Gender-based marketing of toys is nothing new, but should we care a little more about it?

I have two small daughters, so there is a l-o-t of pink in my house. I’m okay with it. But my heart sank a little when I saw Lego’s new LEGO® Friends range. In case you haven’t ventured into a toy shop recently, Lego has stuck its neck out with a range most notable for the colour palette – predominantly pink and purple – and the content –a beauty salon, a pink convertible, a splash pool, a café, among others.

Full disclosure: I’m a big Lego fan – I loved it as a child, and my daughters have an entire toybox dedicated to it. But pink… Really?

Description: A tree house in which to plan girly adventures

A tree house in which to plan girly adventures

Turns out I’m not the only mom-of-girls who doesn’t care too much for Lego’s genius new marketing idea. Two US women, both consumer advocates, were so outraged by the range that they started a well-supported petition to get Lego to commit to gender equality in marketing (45000 signatures and counting at the time of going to press). Read about it at change.org and search for ‘Tell Lego to stop selling out girls’, if you’re interested.

Lego is unrepentant. They say years of intensive marketing research has told them this is what girl really want. But it did make me think. What kind of message is this sending to our children? And does it really matter? What role are we parents playing in reinforcing gender roles? Is it set in stone that your son will prefer trucks and your daughter will dream of princesses and fairies?

Description: Living the lego dream in heartlake city; included a cafe to meet at for milkshakes, a beauty salon and a veterinary clinic.

Living the Lego dream in heart lake city; included a cafe to meet at for milkshakes, a beauty salon and a veterinary clinic

‘There is growing evidence that points to certain biological differences [between boys and girls in this respect], but gender roles are largely socialized,’ says clinical psychologist Ruth Ancer. ‘The problems is that, in doing that, we limit and pigeonhole [out children]. To try to appeal to girls more by [using pink] and giving them a beauty salon is ludicrous. It just reinforces gender stereotypes and doesn’t give children a choice.’ But what about the unease many parents would fell if their boys wanted to play with dolls, or favoured pink?

Ancer says we do children a disservice if we pander to this unease. ‘We’ve got to be aware of the way we make assumptions about what boys and girls are like, because we might have children who are different to that and we shouldn’t be alarmed,’ she says. ‘Challenge your children, give them the opportunity to play with different kinds of toys so they can learn what it is they’re interested in. Encourage them to think widely about what they enjoy, and to do things because they really enjoy them, not because they’re told they should enjoy them.’

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