Editorial: Toy makers need to ditch pink and blue
In January, a 7-year-old girl named Charlotte Benjamin wrote a letter to the Lego company.
She offered this observation: “I went to a store and saw legos in two sections, the pink and the blue. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people and had jobs – even swam with sharks. I want you to make more lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok? Thank you.”
It didn’t take long for the Denmark-based company to snap into action. The company recently released a new set called the Research Institute, which includes three female scientists – a paleontologist, chemist and astronomer.
The set, which was designed by real-life geophysicist Ellen Kooijman, is a nice step for Lego – and for girls who want a little intellectual adventure during playtime. But the fact that the product release was news at all says something about how persistent toy makers are when it comes to selling gender stereotypes to children.
The problem begins with marketing. If you want to find the “girls” section of a toy store, there’s no need to ask an associate – just look for the sea of pink and light purple. At a very young age, girls are taught that those are the toys they should be playing with. And once the trap is set, it’s very difficult for girls to escape. Every time they walk into the store, they make a beeline for the pink, dismissing half the toys as “boy stuff.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with girls playing with Barbies, Disney princesses, My Little Pony figures and the Lego Friends sets that drew the ire of Charlotte Benjamin, but there is a problem when toy makers and the stores that sell their products never truly give girls and boys the opportunity to discover on their own what toys will ignite their imaginations.
Sometimes, the segregation is accidental. Science toys, for example, are often in their own section, but because they are marketed in a similar fashion as “boy stuff” – dark packaging without a trace of pink – girls are less likely to spend much time in that part of the store. Girls who are interested in science will find their way there regardless, but how many would-be amateur chemists are lost because they have already made a subconscious decision that the science kits aren’t meant for them?
Toy makers often try to address gender issues the same way Lego did, by making a “girl” version of the toy. Nerf, for example, has a line of spongy dart weapons geared toward girls called “Rebelle.” The packaging, of course, has heavy splashes of pink. And even sporting goods are in on the game, with pink baseball gloves, balls and bats.
But if toy companies really want to give girls the same play opportunities they give boys and vice versa, they have to eliminate that kind of approach to product development and marketing. Ultimately, a girl version of a toy reinforces the stereotype it intends to break by saying, “Girls can shoot darts, too, but only if the gun is pink.”
Meanwhile, stores can help with the evolution by designing interiors so boys and girls shop in the same aisles, with Monster High dolls sharing shelf space with Marvel action figures and baby dolls placed alongside dinosaurs, for example. It might be a little frustrating for the uncle trying to shop for his niece, but just think of world of play it opens up for girls and boys.
At that point, perhaps, Lego sets aimed specifically at girls will become a thing of the past instead of the wave of the future.