Say Goodbye to Gender-Specific “Toys of the Year”

A consumer walking into any toy store in America is guaranteed to notice two things.

First, the boys and girls sections are completely divided, sometimes even in opposite corners of the store. Second, one is smattered with dark blues and greens, holding sets of legos and remote-control cars on its shelves, while the other is blindingly pink and purple, stocked full of dresses and makeup kits and My Little Ponies.

The part that’s disconcerting about this scenario is that this is the norm for this consumer; they’ve walked into dozens of toy shops throughout many years and have always known that blue means boy and pink means girl.

And there’s no one person or organization to place blame for the unequivocal separation of the toys. The problem has been looking us straight in the face for years, but it is so entrenched in our society that it failed to be acknowledged. Until now.

Earlier this month, the Toy IndustryAssociation (TIA) announced the categories for the 2016 Toy of the Year Awards. The difference between 2016 and 2015? They’ve finally done away with the gender specific categories. Instead of “Girl Toy of the Year” and “Boy Toy of the Year” being separate awards, they’ve dropped the gender and renamed the category “Toy of the Year”.

They’re a bit behind the curve, considering Target stopped separating toys and bedding into girls’ and boys’ sections in August of 2015. President Obama also notably sorted traditionally male toys into the girls’ boxes and the traditionally female toys into boys’ boxes, stating “I’m just trying to break down gender stereotypes.” This was at a Toys for Tots event…in 2014.

The fact that the TIA finally pulled its head out of the clouds and followed suit is thanks in large part to two websites that advocated ceaselessly for gender-neutral categories. DadDoes and Let Toys Be Toys both demanded a change from the TIA. DadDoes posted a petition for the change in January, asking questions such as “Shouldn’t the awards be based on the merit of the toys, not who the TIA thinks should play with them?

Let Toys be Toys offered a resolution to the issue, stating on its campaignwe’re asking retailers, booksellers and manufacturers to sort and label toys and books by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let the children decide which toys they enjoy best.”

Their voices, along with hundreds of supporters, were finally heard and acknowledged by the TIA. With questions like “Do we have awards for Best Car for Women and Best Car for Men? How about Best Smartphone for Women and Best Smartphone for Men? making it loud and clear that if we aren’t going to separate the products used daily by adults, it would be wise to stop making the separation for our impressionable youth.

Thankfully, the TIA decided to stand on the right side of history and do away with past protocol. And good riddance, because girls like Legos and boys like Easy Bake Ovens and it’s well past time to stop telling them that they shouldn’t.

Toy Fair Awards Highlight Gender Divide

The American Toy Fair is the largest toy trade show in the Western hemisphere. The annual event is held in New York City by the Toy Industry Association, whose more than 900 members account for approximately 90-percent of the annual U.S. domestic toy market of $22 billion.

So it’s kind of a big deal.

One of the highlights of the show are the awards. They give out awards for best educational toy, most innovative toy, and best toy for infants  and toddlers.

The Best Toy for Boys is defined as “The best toy developed specifically for boys of any age.” So what toy is it that was “developed specifically for boys?”

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon by The LEGO Group

That’s right girls, forget that the main character of the film is a woman. Forget that she spends more time piloting it than Han Solo or that she actually inherits the Falcon at the end of the movie. Forget that she comes with the set and is shown on the box piloting the spaceship.

Star Wars is for boys.

Other nominated toys “made specifically for boys” included the Air Hogs Millennium Falcon and Star Wars Bladebuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber — got the message yet, girls?

Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck
Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck

On the other hand, the Best Toy for Girls winner was the consumer-culture driven Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck followed by an assortment of other pink, purple and pastel items. (Notable exceptions included the “Girl Scouts Cookie Oven” and “Zoomer Kitty.”)

To what purpose do we divide toys by gender? What good does it do to tell girls they are only allowed to play with something if it is pink, purple and covered in flowers? Why do we tell a boy interested in nurturing pets or in role-playing owning an ice-cream shop that his interests are wrong? Where are the toys for those children?

It just goes to show you that despite what I believe are truly good intentions and lots of ink and timid steps towards progress, the industry is hopelessly mired in incredibly rigid and antiquated gender norms that should have died generations ago.

Before next year’s Toy Fair, I’d like to give the industry an opportunity to re-examine this flow chart, which I hope will make it easier for them to determine if a toy is “specifically made” for a girl or a boy.


Any questions?