Let’s get one thing clear upfront. We believe all children should have the opportunity to play with as wide a range of things as possible.
This gender malarkey is polarising and everyone has an opinion. So, I‘m going to share my opinion, supported by the views of 1,200 respondents.
And 56 academics.
In June 2014, we conducted a large research study to find out what children and parents really thought about the gender archetypes that society foists upon us.
We found that overwhelmingly, girls prefer nurturing toys, whilst boys like action. But gender is a spectrum. Some boys want to play with feminine toys, some girls want to play with masculine toys, and all should have the opportunity to do so.
But right now parents remain the gatekeepers – and end up reinforcing stereotypes.
We know that society is the way it is: we know mum shops in specific ways for her son versus for her daughter.
Yet dads are even more guarded. They get uncomfortable by talk of boys wearing dresses and playing with dolls. The stats show dads are more concerned about their boys exploring dimensions perceived as feminine, than their girls engaging in ‘boyish’ activities.
But, slowly, tradition is being broken. This is the digital age. The tablet is gender-neutral.
Wonderfully it especially enables boys to try apps, which – if they were real toys – would be off limits. The boys enjoyed playing Toca Boca Hair Salon, however, when we showed those same boys a Girls World mannequin head, they were resoundingly against playing with it.
Here’s a proposition: if you could double your potential consumer base, would you want to?
Seems simple enough, but we don’t. Because the media eco-system is gender-aligned, we think immediately where the TVC will be placed before understanding how the child will engage with the toy. It’s always boy or girl.
At least, that is part of it – but not all of it. Times are changing.
93 per cent of parents – that’s 934 of the 1,000 we spoke to quantitatively – and 100 per cent of those we spoke to qualitatively told us that they shop by category, not by gender.
Gender labelling isn’t a non-issue, though: ask parents if they’d buy a pink kitchen for their boys and 87 per cent say no. But a ‘gender neutral’ kitchen? 85 per cent would.
74 per cent of our respondents felt that retail marketing efforts influenced their behaviours. And 73 per cent would like to see all packaging in gender neutral colours – so why haven’t more retailers taken down the boy/girl directional signage?
Have sales of toys been detrimentally affected by the recent change of tack at retail? No.
What the movements for change are suggesting is that if a girl wants to play with something that is usually played with by a boy she should be able to, and vice versa.
Where’s the blimmin’ problem then?
There isn’t one.
Gary Pope is a director at Kids Industries, a company offering insight, strategy and content to clients that wish to connect with the family anywhere in the world. Clients of the firm include BBC, Random House, Mattel, GSK, Kellogg, eOne Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Al Jazeera and Disney.