Gender specific toys ain't over yet

Steve Reece takes a look at the hot topic of gendered toys and asks, what is really being changed?
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Much has been made of late of the ‘innate evil’ of the toy industry in terms of gender bias and toys.

Opportunist commentators have jumped on this bandwagon to blow their own trumpets, and to presumably advance their own ends.

However, we see something closer to the real picture on a daily basis – based on hundreds of focus groups conducted with boys, girls and parents, we see a gender reality which has not fundamentally changed versus ten to 15 years ago.

What is clear is that our industry will always attract the vocal minority, the opportunist agendaites and the political correctness crowd for as long as the toy labels ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ remain.

The issue with that is that while society as a whole has moved far away from allowing generalisations that are generally true to prevail versus avoiding offending any minority group of any type, we as commercial toy folks still need to take account of the fact that boys, girls and parents overwhelmingly still think in terms of boys and girls toys, regardless of what descriptor is hanging above the aisle.

There is undoubtedly more acceptance in this day and age that girls in particular can choose to like action brands, even if the majority of their gender do not to the same extent as the majority of males.

Recent developments including the Nerf Rebelle direction, and less recent developments such as female Power Rangers show that the kids entertainment industry in general and the toy industry in particular will always supply profitable niches which buck the prevailing wind.

But let’s not get carried away with this – boys still tell us in focus groups that ‘girls, and girls stuff like dolls and pink fluffy toys are rubbish’, and perhaps more critically, parents still see toys in gender specific terms.

While the movie studios appear to be increasingly willing to push the boundaries in terms of challenging the gender status quo, and while this could awaken the action hero within many girls who otherwise felt they had to repress it, the vast majority of boys are not going to be dressing up as princesses and collecting pink ponies at any time in the foreseeable future – either of their own or their parents volition.

Moreover, parents who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s were raised with 1980s and 1990s gender values.

When the kids of today become parents, the softening of gender lines may become more entrenched, but until then, regardless of what should or shouldn’t be, back in the real world away from the hyperbole and controversy nothing much is changing apart from the label above the aisle or on the page.

Steve Reece runs a leading consultancy delivering consumer research and other services to kids entertainment brands & toy companies. Contact him via:


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