We’re seeing some blurring of the consumer divisions between boys and girls.
As traditional gender roles evolve and at least some stereotypes fade away (e.g., more men are taking “women’s” jobs like nursing and teaching), we’re seeing some blurring of the time-honored consumer divisions between boys and girls. Harrods department store in London recently got oodles of press for its new 26,000-square-foot Toy Kingdom, which organizes toys by theme rather than gender. The multisensory space includes areas labeled Enchanted Forest (think fairies and dolls) and Wonderland (trains and cars). While girls will likely gravitate to the former and boys to the latter, kids are encouraged to explore both. Last December another London retail landmark, Hamleys, removed signs labeling the girls and boys departments after complaints from a group that fights stereotyping in schools—but retreated somewhat by later color-coding the sections after customers expressed confusion.
Some brands are pushing the concept further, trying to turn stereotypes on their head. Swedish toy company Leklust recently created an international sensation with catalog images of a boy in a Spider-Man costume pushing a doll carriage and a girl driving a toy tractor (more broadly, Sweden is aiming to become more gender-neutral, even coining a new unisex pronoun). And last year conservative commentators pounced after a J.Crew marketing email featured president and creative director Jenna Lyons admiring hot pink nail polish on her young son’s toes.
Advocates of gender neutrality argue that traditional toys and activities tend to push the sexes into stereotyped roles and perpetuate inequalities, though there’s no denying the many dichotomies between most boys and girls. Lego experienced blowback last December after launching Lego Friends, a girl-directed line featuring dollhouses and handbags. In this case, gender neutrality lost the battle: The Friends products have been declared a runaway success.