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On Parenting: Gender and Toys

Do you make an effort to get your kids gender-neutral toys? Or is the recent fuss over pink Easy Bake Ovens an overreaction?

I really needed a feel good story about kids this week. I think a lot of us did. McKenna Pope delivered.

McKenna took to the website Change.org after her little brother asked for an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. When they shopped for one, McKenna was appalled to see that the ovens are available in the wide variety of “girl” colors that run from pink to purple. Also, there were no boys on the packaging, in the advertising, or anywhere to be found involved in the product.

Kind of shocking in the age of Gordon Ramsey and Bobby Flay.

Bobby Flay apparently thought so, too, and got involved in the campaign, along with many other male chefs. 

And now Hasboro has responded, bringing McKenna and her family to their offices this past Monday to show her the new prototype in black, silver, and blue. McKenna even did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

I love her initiative. I love her love and care for her brother. 

And I love the conversations that this has started about gender and toys. But perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Do you think toy marketing has a problematic gender bias? Tell us in the comments section.

My daughter loves Lego Friends. These are the Legos aimed and marketed at girls. They have differently shaped mini-figures than the usual sets, and are also found in the realm of the pink and purple. 

And a lot of people have a lot of attitude about this toy. The colors. The mini-figs. The fact that one of the sets is a beauty salon. The consensus seems to be that it is a sexist toy, and I should be ashamed for getting them for my girl.

Well, nope.

Listen, I’m a pretty strong feminist. When our daughter was born, we had decorated her room in yellows and greens, working hard around the fact that almost all baby stuff is available only in pastel blues and pinks. Then her jaundice made her look extremely ill in anything but pink, so pinks were duly bought. 

It was only a shadow of things to come.

When girls are 3 or 4, the princess phase comes. This happens in the same way that boys kept away from gun toys will still make play weapons out of sticks and rocks. It seems almost by osmosis. One day in preschool all the boys and girls were playing together and being monkeys and cars. The next day, the girls were all in pink and white and playing with crowns and veils, even if they made them out of paper.

We had nothing to do with this.

My daughter builds the architecture series of Legos, and loves the City line as well, but her heart belongs to Lego Friends. And this is fine with me. I have as much trouble with forbidding my child her purple as forcing her to wear pink. Why shouldn’t a boy get a purple Easy Bake Oven if he wants to? It’s not the presence of the gender stereotypes that matter. It’s what we do about them.

We can freak out about boys who wear toenail polish, or we can teach our kids to be accepting of differences. We can have hissies that the Lego Friends are skinny and have the beginnings of breasts, or we can talk to our kids about marketing, and why these girls look different than standard mini-figs.

Like all things for parents, toys are talking points. I love that the Easy Bake Oven will be available in a gender-neutral option, but that doesn’t mean I would get it for my purple loving girl. Instead, I will continue on the path of accepting that somehow I made a kid who will clearly grow up to be a high school cheerleader, and keep loving her as she is instead of trying to change her.

Still, bravo to you, McKenna Pope. Or rather, brava! (And bravissimi to your parents for raising you.)

Two last notes. My thoughts are still with Newtown. Please give those children the moment of silence this morning that is the least respect we can offer. 

And finally, this will be my last parenting column for Patch. I will still be involved with the site in the future, so you’ll see my name around, but not every Friday. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have so many conversations with so many of you. Thank you for your time. We know you have a lot of choices in web entertainment, and we’re so glad you’ve chosen to fly with us.

Happy holidays to all, and I wish everyone a wonderful 2013!

shannon December 21, 2012 at 04:39 PM
I feel sometimes there is a gender bias in marketing but it works. ...
Jeanne Gustafson December 21, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I think these things change all the time to see what will sell. My son and daughter each played with our Easy Bake oven for years--at the time my daughter was small, it was a red "Mrs. Fields" version that we bought, and there have been dozens of iterations of the Easy Bake over the years. If anything, this whole debate has been great publicity for the company. I was very concerned about this issue, by the way, when my daughter was small. One Christmas Santa brought a doll house and a hot wheels car garage. My son--who is all boy with his love of the military, nerf guns and fart jokes--still has both, but he has enjoyed the doll house most, with its family figures, including Mom, Dad, baby, teen sister, kids, and all the trappings. He doesn't seem to care if it has pastel trim, and he plays with it with other boys who come over (although now Batman and Scooby Doo get a place in the mix).
Christopher Plambeck December 21, 2012 at 09:06 PM
When did purple become a 'girls color'? I love my purple! :-)
Kayla Stewart December 21, 2012 at 10:19 PM
After going through college and taking classes about intersections of race, gender, and class, I will DEFINITELY be making a conscious effort to remain a gender neutral parent. It really annoys me to see the boys' section is blue and the girls' is pink at almost every store. That, and it's even worse when parents/people who think they are the parents of your children mock or try to "correct" a child's preferred toy/color/clothing style/behavior. Who cares if boys like pink or girls like green or blue things? We shouldn't be making decisions for our youth through sexist marketing(it hurts all of us/continues the cycle of oppression), let them be who they want to be.
Denise December 23, 2012 at 06:26 AM
I have found that there is a lot of gender segregation in regular toy stores--Toys R Us, Target, Fred Meyer, the usual places. Other than the baby toys, you can tell pretty easily if you are in the "boy" section or "girl" section. I love stores like Lakeshore and the educational toy stores because those toys are generally gender-neutral. Here's a practical reason for going gender-neutral. As a mother of two girls and a boy, I want to make sure every toy gets maximum use. It's hard to get gender-neutral bikes, so we end up leaning toward typical "boy" colors. Black or navy or yellow snow boots are fantastic, since this is one shoe the kids don't wear out and can be passed down several times. But aside from the practical, the philosophical reason for me to generally choose gender-neutral items is that I simply don't want to go with the marketing flow. If you want to buy a pink or purple backpack, you often have to buy into the Disney, Dora, or other marketing character. I don't wear clothes with brands plastered on them (thanks, but I don't belong to CK, Guess, or even Old Navy) and I don't want my kids to be branded (owned?) either. Guess my motto is....Brand cows, not kids? Or Don't Pay Coorporations to Own You? Or Just Be You? Hmm, clearly I'm not very good at this marketing thing. But I clearly have strong opinions about latent and blatent childhood sexism.

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