Merry Gender Neutral Christmas! Toys ‘R Us Sweden Shows Girls Wielding Machine Guns

As any parent with kids of different sexes can tell you, it’s never in the playroom that gender neutral toys and the notion of kids playing with toys usually assigned to a specific gender are an issue, it’s always in the media or focus groups. If you were to witness either of my kids when getting a new toy, it’s doesn’t matter if it’s a Nerf gun or a Barbie, both my kids want to get in there and mess with it. I’ve found Calico Critters kittens in dresses invading Lego battlefronts, and giant robots caring for baby dolls in a makeshift nursery. In the safety and security of the family room, kids don’t care about boy toys and girls toys, unless the parents make a big deal out of it. It isn’t until one of their peers tease them that they put down the dolls and race cars  and trade them in for whatever toy is viewed as male or female.

After being criticized by a by Swedish advertising watchdog Reklamombudsmannen for encouraging outdated gender roles  in 2008, Top Toy has taken the advice of the group and changed the way it depicts kids in its catalogues. From

One of the largest toy chains in Sweden published a gender-neutral Christmas catalogue, which pictured boys playing with dolls and girls holding toy machine guns. The move has reignited a debate in Sweden over the proper place of gender roles.

Top Toy has produced children’s Christmas catalogues in Denmark and Sweden for both Toys R Us and BR. Though the catalogues’ page layouts are the same in both countries, the gender of the pictured kids is reversed in the Swedish edition.

“With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or a girl thing, it’s a toy for children,”Top Toy director of sales Jan Nyberg told TT news agency.

The Danish catalogue showed a boy wielding a toy machine gun, which was replaced by a girl in the Swedish version. The “Hello Kitty” page of the Swedish catalogue also replaced a girl with a boy, and a one girl’s pink t-shirt was turned into light blue.

“We have produced the catalogues in a completely different way this year,” Nyberg said. “For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we… have had to adjust.”

Since 2008, the government has spent 110 million Swedish crowns ($16.3 million) on promoting gender equality in schools, including the introduction of laws requiring teachers to actively work to reverse gender stereotypes.

The country also proposed a new single gender-neutral pronoun – ‘hen’ – to replace ‘he’ and ‘she’ in order to minimize gender stereotyping.


“Hen.” I’m not sure we need new pronouns to make our kids feel okay about exploring gender stereotypes and feeling reassured about liking “boy” or “girl” things. I think as parents we all just tell them that they can like whatever they want and encourage them to become their own little people. The idea of gender neutral toys and playtime is something I think the majority of us can get behind, I’m just not sure about referring to our kids with a word normally reserved for barnyard egg-producers.


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  • Lastango

    All that’s going on here is corporate management running scared in front of instutionalized social criticism. In Sweden, that’s the smart play. Being targeted by the national social experiment there destroys careers and lives. In Sweden, people are not free to disagree; “the introduction of laws requiring teachers to actively work to reverse gender stereotypes” gives the flavor of Swedish absolutism.

    For anyone who thinks this is benign, and somehow “about toys”, consider this bit from a Slate piece:

    “The Green Party has even suggested placing ‘gender pedagogues’ in every preschool in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, who can act as watchdogs.”

    Yup – a proposal for agents of the state in preschools to ensure party doctrine is strictly adhered to. Are we still feeling all warm and fuzzy about about Sweden?

    • Eve Vawter


    • A. Levy

      Why, yes. Yes, we are.

    • nevilleross

      Please, this is no worse than what goes on in American classrooms with Channel One, or programs designed to sweep up poor and minority youth into the U.S. armed forces; stop being such a big melodramatic drama queen.

    • Lastango

      At the risk of being melodramatic, let me point out that in 2005 only 14% of military recruits came from the bottom 20% of the population. Recruits are also better-educated, and have higher incomes than their peers in the general population. 94% of enlisted soldiers have high school or better, compared to 60% of the general population.

    • nevilleross

      Sorry, but both of your sources are flawed and full of crap (just by looking at the name of the first source-the ‘Heritage’ Foundation.) I know the true costs of the war, and the people who are being forced to fight in it. Google the term ‘Poverty draft’ and you will see what I’m talking about when I talk about poor and minority kids being recruited in double number for military service.

      Al least Sweden had a military draft in which all males had to be drafted, unlike the U.S.-and the Swedes weren’t even at war with their neighbors or with anybody else when it was being enforced! Can the USA make the same claim?

    • Lastango

      Got stats & links of your own? Perhaps claiming you “know the true costs” is all you need to say to please people who parrot the same talking points you do.

    • nevilleross

      My stats and links aren’t as full of bullcrap as yours.

    • mrf

      if you believe in gender neutrality, which is absolutely absurd, and equal rights, which I support, what would you say about a military draft in the US where ALL citizens 18 years or older are eligible to get drafted? How many women would be in favor for that?

    • canaduck

      As many as who are in favor of the draft in general, I’d suspect–i.e., not very many. Nice try, though.

    • AlbinoWino

      Actually Sweden bests the US in pretty much everything. Health benefits, vacation time, gender equality, education, etc. They use their garbage to power their buildings and use it so efficiently they take some of Norway’s garbage too. It’s one of the most advanced countries in the world. We could really learn a lot from them actually. I certainly wouldn’t mind living there. Sorry you feel uncomfortable with a nation that goes against patriarchal ideals and values that have been instilled in most cultures for so long that you feel those must be “right”. Really it’s just sad.

    • Lastango

      How did you manage to discover my views on “patriarchal ideals and values” – ?

  • Carmen Finnigan

    Hurray! We need this.

    • nevilleross

      Then get cracking and start working towards getting the Green Party and the Socialist Party in power at the state and municipal levels, instead of voting for the same old Republican and Democrat candidates-you don’t see Sweden being run by the big two, do you?

  • Hen

    “I’m just not sure about referring to our kids with a word normally reserved for barnyard egg-producers”

    I don’t think they care how the word sounds in English; they speak SWEDISH in SWEDEN. Go figure.

    • A. Levy

      Google tells me that Swedish for “he” and “she” are “han” and “hon,” respectively.

    • forslarelle

      Yeah, “hen” in Swedish, is höna. The Swedish word “hen” does not mean a female chicken.

  • Svea

    Vet du inte att vi talar svenska i Sverige? Och ordet för “HEN” är höna. Men tack för förslaget.

    What, you didn’t understand that? Oh right, because Swedish and English aren’t the same language! I got confused after reading the last sentence of your article.

    • Eve Vawter

      I need my “jokey/sarcasm” emoticon invented :(

  • Emily Striker

    Sometimes reading about Sweden makes me so hopeful about the world. This is one of those times.
    Also english already has gender neutral pronouns that are sometimes used, though maybe not officially recognized:

  • Americansk

    As an American woman living in Norway, I can assure you that Scandanavia does a *much* better job of gender equality across the spectrum. Very many jobs that have low proportions of women doing them in other countries are 50/50, or nearly so, in Scandanavia. That includes most technical jobs. Oh, and they pay better, too.

  • Emelie

    And why would it matter what hen means in english when it is a swedish word? We have lots of words that mean completely different things in english but are spelled the same way in both languages. The word hen is needed in the swedish language because one would otherwise have to call someone a thing (refer to them as “it”) when you don’t know the gender of who you are speaking, or if the gender is not important for the story.

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