From birth society today dictates blue is for a boy, pink is for a girl however it wasn’t always this way, Pre World War 1 these colours where not gender signifiers. In 1918 the accepted rule was completely the opposite ‘pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’
In the 50’s pink had become linked to femininity but boys still often wore it.From 1965 to 1985, the era of unisex parenting, pink was so strongly associated with traditional femininity that it was rejected by feminist parents for their daughters, with retailer selling very little pink clothing at all.
You can see from these pages from Argos in 1976 that yellow and red dominated the toys pages, with bikes being mostly red and leading toy of the time Spirograph.
You can see the prams are predominately red, no pink in site, lego is multicoloured and not linked to males or females and I’m sure you will agree is a lot different from an Argos books of now which caters boys and girls pages.
Following this the technology development of finding out the sex of the baby growing more popular consumers chose to buy more gender specific items, from low cost baby grows to big ticket items like prams.
With the recent rise in children being seen as a consumer, children become aware of there gender much earlier and are advertising is much more targeted to either to girls and boys. Girls seen to be targeted for dolls, cookers, tea sets and pretty much everything pink. . Boys: action, building, cars and anything that looks strong. Why can’t a boy play with dolls and tea sets and why cant a girl play with construction kits and cars without judgement?
In the adults world equality has seen more women move into a career lifestyle and men taking on domestic duties however in the world of children it’s still so separate. Surely to continue this trend of male and females being equal we need to set messages to children that there isn’t specific roles for males or females?
In 2012, Mumsnet set up ‘Let Toys be Toys’ in the space of a year they have got 12 major retailer including Boots, Toys R Us and Marks and Spencer to remove girls or boys signage from toy displays. There message is simple ‘to organise toys by theme and function rather than gender’ and ‘take down the pink and blue signs in stores and on packaging, and instead let toys be toys’ Towards the end of 2014 they are now launching Lets Books be Books, battling book publishers to stop labeling books by gender so children pick there interests rather than the publishers. Ladybird, chad valley and Usborne have now all ‘taken the decision to stop producing books with ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ in the title’ Usborne being the first one to change their direction in titling books.
Debenhams in June 2013 said ‘boys and girls signs made it easier for shoppers but by November 2013 they announced they would change toy departments with inclusive colours.
The entertainer organised all stores by girls and boys toys, this has had a complete change even including images of both boys and girls.
Morrisons said in July 2013 they would be removing all signage towards separating genders however at the end of the year still had not removed the signs and according to ‘Let Toys be Toys’ have been ‘the worst offender for gendered marketing’ As you can see from the image some have been replaced with boys or girls but have kept the colour separation.
Retailers are at the front of selling toys, I think they hold a certain amount of responsibility as well as the people marketing them behind the scenes. It’s not just the toys it’s how they are displayed in stores too.
Mc Donalds where also targeted after releasing Happy Meal Toys of Hello Kitty and Hot Wheels, targeted at Boys or Girls, expressing ‘they may feel that there is something wrong with them if they want the ‘wrong’ one.’ This discussion has not only been by parents and groups alike to Let Toys be Toys its reached parliament in February 2014 with good support for gender neuteral toys.
Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, Sir Peter Luff added his voice to the debate, saying;
“This is an immensely important subject….These kinds of issues do shape girls’ attitudes, particularly to STEM subjects and we must address them if we are to address the serious gender gap in engineering and science subjects.”
Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, Jenny Willott also showed her support;
“it’s wrong to limit children’s horizons from such an early age, they should be free to find out where their interests lie. Children learn through play, it’s how they develop skills and interests.”
Chi Onwurah gave a speech at Westminister hall in early February ‘on the limiting implications of gendered marketing of children’s toys and its increasing encroachment in recent years.’
She stated “With such a cross party consensus and active campaigning organisations such as Let Toys Be Toys, Pink Stinks , Science Grrrl and Everyday Sexism, I have hopes we will see real change.”
“This is not about saying that boys should be playing with cookery sets, or that girls should, or must, be playing with engineering sets, but about letting them and their parents have the choice, free from external pressures.”
So if all this media coverage and debated happing it again raises the question Why have toymakers marketed to these stereotypes?
The main reason is sales, first and foremost…sales, It opened two completely separate markets to sell to. You can’t hand down a toys to a younger sibling if ones a girl or ones a boy so consumers buy more toys. Retailers argue having them separate is easier for shopper however why does a consumer have to buy a toy thinking if its for a male or female it should just be based on there likes and dislikes surely? Aren’t parents intelligent enough to decide what toys there children should be playing with without colour coding shelves?
A new study by agency ‘the Marketing Store Worldwide “The New Definition of Childhood” global kids study’ surveyed more than 4,000 children ages 6 -12 years in countries including ‘Cananda, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Poland Brazil and Mexico, Japan, China and Australia’ The study suggested that ‘while the gender gap is closing in several areas for kids, the chasm is still wide for toys.’
The study found both boys and girls like to do the same things. So why make them different?
Elizabeth Sweet, a researcher at the University of California, who has been researching changing shape of the toy market said that ‘TV advertising to children were stripped away in 1984. “And so immediately thereafter,” she says, “all of the toys began to have shows associated with them, and the ties between the toy industry and the entertainment industry became virtually indecipherable. So you have the Transformers movies, the My Little Pony movies, and these entertainment lines were often developed according to gender, right? I think that relates to the fact – and toymakers know this – that young children are very receptive to gender stereotypes at that developmental stage where they’re forming their own gender identity, so two and three years old. Toymakers have certainly exploited that.”
A recent documentary programme on Channel 4 called ‘the men who made us spend’ explained Star wars was the first film to have characters created as toys then a film followed, with this success the marketing industry turned that model around and decided to create toys and then create rich backstories that would want children to want to buy them. The documentary highlighted that cartoons became 20-30 minute adverts for toys, as a child and even as an adult, I had never seen it that way before and it left a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling with me, that I like many were tricked.
Young children are very impressionable to everything that surrounds them, they are sponges taking in information and trying to understand the world around them. It is now believed by the time a child is between 3-5 they understand what gender is. So if we tell them this is a boy one, this is a girl one, in trying to confirm there identity they are likely to pick the one seen to be correct for them.
As children get older there identity in social situation, meaning if they are seen to chose incorrectly they are seen as weak or odd leading to bullying. With stories about school banning a boy bringing his my little pony to school because of the teasing he was receiving.
Lego recently created a range of lego toys aimed at girls called friends. Its attractive packaging, it designed well and draws little girls to love it, there argument behind it was that boys like building and constructing and girls prefer to make up stories and play with following direction. I don’t believe that boys can’t be creative or girls don’t like constructing things, why isn’t this a product that could be created for both?
A video rant by a 4 year old girl uploaded by her day who to date has 4,836,541 views about Riley on Marketing shows that young girls notice things more than people might think they do. It’s a video that makes you chuckle however has a very serious message.
A recent story about a 7 year old girl sending a letter to Lego caught my attention:
Dear Lego Company:
My name is Charlotte I am 7 years olf and I love lego but I don’t like that there are more lego boy people and barely any lego girls. Today I went into a store and saw legos in two sections. The pink girls and the blue boys. All the girls did was sit at home, go to bed 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. From Charlotte.
It was a refreshing change that children maybe consumers who marketers think are easily influences however are getting wise to there tricks and starting to question products they buy a little more.
Lego responded by creating its ‘Research Institute set’ with three woman scientists Unlike most of the lego sets targeted at girls this one is back to a more traditional style of lego in its colours and shapes.
With it selling out in the first month, I think it’s a first step in attitudes changing towards creating a gender neuteral toys, where children have options to explore. With women in science being a minority maybe this set will pave a way for future female scientists to develop and flourish. Consumer affairs minister Jenny Willott said: “The way we play as children informs the skills we develop.” So if girls shy away from science and engineering we are missing these skills in our ecomony.
It’s a hard thing for parents to decide, do they let there children play with what they want to and make sure they are not limited but face their child being bullied because society saying its wrong.
As a child from the 90’s I was brought up to on tiny tears, play cookers Sirograph, Lego and Play-Do, all of which I can remember being red and yellow mostly. Every bike I had as a child was also red. I think I took more of my dads creativity than influence from my mum and because of this equally played with cars and construction toys. I was always encouraged to be creative and use my imagination, I always believed I could become anything I wanted to be. I wonder if growing up today it might have been different with me being pressured to develop my identity with more ‘girly’ led toys. Thinking now as an adult I think how much did the toys I play with make an influence on my decisions now. It definitely made me more creative and headed me in the direction of a creative career path. So maybe interests we develop as children become crucial to becoming who we are as adults, as its proven children learn through play.
Surely for a well rounded balanced society where males and females are seen to be equal, we shouldn’t be limiting children’s interests or how they understand the world and the role they take in society. Maybe Marketing of Toys needs to be looked at how we affect young children and the pressure we put upon them. I think as a designer now if I had a brief targeted at children, it would make me think about how they would perceive it. What do you think, have the toys you loved playing with as a child influenced your career as an adult?