By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Here's a picture from the Swedish version of an international toy company’s catalog. In keeping with Sweden’s focus on gender equality both at work and in society, this catalog is gender-neutral. In the U.S., the toy gun advertisement above would show a boy aiming the gun, not a girl. But this is the Swedish version. (Click through to a Wall Street Journal article to see more pictures from the catalog showing boys styling hair and wielding toy irons.)
For the catalog's U.S. version, apparently, the same photo set-ups are actually used – but with boys playing with battle toys and girls playing with dolls. And this, my friends, is how we urge innocent kids to accept the pink/blue, girl toy/boy toy world I fear we've created.
If you are the parent of a young girl in the United States, you may sometimes feel you are drowning in a sea of rhinestone tiaras and tulle-and-taffeta cream puff gowns. Even though Disney stopped churning out so-called princess movies at the end of 2010, the pretty-pink-princess craze has lived on. But it wasn’t always so.
I was reminded of just how un-princessy my childhood was as I sorted through the honest and hilarious comments in response to our GreatSchools Holiday Toy Survey. Of the 500 parents who shared their terrible toy stories and rave reviews, the majority (67%) are Gen-Xers like me. When we grew up, there wasn’t such an exaggerated gender divide as there is today. I wore brown Zips, for goodness sakes, because they were the “fastest” running shoes. And I’m pretty sure my bike was – gasp – blue!
For our survey, we asked parents which toys they liked as kids – and what toys kids like today. It turns out that many toys are still alive and kickin’, like Legos. Others, like Lite Brite and Speak-n-Spell have been eclipsed by LeapPads and even pricier tablets.
One striking difference the survey results highlight is this generation’s toy-gender divide: superhero worship. As kids, Gen-Xers had a serious passion for superheroes: 57% of now-adult-men loved GI Joe, 28% had a thing for Batman and Robin, and a quarter of men were into the Six Million Dollar Man.
In those days, girls had their own superheroes. Some 42% of now-adult-women adored Wonder Woman, 25% liked the Bionic Woman, and 19% were into Superman and/or Superwoman. (For me, no outfit was complete without my Wonder Woman Underoos.) Now, it’s different.
Sifting through our toy survey results, I was sad to see that nowadays, while young boys are still passionate about superheroes (particularly Spiderman, followed by Batman and Robin and the Power Rangers), girls are not. In our survey, no superhero garnered even 20% support among girls, and a mere 16% of girls like Spidey (compared to 54% of boys).
My first reaction when I saw the data was dismay. Did princesses primly push superheroes out of our daughters’ worlds, replacing power with all things pink? Thankfully, no. In fact, princesses aren't as universally popular among girls as you might think. Our survey results show princesses enrapture only 10% of 4- to 12-year old girls (which is only slightly more than the 7% of girls who still worship Wonder Woman and her truth-telling lasso).
I’ll take that good omen for now. Next year, though, I’d love to see the gender-neutral version of toy catalogs in American mailboxes. Wouldn’t you?Follow @JessicaKelmon