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After being criticized by a by Swedish advertising watchdog Reklamombudsmannen for encouraging outdated gender roles in 2008, Top Toy has taken the advice of the group and changed the way it depicts kids in its catalogues.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