Every so often, I babysit my cousin’s two kids, one boy age 5 and one girl age 6. During one particular instance, we ended up saving a city on the brink of destruction while playing with a police construction set accompanied by a fire truck and superhero action figures. That’s when Alex asked his sister why she wanted to play with us when we were playing with “boy” toys.
“Because it’s fun,” she casually replied in a heartbeat, adding a quick shrug. And it was as simple as that. But what would make Alex question why his sister wanted to play with him even though there were no female characters involved in the story?
While some toys in the industry are truly gender neutral, others are “reverse gendered.” Gender neutral toys, such as certain board games and Play-Doh, do not intentionally appeal to the divide between girls and boys. Reverse gendered toys don’t exactly have the opposite purpose, but the companies attempt to reach a broader audience. A manufacturer will make changes to a previously gender-specific toy to make the opposite gender drawn towards it. The most common way this is done is having the exact same product produced in two different color palettes.
It works both ways—and there is a significant distinction between a gender neutral toy and a blue Easy Bake Oven or pink construction set. Although these reverse gendered toys have good intentions, such as the potential of appealing to a child who normally would not be interested in the toy, making a product a different color does not necessarily make it more attractive to a kid. Rather, these toys are playing right into the stereotype that they are trying to avoid.
Will girls only like shooting toy arrows if the bow is pink? Will boys only like playing with a plush item if it is a superhero? Why is it weird for girls to play with superhero action figures and boys to play with dolls?
When I was a kid and liked a toy, I played with it no matter what color it was—and the same goes for my two little cousins today. Just dousing a product in a pink or lavender color does not make it a “girl” toy and vice versa.
Goldiblox is thoughtful about this issue and its creator, Debra Sterling, understood that simply changing a color doesn’t mean a gender group would learn from or like it better. The engineering toy is specifically designed toward the way girls would best respond to construction and it has been an unimaginable success. The product features a female character role model and her friends, a storybook instead of instructions, and curved pieces.
Tailoring products toward the optimal way a girl or boy will respond to the product should be the ultimate goal of all manufacturers, not slapping different colors on a toy and saying they are appealing to a certain gender.
Later that day when I was babysitting, we also ended up running an imaginary bakery, with our menu decked out with every pastry and sweet imaginable. The issue is not that girls can’t be the heroes or that boys can’t like baking. It is that toys appropriate for girls shouldn’t be shopping mall and salon construction sets, and those appropriate for boys shouldn’t be blue baking toys. Let’s remember that the purpose of toys is to make kids happy—so let’s allow them to play with whatever they want.
For more commentary from Magdalene, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!