The moment they are born (and even before), children are shaped by gendered expectations: boys today are born into a world of blue and girls in pink. Boys are expected to go outside and be rough, playing war games and cops and robbers, where girls play house or tend to dolls. Even toy stores are segregated, with “girl aisles” strewn in pink and bursting with dolls, wholly separate from those for boys, which are stocked with weapons and action figures.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, however, describes a Swedish company working to eliminate such stereotypes. The Top-Toy Group has released its holiday toy catalog, and shoppers have found it breaks common gender expectations. The catalog features young boys playing house and giving make-overs, while ready for battle with their shiny toy guns.
Occidental College sociologist and Sociological Images’ co-founder Lisa Wade was interviewed by the article’s author, Anna Molin, to help explain the significance of Top-Toys’ gender neutral catalog. Wade points out that the company is doing a lot to challenge our concept of masculinity: “You may give tool toys to your daughter, [but] you don’t [usually] give the lipstick bag to your son.” That would deviate too far from society’s gender norms. Wade warns, however, that the catalog may be nothing more than a marketing stunt. As she puts it, “It’s a mistake to think that companies typically do this out of ethical belief. Most of the time they are doing it strategically.”
Whether it’s clever advertising or a real effort to change gender perceptions, Top-Toy’s lookbook is bringing a lot of attention to gendered play. Seeing girls aim their Nerf guns and boys “baking” cookies, parents might ask their tots what they really want, rather than reflexively heading for the pink or blue aisle.