Toy Makers Try to Break Gender Stereotypes, But Can’t Seem to Ditch the Pink

I’m a girl and I like pink. I also like purple, green and orange, but really I’m supposed to like pink. Or so says our culture from the day we are born – pink for girls and blue for boys.

The distinction is especially clear when it comes to toys. Aisles of pink Barbies, doll houses and princess costumes are meant to lure girls, or rather their parents, to the checkout line. Walk down a toy aisle today and you’ll find some new additions for girls, like bows and arrows and Nerf guns, but you’ll know they are for girls because, well, they’re pink.

The emergence of female heroines like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Merida from Brave or Tris from the new movie Divergent has given girls a whole new set of strong female role models that have inspired lots of new toys. Great news, right? Well, not too fast. While yes it’s great that girls have options for more active toys, it’s also frustrating that said toys fall prey to the tired gender stereotypes of girls loving pink.

“The result is a selection of toys that, oddly, both challenges antiquated notions and plays to them deeply,” says a New York Times article about the pinkification of toys for girls.

Sharon Lamb, a child psychologist and play therapist, featured in the Times article adds, “What I don’t like is the stereotyped girlifying of this. Do they have to be in pink? Why can’t they be rebels and have to be re-BELLES? Why do they need to look sexy when aggressing, defending the weak or fighting off bad guys?”

I have to agree with Lamb. In trying to shatter gender stereotypes on one hand, these new toys are reinforcing them with another. Funny thing is that Katniss doesn’t have a pink bow and arrow in the movie (and probably wouldn’t be caught dead with one). Actually, none of the characters who inspired these types of toys are “girly,” so why are they being branded this way?

The Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker isn’t the only culprit. Even toys like GoldieBlox and Roominate – which were designed specifically to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields that are predominately dominated by men — use pastels and shades of pink in their design. Don’t get me wrong. The products are great and help break stereotypes that girls aren’t good at or interested in STEM, but they reinforce the concept that girls should love pink. Why not use bold primary colors instead?

Luckily, there are some great new products that are expanding their color palettes for girls. The new average-sized Barbie, Lammily, isn’t decked out in pink like her counterpart Barbie, but rather has outfits in blue, orange and yellow, not to mention the fact that she was designed using the measurements of an average 19-year-old girl.

Another successful crowd funding campaign, Girls Will Be, is creating shorts for girls that aren’t “shorty shorts or skinny fits” and that stray away from “pink, ruffles, or bows.” The casual cargo shorts or perfect play shorts will be perfect for girls who like to run around with their bows and arrows or Nerf guns.

Gender stereotyping stretches beyond toys and clothes to books. The Let Books Be Books campaign in the UK is hoping to stop children’s books from being labelled as “for boys” or “for girls” because “telling children which stories and activities are ‘for them’ based on their gender closes down whole worlds of interest.” The campaign has gotten support from several publishers and authors, as well as the general public.

Lammily, Girls Will Be and Let Books be Books are shining examples of breaking down stereotypes through and through. We need these examples to become the norm so that girls and boys aren’t locked into separate pink and blue worlds, and the time is now. We have seen that girls’ interests are changing, but by pinkifying these new toys we are still telling girls not to abandon their femininity or girly side. While there is nothing wrong with being a pink-loving-girly-girl, it is wrong for girls to feel that they must be girly to be a real girl.

Presenting girls (and boys for that matter) with toys in a variety of colors will show them that they can just be a kid.

What do you think?

Related from Care2:

The Battle of the Barbies: Iconic vs. “Normal” vs. Plus-Size

Let Toys Be Toys: UK Store Removes Boys and Girls Labels

First Gender-Neutral Toy Department Opens at Harrods

Photo Credit: JanetMcKnight via Flickr


Emily J.
Emily J.21 days ago

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the colour pink if other choices of colours are available as well, but I really dislike gendered marketing of toys to children- it restricts children's choice and imagination. It is even worse when toys for girls are simplified and dumbed-down, or focussed on superficial things like appearance, thankfully some retailers are moving away from the awful stereotypes. Boys also miss out (even if they have been spared the makeup and overly-simple construction sets that insult girl's intelligence) when stores and manufacturers segregate their toys, because they don't get a choice outside of the stereotypical ones!

Johann Mitchell
Johann Mitchell2 years ago

I never considered "I'm a girl." to be a reason (or excuse) to do or not do anything!

I'm a girl, too.

I ride motorcycles, have done aerobatics in Air Force T-34s, drove a bulldozer, and did construction work in addition to knitting, cooking and sewing. I'm also an artist, and I choose colors according to what looks good.

But that doesn't mean I'd choose pink as a color for toys because they're meant for girls, or not choose pink because the toys are meant for boys.

Actually, I think I kind of missed the concept that some toys are for girls and some are for boys. How does that work again?

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

I love all colors. I look especially good in blue, but I am a girl. What am I supposed to do?

Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis2 years ago

I disagree with the idea that girls are taught to look and feel good! Rather, I think that there is more pressure on girls to look good! There are all these images out there of these really slim girls and ordinary girls are expected to live up to that!

Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis2 years ago

Hi Loesje, Yes but who decided this rule? Why should girls only like pink and boys blue? There is no basis for this idea other than to tell male and female babies apart! I am an individual and no one is going to tell me what I should and shouldn`t like according to whether I am male or female!

Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis2 years ago

I have always hated the colour pink and hated dolls when I was little! Every doll I have ever had, I have pulled the arms and legs off of and chopped all the hair off! I played with cars when I was little and would have prefered a Batman or Thundercats toy than a `dolly`! I prefer wearing jeans to skirts or dresses and my favourite colours are black and blue!

Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan2 years ago

Normally blue for boys and pink for girls, but all colours are beautiful.

Hollie Ferguson
Hollie Ferguson2 years ago

Honestly, it's mainly just a girl problem. I have a son, and none of his toys are all blue or different shades of blue. So my son has variety, and if I had a daughter...well, she'd still have variety because I'd buy the neutral "boy" toys, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, girls have more choices for clothing (variety of colours and items), whereas boys are stuck with blue, brown or orange apparently. It's sad...even with sewing, when I looked through a patterns catalogue, in an entire catalogue there were only 3 boy models. Made me very disappointed. Girls are taught to look good to feel good, and boys are taught to be active to feel good.

Amy Ingalls
Amy Ingalls2 years ago

When my kids were small toys were just toys-- boys could play with dolls and trucks, and girls could play with dolls and trucks. However, it was hard to find items that didn't play into the stereotypes.

Christine Stewart

Thanks for the article.