While many different social messages teach children how society defines what it means to be male or female, one huge way children learn to about gender roles is through play.
Children’s toys are frequently designed based on what companies assume that most boys and most girls will like. For example, toy cars and trucks might teach boys “tough” working world information. Even a school-age boy might know gendered information well beyond his years, like that excavators come in three sizes: compact, mid-size, and large. Girls are socially taught to know other, home-related information — toy ovens might teach a girl that a white cake is made without egg yolks.
From dollhouses to dump trucks, girls and boys are taught different information based on what they hear, see, and play with, and toy companies play a huge role in this education.
However, this trend may be changing.
As reported by The Conversation.com in June, gender-neutral toy marketing is quietly on the rise. Companies like Mattel, Hasbro, and Amazon have all recently started organizing shelves and web pages based on item type, not which gender the company wants to sell the toys to. For example, thanks to a new group of female characters, Star Wars toys have become a “destination” in toy aisles, rather than being featured exclusively amongst items previously meant for boys.
According to the article, toy companies are now seeking ways to market products around “play patterns” rather than exclusively gender. Though some companies, like Lego and Disney, still have lines of toys that focus on girls or boys, even the most gender-focused are working to rebrand items in a way that is more inclusive.
Though the toy market won’t likely become gender-free any time soon, such an objective may reap many surprising benefits for both consumers and producers.
According to The Conversation, toy companies that have been willing to adopt gender-neutral marketing have found success by creating a new space in the markets. After all, selling a toy to kids of all genders can mean selling more toys, and hence, making greater profits.
Furthermore, other recent articles have discussed the benefits of gender-neutral toys and gender-fluid play for children’s development.
According to PsyPost, being able to play with “boy” and “girl” toys helps kids learn a greater variety of skills. For example, playing with baby dolls promotes greater nurturing skills in boys as well as girls. Similarly, PsyPost writes that girls who play more sports develop better spatial reasoning, a cognitive skill boys were previously thought to excel at over their female counterparts.
Though a hotly contested topic in many circles, gender-neutral toy marketing might be here to stay; not only does it boost childhood skill learning, but it also helps boost toy company profits in a time where kids turn to screens for their entertainment.