Pink is for girls: What’s up with all the gendered toys?

This is Part Two of 5 Days of Holiday Bull$hit: A five-part series on Christmas consumer crap. Here’s the introduction, and Part One: Holiday sales events.

I popped into a few toy stores the other day to do what most parents do around the holidays — buy toys for under the tree. It’s been several decades since I was a kid eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival, so as a newish parent with a two-year-old daughter, I wasn’t prepared for the stuff stocked on store shelves.

Two words: gender stereotypes

While experiencing shock with a side of horrified, I was neatly directed into Walmart’s “Girl” section by following the aisle painted pink.

girls toys

gendered toys girls

In this corner you’ll find everything needed to: Raise a princess.

princess dresses

Train a homemaker.

Barbie raises baby. Perhaps the baby "drinks & wets!?"

Barbie raises baby. Perhaps the baby “drinks & wets!?”

Baking Barbie. Those cupcakes better be gluten-free! "Delicious!"

Baking Barbie. Those cupcakes better be gluten-free! “Delicious!”

And maintain your daughter’s looks. You know, the important grooming needs of young girls — hair, makeup, and manicures.


barbie makeup

manicure toys

Not impressed by the level of education and skills acquisition available in the pink aisle, I wandered onto the path of blue for some toy inspiration. Boy, was I disappointed.

boy toys

gendered toys boys

The world of play offered to boys in boyland is crazy gendered too. In this corner, boys are encouraged to build things using power tools.

fisher price tools

Destroy things. Well, create first and destroy second.

A fun motto for friendly play: "Create 2 Destroy"

A fun motto for friendly play: “Create 2 Destroy”

Fly planes, operate trains, and drive automobiles. Also, monster trucks.

toy cars

And exert a wee bit of tension using a little physical violence. I’m gonna knock you out?

Hulking hands are meant for hitting?

Hulking hands are meant for hitting?

Sorry, I skipped the toy gun aisle. I prefer to keep it real with hand-to-hand combat.

“Back when I was a kid…”

Old(er) people used to say that to me, and I hated it. But as a frame of reference, this is how toys looked in the 1970s when I was a kid.

Girls built cool things in shades other than Pepto-Bismol pink.

Lego Ad

Toys were “fun for a girl and a boy.”

Based on my level of ungendered play, I think I turned out OK? I kicked the checkered ball on the All Stars (all gals) soccer team. No pink uniforms here.

Soccer is serious: Real All Star players don't smile.

Soccer is serious: Real All Star players don’t smile.

I marched to the beat of a musical tune, tooting my own horn.

I'm the kid smiling big.

I’m the kid smiling big.

As a much older ‘kid’ I studied journalism with a strong side of computer science. I competed in Ironman triathlons. Today I’m an entrepreneur-thing running my own business.

None of these non-pink activities prevented me from getting married or becoming a parent, BTW.

So what’s the problem?

Raising my daughter to be a princess is probably a path with limited career opportunities. The roles offered to boys in the blue toy aisle are limited too. I’m not alone with this obvious observation since scientists have done science to study the impact of gendered toys on kids.

Something called the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) interviewed someone named Judith Elaine Blakemore — she’s a professor of psychology who researches gender roles — and together they offer this lightbulb moment:

Blakemore: “Strongly gender-typed toys might encourage attributes that aren’t ones you actually want to foster. For girls, this would include a focus on attractiveness and appearance, perhaps leading to a message that this is the most important thing—to look pretty. For boys, the emphasis on violence and aggression (weapons, fighting, and aggression) might be less than desirable in the long run.”

“If you want to develop children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills, toys that are not strongly gender-typed are more likely to do this.”

Source: What the Research Says: Gender-Typed Toys

Blakemore’s study Characteristics of Boys’ and Girls’ Toys (PDF) concludes that “strongly gender-typed toys appear to be less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys.”

So what’s a parent to do, especially at Christmas?

Do you buy gendered toys for your kids?

With a two-year-old in tow, I’m too new at parenting to know what lies ahead. I have a hunch that as Chloe’s language skills develop and she sees the big world of toys, she’ll eventually ask for princess dresses, Barbie dolls, and all things pink.

For now I’m avoiding the gendered crap under the tree by giving her neutral toys for Christmas and on her birthday in January.

Kerry K. Taylor

Trying to wrap Christmas presents. Being a snuggle bunny is better.

My Toy List: A classic bag of Mega Bloks picked up for $3.99 at Value Village, a bunch of books (including Richard Scarry), a Green Toys School Bus (because you need something to haul the Mega Bloks), and a big Jelly Cat Bunny (because snuggling is yummy).

Your turn: Do you say “NO” to gendered toys, OR are these gifts unavoidable? Also, am I worried about nothing? 🙂

Comment away!


Your two cents:

  1. Karen December 24th, 2013

    Parents, Please stop worrying so much. I have had 3 children of my own but helped raise 7 in total. My oldest daughter was very interested in anything to do with animals as was my son (3rd child). My second daughter was a glam princess.In high school she built me the best curio shelves and swing bench for my garden. The only one of my children to go to college to date. My daughters often played dress up and would put wigs and dresses on their little brother. He is one of the best back yard mechanics and autobody men ever. He dropped out of highschool (hyper active).I refused to medicate him. Ticketed trades people he has worked for have told me they wished they had half his talent or drive. He bought his first house at 22 and was foreman of the plant he worked at ,at age 23. My oldest has been assistant manager at two small food establishments and is very good cook. All have never been unemployed more than a day or two. They shared lego (regular and girl coloured). Loved books -lots . All time favourites “Messy Mable” and “Peanutbutter and Jelly is My Favourite Thing to Eat”. Later anything Anne of Greengables and Goosebumps.The favourite toy in our home was the real porcelain tea set bought at a local disabled workshop made by the workers there. I spent many hours playing “tea” with my daughters and son as well as baking cookies and bisquits with them. They all had some kind of pet or another including cats,stray dogs that followed them home fish,rabbits and rodents and paper routes to help pay for their pets expenses.All loved and properly cared for by them. None think only men or women should do certain jobs or tasks as I encouraged them all to handle anything they wanted to try. I did draw the line at the large container of garter snakes my son brought home for my garden ( 50 or more) I had him release them in the woods(okay laugh ,I’ll admit snakes freak me out). My kids still laugh about that one. They all turned out to be fine, wonderful adults. Two have children of their own now. My oldest has 4 -great parent. My son has one little girl and he one of the most attentive fathers ever. She has pink mechanic tools,rides horses but loves her girly things(single dad) I just bought my 9yr old granddaughter’s xmas gift yesterday (another glam princess) I bought the smallest pair of zebra stripped stilettos I could find and put them in a giftbag that is an animal print purse and threw in some dollarstore bangles. Cost under $15.00 on sale. Her sister wanted an adult artist drawing kit. I found one in a pink case (her favourite colour). She calls herself a tomboy (not my words) Kids will define themselves.

  2. Tracy December 24th, 2013

    Saw this ad on the internet the other day, the company got into a little trouble with the beastie boys since the song is so similar.

  3. Telly December 27th, 2013

    My girls (3.5 & almost 2) have the Fisher Price tool set you posted a photo of. They also have wooden blocks, pink Legos, dinky cars & a Disney Princess castle. They got a train set & table from Santa this year (which they absolutely LOVE).

    I say you’re worried about nothing personally. I was incredibly opposed to the Disney Princess stuff but guess what? My 2 year olds two favourite toys are are the Disney Princess castle (she has to put Ariel & Snow White to bed each night *rolls eyes*) and dinky cars. While I felt much the same way you do, I now realize that my girls will love what they’ll love & how my husband & I spend our time with them is far more important than the toys that they play with. Most of their toys will last a year or two before they get bored of them. My husband & I will be around (hopefully) for many, many years & will have a FAR greater impact on who they become than whether or not they played with Barbies.

    P.S. I played with Barbies & race tracks. I’m an engineer that loves makeup. :p

  4. Fariah January 8th, 2014

    Try reading “Cinderalla Ate my Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. She also struggles with gendered toys as well.

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