NEWS ANALYSIS: Gender specific toys

Recently, two mothers set up Pinkstinks - a campaign that ?targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls?. The latest subject of the organisation?s disapproval is make-up toys for kids. Katie Roberts asks the industry what they think...
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Anna Chapman, Vice President, Toys & Stationery, EMEA, The Walt Disney Company

“The Walt Disney Company has a long history of developing rich and diverse characters from different backgrounds who have different attributes, such as Jessie the cowgirl from Toy Story, Sally Carrera from Disney/Pixar Cars or our beloved Miss Piggy from The Muppets, as well as the Disney Princesses, who each have a set of values which help them rise above adversities.

Research has demonstrated the popularity of the Disney Princesses and the fantasy world that allows little girls to follow their imagination and recreate their own stories. Regardless of the colour assigned to our heroines (Cinderella – blue, Rapunzel – purple, Belle – yellow, Tiana – green, etc), they all demonstrate commendable attributes such as courage, independence, compassion, nurture, empathy or determination. It is these attributes together with the magic and fantasy that allow for suitable, age-appropriate play-patterns.”

Nick Austin, Chairman, Vivid

“Pink stinks… or does it? Once again the toy industry is in the firing line by an organisation,, campaigning that the use of gender stereotyping in toy packaging, (ie pinkification of the girls aisle) is a social evil that must be eradicated forthwith. 

Herein lies a great dilemma for toy makers… are we as an industry best served by reflecting the prevailing social norms of society… or are we to cast ourselves as brave agents of social change… and risk almost inevitable consumer rejection and resultant commercial failure?

Even the all-conquering Lego brand faced opprobrium from pressure groups earlier this year for launching Lego Friends in packaging that clearly targeted girls. Yet Lego Friends has been an overwhelming commercial success. Thus surely proving that the majority of consumers do not see pink as a big issue in their lives. In fact, many see pink as very positively associated with women – why does the hugely respected and successful Breast Cancer Awareness charity use a pink ribbon as its badge/logo? 

If you asked today’s mums if they believed that gender stereotyping through use of pink packaging is in their top 20 worries and concerns about the world in which they are bringing up their daughter, then respectfully I’d suggest it wouldn’t register on the chart ahead of the following real parental concerns: safety, health, wellbeing/happiness, family, friendships, financial security, education, opportunity, environment, future employment prospects, funding university education, teaching standards, bullying, food quality, racism, eating disorders, obesity, alcohol, drugs, smoking, mental health, internet access, pornography, etc, etc... 

Could the toy industry lead the way in gender neutral packaging? Of course we could if we felt that was what we were being asked for, but is it really being asked for by a large majority of parents?

Well no, it clearly isn’t and wails of complaint are generally restricted to narrow interest groups with strong viral presence punching above their weight.

The toy industry has shown itself to be pro-active on many real issues that concern parents – toy safety, ethical manufacturing, clear packaging communication, eliminating proven hazardous substances, moving to greener packaging, etc. 

Responding to consumer preferences and changes in societal norms is the way to stay successful as companies and as brands. Eliminating pink from our design palette just isn’t a big issue for the overwhelming majority of our consumers.”

Will Sharman, Head of Sales and Divisional MD, Maps Toys

“Whether pink and blue products push gender stereotypes onto young children is a tricky question.

I think it can, if there is no other choice. I think the answer is for stores to offer a broad range of toys, to include role-play, educational, construction, arts and craft, outdoor. There are many good gender neutral toys out there, but I do think to also have a small amount of very girl-orientated toys and very boy-orientated toys is absolutely fine. I think the days, thankfully, are gone, of a massive aisle of pink opposite a massive aisle of blue.

I think there is still consumer demand for these products. I say this as someone who has run their own retail toy shops and have had three children (two girls and a boy). I think the important thing is for those in the toy trade to be responsible by ensuring there is a wide choice of appropriate products on offer.

I don’t believe it to be true that hair and make-up toys promote low self-confidence and body dysmorphia. I think we do live in a world too vain and too obsessed with image and superficial beauty, however I don’t believe we can blame the toy trade entirely for this. This is sadly part of a much bigger picture.

Children have and always will enjoy role-play and imitating their parents in particular. The problems are more likely to be caused by the attitude and behaviour of some of these parents that are being imitated, rather than by the children playing with their toys of choice.”

Sue Barratt, Country Manager, Meccano Toys (UK) 

“I think this issue is less about conforming to gender stereotypes and more about offering children and parents a wide choice of colours.

Some children like pink, so by offering a pink version we make the product more appealing to them. 

Ultimately, everyone is welcome to their own opinion and it’s no great surprise that there is a bit of a backlash against what has been termed the ‘pinkification’ of childhood. However, I’m sure the sales figures of pink products are more a reflection of consumer demand, rather than a passion and determination to turn girls into princesses. There is some evidence that suggests women may be biologically programmed to prefer the colour pink – or, at least, redder shades of blue – more than men. Our products and packaging come in a wide spectrum of colours to appeal to all – blue, yellow, red, orange, green, silver... and yes, pink.”

Rob Trup, Marketing Manager, Fiesta Crafts

“Ignorantly thinking that ‘Pinkstinks’ was only about challenging the colour pink in products aimed at girls got me all-a-eyeballs-rolling. The fact that pink sells for girls is far more about consumer decisions than anything that our industry could ‘dictate’. 

But the campaign goes much deeper than colours. I agree with their objectives that girls shouldn’t be stereotyped and limited by ‘traditional’ roles. Sure, boys can play with kitchens and girls with cars. However can, as they might suggest, boys and girls equally play with fairies? I don’t think so. Anyone who has watched boys and girls at play will know that they play differently from a very early age and like different things. Parents also recognise this and the purchase decision is based on so much more than the advertising and media. To remove gender cues, they would need to re-boot society as a whole.

And if a girl doesn’t reach her potential when an adult, surely issues far more important than toys will have a decisive role in this. I think there are creditable aims to their campaign, but I wonder if they have got the strategy wrong.”


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