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How Toy Stores are Failing Women

Consider the last time you walked down a toy aisle. You probably could guess which toys were targeted for girls and which ones were targeted for boys. Maybe you saw pink aisles filled with princesses, fairies, dolls and crafts, while the blue aisles had superhero action figures and building sets.

Itís striking how gender segregated play has become.

One store's not-so-subtle suggestion that Barbies and pink toys are for girls.

Image credit: janetmck via Flickr

Organizations like Let Toys Be Toys are campaigning to stop the retail practice of labeling toys by gender, so that kids can self-identify whichever toys they like — and for good reason. Gender-specific toys not only contribute to gender stereotypes but they can also negatively impact females, as girls may be limiting their play to more passive toys (think dolls, fairies, stuffed animals). Four-year-old Riley described the issue well in her rant on toy marketing (see video above).

A category of particular concern is construction toys (also known as building sets). This is the fastest growing category in the industry, yet historically 90 percent of the themes, play patterns and marketing of these toys have targeted boys. Construction toys develop important spatial reasoning, design, and problem solving skills that are prerequisites to succeed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These are fields in which women make up only 24 percent of the workforce, leading to what president Obama has termed a “Gender Gap in Innovation.”

A new breed of female-led start-ups believe toys can make a difference.†Goldie Bloxís engineering toy for girls debuted last year on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, and now the brand new company†Build & Imagine is following suit with a†kickstarter campaign to raise support for their line of illustrated magnetic building sets.

Construction toys help develop important problem solving skills and spatial reasoning. The new female-led company Build & Imagine helps make building toys more accessible to girls.

Do you think these new companies will help give girls a leg up in STEM? Comment below.

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Megan Zehnder

Megan is an editor and producer for Care2's Healthy Living. Her main priorities are to live simply and build meaningful relationships with the people in her life. She loves to write and talk about environmental issues, healthy living, and women's rights. Beyond that, her interests change daily, but eating and cooking vegetarian food is always a favorite.


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4:48AM PST on Nov 20, 2014

Thank you :)

9:08PM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

I suppose it never bothered me to play with either "boy" or "girl" toys, though I think the divide between pink and blue with nothing in between has gotten much worse since I was a kid.

11:10AM PDT on Jul 5, 2014

Overthinking, again.

4:52AM PDT on May 18, 2014


1:00PM PDT on May 16, 2014

We had our own son in 1977.I didn't drive yet so we would go to Toys R Us.If he was asleep,I would run in and buy a few things I knew he'd like. If he was awake we would walk down the aisles and ask he to point out things that he liked.Then we'd hold up a variety of the same thing till we found the one we thought he liked the most. He picked a baby doll in a green dress . I put it in the cart and stuck something on top of it. He forgot it quickly .We did the shopping in October so there was a lot of time for him to forget our trip "to Santa's workshop." and that's we got around what he really wanted.

12:24PM PDT on May 16, 2014

My mother used to tell the story that on Christmas Eve,she let my brother and sister into the room with the little decorated tree (we're German) and my brother ran for the baby buggy with the doll in it and my sister ran to the firetruck. Since they were both happy,my enlightened parents in1949 left well enough alone.Not surprising since my mother was Jewish,my father was catholic and Hungarian and had been drafted in the german Army.They had a "let it be" attitude.

5:37PM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

Thank you!

2:25PM PST on Nov 15, 2013

my favourite toy was an old cardboard box with a bit of string attached which I used to fill with pebbles shells and other such 'treasures' and drag along, or I'd sit in it and pretend it was a car, or a boat, or an airplane - I don't think my box had any gender but what I had (still have hopefully) is a vivid imagination which most children have so if you cannot find the 'right' toy I'd recommend a humble cardboard box. And I'd say buy the girls some lego or other 'construction' toys - we could sure do with a few more things, like homes and offices and buildings and transport infastructures, and engines, and planes etc. being designed by women. If I designed a car it would look like a bumper car from the fair ground viz. huge rubber bumpers and every safety appliance you could think of for both pedestrians and passengers and would not go over 70 miles an hour - but that's just me.

2:00PM PST on Nov 12, 2013

Laurie Peterson, founder of Build & Imagine here. Just wanted to thank you all for your comments! I am really enjoying reading your thoughts on this hot topic. Please be sure to watch my Kickstarter video if you have not:

Thanks so much!

8:55AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Kids in the end will choose what toy fancies them...but i'd prefer to see toys organized by type and not by gender preference. Thanks

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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