crowds a chance to save, save, save. In line with Black Friday, we’ve explored the toy industry and how companies and retailers are still continuing to divide the genders through their products.

barbie-doll-937526_640Christmas is just around the corner and for many it will involve at least one trip to the toy store. But have you ever stopped to think about how toys are marketed or promoted towards gender stereotypes? On the back of Mattel’s new Barbie campaign, we delve further into the world of toys for girls and boys.

After much criticism of Barbie dolls for body image issues and gender stereotyping, Mattel are now trying to change their marketing approach. Their most recent campaign, ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ aims to empower girls and spread the message that they can be whatever they want to be.

The accompanying advert proceeds to show young girls pretending to be vets, university professors and a coach of an American football team. The tagline of the ad, “When a girl plays with a Barbie, she imagines everything she can become” demonstrates the company’s idea of getting back to their original aims of self-discovery.

Mattel aren’t the only ones trying to change the attitudes surrounding gender stereotyping. Hasbro have recently introduced Nerf Rebelle, the girl version of the toy guns and bow and arrows. The strong, female adventurer has made a comeback of late – think Disney’s Brave – and Hasbro have used this appeal in their latest line of products.

While it is certainly a positive move that companies such as Mattel and Hasbro are re-thinking attitudes in their marketing campaigns, the use of pink and blue colours are still separating toys into gender categories.

lego-674881_640In a survey conducted by the online retailer, Born Gifted, 74% of those polled said they wanted to see gender-neutral colours used on all packaging, while 64% thought that the use of pink and blue colours, and the terms ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ influenced their buying decisions. The survey also found that 89% disagreed with the notion that science toys were better suited to boys and 67% felt that construction and action toys were just as appropriate for girls to play with.

‘Let Toys Be Toys’ is a campaign group who aim to eradicate this type of marketing and in 2013, Toys R Us bowed to their pressure and agreed to stop labelling toys in gender specific terms and instead market them through age groups. The group also cite that other British retailers such as Boots, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have also changed their strategy as a result of their protest.

tabitha strider bikesOn the subject, Karen Wood, MD of Strider Bike UK said, “The toy company needs to embrace gender equality and lead the way. At Strider, we frequently run races and events and have a range of colours of Strider’s available, and more often than not toddler boys will choose the pink, sometimes to their father’s dismay. In addition, at races we don’t separate the genders and race them together and frequently the girls will win and on an equal footing, which is an important lesson for all children to learn as young as possible.”

Jim Wilson, Managing Director at Born Gifted, who conducted the survey, said, “Up until now the pressure for change has mainly targeted retailers and the way they display toys on the shelved and on their websites, but perhaps we need some of that pressure directed towards manufacturers. Without changes at the ‘grass roots’ level it is difficult to envisage the industry changing completely.”

Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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