In the 1980s, and 1990s, TV ads showed girls playing with dolls and boys driving toy trucks.
Elizabeth Sweet, sociologist, said that the notion of boys versus daughters toys has fluctuated throughout history.
Sweet stated that people often believe toys have been this way since the beginning. “They’ve always been pink and blue, they’ve always been hyper-gender…and that’s just really not the case.”
Sweet used catalogs to discover that toys ads from the early 1900s only used the word “child”
Gender-oriented ads for toys increased in the 1920s and started to fade again by the 1970s.
Sweet stated that there were toys that defied gender stereotypes. Sweet said that there were ads featuring boys with kitchen sets, girls building and boys and daughters playing together.
In the 1990s, targeted ads had returned.
Sweet explained that “Gender toys tend to embody more fantasy role in the late 20th Century, so the princesses and super heroes we see today really didn’t come on the scene until then.”
Megan Perryman from the British Let Toys Be Toys claims that she has observed the effectiveness of targeted ads with her own children.
Perryman said that she was able to recall going into a store with my daughter while she was learning how to read. She suddenly said, “I don’t want these toys.”
Now, she is working to eliminate gender stereotypes in toy shops. Her group has so far convinced all UK retailers to eliminate the girls’ and boys’ labels from their websites and stores.
Perryman stated that it doesn’t hurt to call them ‘construction toys’ rather than ‘boy toys. The retailers are not hurt. It has allowed parents and children to find what they need, and has been a huge success.”
It took some time for this idea to be fully implemented in the United States. Target, the retail giant, banned pink, blue, boy or girls toy aisles from its stores in 2015. But it didn’t happen without significant backlash, with Fox News saying, “God made us male and female…and to think we’re gender neutral is just folly.”
Fast forward to the present – a 2021 California law requires major retailers to offer a gender-neutral toy section.
But the backlash remains – some say it may have to do with the idea that promoting equality in toys is also a way to push for a more non-binary and gender non-conforming society.