Being inclusive not exclusive
To start with I want to give this post some context, I am the father of two lovely children, a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. My daughter loves to play lego, play superheroes and dress up like Spiderman which are stereotypical “boys toys”. My son equally loves to play with his sisters “girls toys” such as her doll house, tea set and wear fairy wings. They see the toys they both have as just toys to play with.
As a parent I see it as perfectly fine for them to play with whatever they want and to discover things they like without being tied to society's views of what is for boys and what is for girls.
The problem we have faced as they have grown older and learned to read is they can actually read the packaging of their toys. From an early age my daughter would question why things were labeled for boys, and then the same happened with my son, questioning why things were labeled for girls.
It is not like this is a new thing either, when I was a child the main toy marketed towards boys was Action Man. Upon the initial release of Action Man there was some controversy around “should boys be playing with a doll” however the manufacture “Palitoy” ignored this concern, however they did ban the word “doll” when discussing the new toy, instead they called them “action figures” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_Man).
The most popular toy with girls however was Barbie, which is a fashion doll marketed towards girls.
As a child my sister and I would play with my Action Man and her Barbie together, going for rides in his boat, or Barbie using his space suit to go into space (because Barbie didn’t get a space suit of her own).
In recent years there have been some changes towards this however the issue has continued across the industry. One particular example would be Lego who received a large amount of criticism for its Lego Friends range of toys marketed towards girls. The main criticism being summed up in a quote from an article posted by the BBC.
Young girls are cast in caring roles and boys as go-getting protagonists. I don’t think that’s healthy.
Dr Heather Williams
Lego have this awesome section of their site which allows users to submit ideas for new sets they want to be made (you can find it at https://ideas.lego.com/). Other users can then vote for the set to be made, one such set that was suggested was a Research Institute where female scientists worked. The resulting set is as below:
The set sold out rapidly with Lego having to restock the product only to have it sell out again. After the success of the Research Institute there has be several similar sets that have gone through the same process including my favourite, the Science Adventures set.
With Lego seeing the huge success of these sets you would have thought they would make their main ranges more broad however a quick look at the Lego site highlights they haven’t changed how they market their toys.
As a parent I have already conceded that big businesses are not going to address this anytime soon. They make big money with their current business practices and I know that no matter how much I sing and shout they are unlikely to change the way they make and market toys.
What I do see however is a huge opportunity for small businesses to be disruptive in this space, instead of focusing their marketing efforts towards a particular gender they can choose to be as inclusive as possible.
So what kind of spurned me to put all these thoughts down was a discussion on Twitter earlier today. It started when I saw a tweet regarding a fantastic idea that was being marketed solely at girls. When I tried to point out that it wasn’t only girls who would like it I was met with backlash
This really bothered me because I wasn’t saying anything negative about what the people behind the idea were trying to achieve, I instead was commenting that they should be inclusive for everyone.
I think the project will be a success regardless, don’t get me wrong, its just gender stereotype marketing bothers me when I am trying to teach my children that toys are just toys.