Tuesday, December 11 2012 23:21

Back in the News Again: Gender-Neutral Toys... The Debate Rages...

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I have been working on this blog entry since November 25. Over the past few weeks, I've gone back and forth on it, updating, adding new information, and finally setting it free...

I really wish that we could all just let our kids be kids and play with whatever toy they'd like without having to think of things in greater social terms. While our daughters are welcome to explore whatever piques their interests, the simple fact is that there is no "right and wrong" when it comes to play. Last month, I wrote a piece for New York's Time to Play Magazine about my daughter's love of toy cars (read it here), touching on the issue of gender neutrality a bit, but also saying that it's ok to play with whatever she'd like. If she wants to race around with her Hot Wheels today, then dress up in full Princess garb tonight, it's cool.

IMG 0666Pictured Right: My daughter rocking out in princess garb last week.

Parents (or caregivers) tend to be the source of social stereotypes and limitations. As noted before, my wife and I made plans to steer our girls away from the so-called "Pink Princess" phase, but somehow our oldest has discovered it, and if it makes her happy, so be it. I call her the "Rock and Roll Princess" or "Punk Rock Princess" since she dresses herself and will often combine "looks" that come off as pretty "punk rock" for a three year old. If she wants to mix-and-match an Ariel crown with Rapunzel gloves, Cinderella jewelry, an Abby Cadabby wand, and some non-Princess clothes... let that imagination flow and grow! Sure, there's plenty of parents that would like to see the "Pink Princess" thing go away completely, but really - what's wrong with it? There's no reason why kids can't enjoy everything that makes them smile.

IMG 7182Pictured Left: My daughter playing "Firefighter" back in February.

On the flipside, there's no reason to PUSH the Princess stuff upon the girls (they don't have to like Princesses), nor is there any reason to force them away from other playthings that might've been considered "for boys" in the past. Toys are Toys, and as a parent, I prefer to "guide and embrace" rather than "push and pull." Why is this on my mind? A bunch of articles that have popped up in recent weeks regarding the change in thinking regarding kids and toys...

-The New York Times: "More Dads Buy the Toys, So Barbie, And Stores, Get Makeovers"
-The Good Men Project: (in response to NYT) - "The Unrelenting Pink of Girl Toys Is Fading As Dads Do Their Part"
-The Huffington Post: "Santa's Workshop is All Out of Pink! Ho, Ho, Ho!"
-KPCC: "Is gender-neutral marketing for children the way of the future?"
-The Atlantic: "You Can Give A Boy A Doll, But You Can't Make Him Play With It"
-The Good Men Project: "Does Gender-Neutral Play Really Equal A 'War on Boys?'"

The comments on these articles and others like them are beyond irritating. But what really caught my attention on November 25 was a post by a Grandmother on the Toys "R" Us Facebook Page complaining about a "gender-neutral policy" - but as she was just another uninformed idiot, what she was actually irritated with was a catalog released by the Swedish version of Toys "R" Us run by TOP-TOY, who licenses the TRU name over there. Here's the post, which I responded to on November 26:
Notice that she never responded. So let's take a look at some examples of the "terrible" "gender-neutral" photos found in that Swedish Toys "R" Us catalog (or see the whole thing here), shall we?
gender feeding
gender kitchen castle
gender dolls
gender piano
That's just a handful, and while there are others (girl playing with NERF guns, etc), I see more examples of boys playing with what have been traditionally viewed as "girls" toys than girls delving into the "boys" realm. Is that the source of the anger here? A double-standard that girls playing with boys toys are tough little tomboys, while boys playing with girls toys is making them effeminate or something? That's the vibe I'm getting, and I don't like it. It's adults that are creating an issue where there is none, and potentially sexualizing children. It's just not cool.

Growing up in the 1980s, I played with SHE-RA: PRINCESS OF POWER, CARE BEARS, RAINBOW BRITE, JEM, BARBIE, MY LITTLE PONY, and more - TOGETHER with my sister, just as she joined me in playing with HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, STAR WARS, G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, SUPER POWERS, etc. Our friends joined us in playing with whatever was interesting, and there was nothing wrong with it then, just as there's nothing wrong with it now. 

We're all going to be seeing the "gender neutral" debate rage on in the media for a long time to come, and that's unfortunate. Let kids be kids.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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