Gen­der roles linked to toy col­ors

Toys

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN 360 DAILY - Con­tin­ued from The main char­ac­ter of Goldieblox toys is a fe­male en­gi­neer named Goldie. The toys, de­signed to spark an in­ter­est by girls in sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing, will be on store shelves in 2013. AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

toy com­pa­nies are giv­ing peo­ple what sells. Plenty of par­ents find noth­ing wrong with buy­ing pink frou-frou toys for their girls and avoid­ing stereo­typ­i­cally “girl” toys for their boys in fa­vor of guns and trucks. But other par­ents are sent into knots by an un­apolo­get­i­cally gen­der-spe­cific toy in­dus­try.

“There’s a lot of pres­sure to con­form to those gen­der stereo­types from the time you’re preg­nant,” said Teresa Gra­ham Brett, a high­ere­d­u­ca­tion con­sul­tant from Tuc­son, Ariz., and mother to two boys, ages 6 and 11.

Chil­dren nat­u­rally be­gin to iden­tify them­selves as boys and girls around the ages of 3 and 4, said Dr. Su­san Linn, a psy­chol­o­gist at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, who co­founded the ad­vo­cacy group Cam­paign for a Com­mer­cial-Free Child­hood.

“When a child’s en­vi­ron­ment is filled with rigid mes­sages about, ‘This is what boys do, this is what girls do,’ it lim­its their abil­ity to reach their full ca­pac­ity,” Linn said. “It’s not like girls are born with the predilec­tion to pink, but they’re trained to it, so it be­comes what they want and need. There are neu­ro­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween boys and girls at birth. But our goal should be to pro­vide them with a range of ex­pe­ri­ences so they can de­velop all of their ten­den­cies.”

Large toy stores and most large on­line re­tail­ers of­ten di­vide toys up by gen­der. On Ama­zon, or on the web­sites for toy mak­ers Mat­tel or Has­bro, for ex­am­ple, toys are sorted by age, cat­e­gory and gen­der. A per­son who wants to buy a baby doll on the Toys R Us web­site will find hun­dreds of choices cat­e­go­rized for girls and five for boys. Three of those are dressed in pink.

In re­cent years, Toys R Us was crit­i­cized for an ad sell­ing three mi­cro­scopes, sil­ver, red and pink. The pink one was the least pow­er­ful.

“Toy com­pa­nies are busi­nesses, so they are re­spond­ing to and mak­ing their prod­ucts based on con­sumer de­mands. They’re meet­ing with moms, fo­cus groups. They’re do­ing what makes sense,” said Adri­enne Ap­pell, a spokes­woman for the Toy In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

Chris Byrne, con­tent di­rec­tor for time­to­play­mag.com, said the mar­ket ul­ti­mately de­cides what makes it onto store shelves and into peo­ple’s homes.

“The toy in­dus­try is al­ways go­ing to re­flect the cul­ture at large, and it’s go­ing to re­flect the mar­ket,” he said.

That’s even true for a soon-to-be-re­leased toy that has got­ten a lot of at­ten­tion for seek­ing to sub­vert gen­der stereo­types. GoldieBlox, a con­struc­tion toy, was in­vented by Deb­bie Ster­ling, who holds a de­gree from Stan­ford in prod­uct de­sign en­gi­neer­ing and who aimed to make a toy to spark an in­ter­est in girls in sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing. She was turned off by what she saw in a visit to a toy store.

“I felt like I was in the 1950s,” she said. “The girls sec­tion was pink. It was teach­ing a girl how to be a housewife, and a princess and pop star.”

Mean­while, she de­scribed the boys sec­tion as dy­namic, with kits to make in­ter­est­ing things like roller coast­ers and “smarter more com­plex, en­gi­neer­ing math and sci­ence toys.”

The toy’s main char­ac­ter is Goldie, a fe­male en­gi­neer, and it is sched­uled to be on store shelves in April. In a con­ces­sion to com­mer­cial re­al­i­ties, the toy’s color scheme in­cludes a lib­eral dose of pink.

“There’s a lot of par­ents out there, they’re con­di­tioned by this. They won’t even pick up some­thing if it doesn’t cue that it’s a girl,” she said. “I don’t want girls to miss out on GoldieBlox be­cause it wasn’t overtly mes­saged for them, at least in the early stages.”

Some things are chang­ing in the in­dus­try. This year, the Lon­don de­part­ment store Har­rods re­designed its toy de­part­ment to or­ga­nize it by theme rather than by gen­der. Swedish toy firm Top-Toy pub­lished a gen­der-neu­tral cat­a­log in which boys were shown play­ing with a kitchen set and hair dryer and a girl was shown shoot­ing a toy gun.

Has­bro this week an­nounced it has spent the past 18 months de­vel­op­ing an Easy-Bake Oven in the gen­der-neu­tral col­ors of black and sil­ver. It made the an­nounce­ment af­ter meet­ing with McKenna Pope, the Garfield, N.J., 13-year-old whose on­line pe­ti­tion ask­ing the com­pany to make one at­trac­tive to all kids gath­ered tens of thou­sands of sig­na­tures. Has­bro says it knows both boys and girls have fun play­ing with the EasyBake.

Even par­ents who are sen­si­tive to gen­der is­sues say they some­times have to chal­lenge their own no­tions. Brett said her older son was in­ter­ested in toys aimed at both gen­ders as a lit­tle boy. But when son No. 2 came along five years later, she was sur­prised to see he had a stronger pref­er­ence to play with guns and Army men.

“I really needed to let go of con­trol­ling what I thought he should play with as an en­light­ened boy,” she said. “They may choose to do what is stereo­typ­i­cal, and they should have the right to choose that as well.”

I am John Hen­der­son — the old­est liv­ing Univer­sity of Texas foot­ball let­ter­man — and I hit the cen­tury mark on Dec 24.

My wife, Char­lotte, and I also cel­e­brated our 73rd wed­ding an­niver­sary on Dec. 22. Three years ago I started wear­ing a pe­dome­ter al­most ev­ery day.

Last year, I walked 532.67 miles. As of Dec. 18, I was about 50 miles away from the 500 mark this year.

In ad­di­tion to walking, I lift weights in the fit­ness cen­ter at Longhorn Vil­lage where Char­lotte and I have lived since it opened its doors in Au­gust 2009.

I am also an ac­tive Wii bowler, be­ing one of four par­tic­i­pants on the Longhorn Vil­lage team which won a Na­tional Bowl­ing Cham­pi­onship be­tween re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties in 2010, av­er­ag­ing a score of about 200 dur­ing the se­ries.

We’re look­ing for Cen­tral Tex­ans who keep fit with in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Tell us — in 100 words or fewer — about yours. If you have a pho­to­graph, in­clude that as well. Send your name, age and con­tact in­for­ma­tion to Pam LeBlanc, Austin Amer­i­can-States­man, 305 S. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78704 or email it to ple­blanc@states­man.com.

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