Hot Wheels are for Girls Too
It’s 2015. Let’s get rid of “tomboy” already.
“Hot wheels. Superman action figure. Batman action figure. Tool set. Telescope. Scooter.” That was my daughter’s Christmas list to Santa last year. I browsed a popular e-commerce toy retailer and learned from the toy descriptions that I was buying “boys” toys for my girl. “Your guy is bound to love this car carrier.”
Blue for boys. Pink for girls. Yellow and green for those who elect to forego finding out gender until their baby arrives. Before day one, we are conditioned to make one set of choices for our boys and one set for our girls.
This all happens long before our children go off into the real world. Eventually they get hit with unconscious gender biases. These stereotypes are internalized in an unconscious masochistic act of burying their own authentic self through “stereotype threat”. Our children’s attitudes about their abilities and aspirations are shown to be formed early in life as a result of their perceived efficacy based on environmental factors.
Target just recently announced that it will stop using “gender-based signs” for kids’ toys and bedding. Instead, it will label products simply as for “kids.”
As a mother of a fiercely confident, curious and bright five-year-old girl, I am excited by this change and the prospects. My daughter will not be conditioned to think that cars, building sets, superheroes and solar galaxy-laden bedsheets are not for her. She is one step further from being primed to think her interests can only be dolls, poodles, princesses, pink and frills.
I was excited until I started reading the comments on Target’s blog post announcing this decisions. There are actually consumers who are upset over Target’s decision. Shoppers who claim that they need “store organization” to efficiently shop. People who claim that they (and their kids) enjoy gender identity. Parents who say that their girls enjoyed their special place browsing “her aisles” at Target. Consumers who claim that Target is bending to the wants of an overly-sensitive minority.
Did you know that Urban Dictionary defines a “tomboy” as a girl who is into “more masculine things likes “stronger” sports, computers, or cars”?
To toy manufacturers and retailers, I want to encourage you to follow Target’s suit. More than that even. I beg you to follow suit.
Here’s why: Research has shown that when toys are labeled explicitly for boys or girls, kids gravitate to the toys labeled for their group. Toys can teach great skills. Self-selecting a group of kids out from whole genres of toys means we are excluding that group from learning the lessons taught by those toys. It means we are conditioning behavior and groups to be one way and not another. The choices toy manufacturers and retailers make have an impact on our children and society at large at a time when children are in the formative stage of life.
Three concrete suggestions that could expand the universe of who our children can grow up to be and do: Rewrite toy descriptions to use non-gender specific words. Organize your stores by toy not theme. Offer on-line toy searches by age but not by gender.
My daughter loves stuffed animals and princesses as much as she loves her Hot Wheels Carrier Truck. She is as much an ice-hockey fan as she is a sparkly jewelry aficionado. She loves Captain America and American Girl Doll. But some of these interests make her a “tomboy.” They make her different. They make her something that has to be apologized for or explained in that voice to other parents with “oh, she’s just a tomboy.”
Since when are computers masculine? Since the clothing and toys that our children are exposed to from birth condition us to believe that certain toys, skills and personality traits are off limits for girls.
Nithya Das is a firm believer that with a lot of hard work, a scrappy attitude, and a belief that you belong, anything is possible. She is the SVP, General Counsel at AppNexus, the world’s leading independent ad tech platform based in New York City. Find her on Twitter at @nithyadas