Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Novel idea: toys made for and marketed to KIDS

The amount of gender-specific toys found on store shelves these days is mind-boggling.  I recently needed to buy gift for a friend's baby back in California.  The baby will have its first birthday in a matter of weeks, so I decided to visit the premier toy shop in Zürich's Bahnhofstrasse for just the right gift.  This particular toy shop resembles a large department store with multiple floors of children's gifts for one to choose from.  How hard could it be to find a decent gift in here, I wondered?  As soon as I walked in the double doors, I was confronted with one pink sign reading 'girls' floor' and one blue sign reading 'boys' floor'.  I just wanted a toy for a baby, not a boy baby or a girl baby.  There was also a plush toy floor that, while having gorgeous stuffed animals of all shapes and descriptions, really didn't have what I was looking for as these items were meant for children ages three and up.  After hunting around the various floors I realized that mixed in with the toys labeled 'for boys' were toys meant for babies and toddlers.  I decided to look in this section in the hopes of finding a suitable baby gift.  There was a very small selection of plush toys appropriate for babies; I could either buy a soft Steiff Teddy with a blue ribbon around its neck or one with a pink ribbon.  Feeling a bit defeated and fatigued, I decided to approach a salesperson and ask if she could she direct me to the toys for babies 12 months and older.  'Is the baby a girl or a boy?' she asked.  'It's a 12 month old baby', I replied.  She looked perplexed.  'Boy or girl?' she said again.  Stifling a sigh, I told her that the baby was indeed a boy and was steered toward a rack of 'baby boy' appropriate items.  In the end, I wound up buying toys that I wasn't too keen on: a Steiff Teddy in a blue onesie and a green, wooden wind-up toy frog, among them.  Surely, I thought, buying baby gifts should not be so challenging.  If my recent trip to the toy store is any indication, the toy selection, narrowed by scope of gender, becomes ever more skewed as boys and girls age.  Pink fairy wands and blue hammers, anyone?

Outside of beat-up, hand-me-down plush toys like my yellow lion missing an eye, I can't recall what other sorts of toys were on hand during my pre-school years.  I do, however, have a very clear memory of the toys and games that consumed my play-time when I was in elementary school.

Here's a short list of some of the toys and games I loved playing with that had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with just being a kid.

1. Slime was goopy, snotty, drippy, icky and bright green.  I loved it.

-in a gender-neutral, green-colored 'bin'!

 2. Pick-up Sticks
Gee, I'm confused.  Can I only pick up all but the blue ones?

3. Etch-a-sketch
OMG, it's red and that's almost like pink!  Does that mean boys can't play with it?

4. Lite-Brite
A toy, a toy...good for both girls and boys!

5. Operation
'Butterfingers' come in both genders.

6. Battleship
'I sunk his Battleship!'

7. Lego
This could have been me, ca. 1975.

This is me around 1973, dressed nicely for house guests. Out of frame: farmhouse on wheels. 


  1. The only thing I recall from childhood was that boys didn't play with barbie, buuut...I think it was okay to do so if the girl was playing with the doll and you were fulfilling some blase gender role. That said I had "action figures" which are basically dolls with guns and swords. har.

    1. I didn't play with Barbie as a kid unless I went to some girl's house and all she had to play with was Barbie. Ugh. Boring.

  2. I do remember gender specific toys- but I also remember there seemed to be a wider middle ground. Everyone wanted a Lemon Twister or a Green Machine.

    Having kids of both genders now, I find that the once neutral toys are marketed to boys and then the pink toys are for girls. (Of course that does not count all the toys that are basically cartoon swag.) Honestly- it's hardest on the little girls. I find my 4 year old exploring, adorning, and defining herself with pink objects only. And we don't watch commercial television or go mall shopping. (USA) It's everywhere and we have to have lots of talks about it. "Just because that toy is not pink doesn't mean you cannot play with it."

    1. Hey Cori, thank you for your insightful comment. It's really interesting to think that a little girl might NOT play with a toy if it weren't pink. I just don't remember thinking about pink-colored anything when I was little.

    2. It's awful. Big biz is defining gender in a way that is changing the culture. It is impossible not to see on a daily basis.

  3. -forgot to add Slinky to the list!


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