Sending a gender-neutral message to kids

Dolls and dresses are meant for little girls, while trucks and the color blue are reserved strictly for little boys–at least, that’s what some companies would like children to believe. Until recently, you couldn’t walk down a toy store isle without noticing the drastic separation between rows of pink toys aimed at girls and blue toys directed at boys.

Today, however, some companies are working to let it be known that their products are both useable and earnestly enjoyed by all children. On the road to making the world more gender neutral, they’re making their stance known through advertisements and public messages designed to make their products less biased towards one gender or another.

Easy Bake Oven
14 year-old McKenna Pope campaigned to get a boy on the packaging for the Easy Bake Oven

Some brands, such as Lincoln Logs, actually seem to have moved backwards on the road to gender neutrality. The pictures on the box of the vintage sets used to routinely show a young boy and girl playing with the blocks together. But decades after securing a gender-neutral message, the brand created the Little Prairie Farmhouse. Parent brand K’nex advertised it as being “designed specially for girls” and essentially negated their once positive message.

The Easy Bake Oven, however, used the opposite approach. The brand was once on par with toys like Barbie, in that they used to strictly market their product towards girls. In 2012, though, after the success of a petition posted on Change, a new model was released with boys shown enjoying the product in the advertisements. Who would have ever thought the Easy Bake Oven could teach Lincoln Logs a thing or two about gender bias?

Princess Smartypants, by Babette Cole
Princess Smartypants, by Babette Cole (sadly the current UK cover for this book has a pink background!)

Parent Dish shared a selection of ten books that beat gender stereotypes. Among their list of titles, they take special note of author Babette Cole.

Cole wrote two books that presented characters in a drastically different light than the more gender segregated normalcy of the time. The first was 1986’s Princess Smartypants, a story about an “independent Ms.” with no intention of getting married. The second was 2004’s Prince Cinders, a twist on the classic Cinderella story that followed a male lead instead of female.

Today, Cole’s message of breaking gender stereotypes is finally catching fire. Authors such as Lucy Cousins (Maisy Goes to Nursery), Lynn Roberts (Little Red), and Annie Kubler (Man’s Work) are following in Cole’s footsteps to make sure their books don’t pigeonhole young-minded readers. Illustrations and cover art used throughout the book are neutral, too, so kids can feel confident choosing them without a second thought as to which gender they’re meant for.

Tootsa Autumn Winter 2013 Collection
Tootsa, A/W 2013 Collection

The majority of children’s clothing is still segregated between genders, but there are some companies trying to change that.

After moving to the U.K. from France, designer Kate Pietrasik was surprised to see how segregated children’s clothing was presented. In France, the difference between the genders’ clothing was far less pronounced than in the U.K. Armed with the knowledge of how things could change in her new home in addition to a background in clothing design, Pietrasik designed her own unisex children’s clothing line, Tootsa.

The brand has dozens of designs for children between the ages of 0 and 8. In presenting themselves without any gender bias, they showcase girls and boys wearing identical outfits in all of their lookbooks and advertisements.

There are some companies that still have a long way to go. Hopefully by looking at the success achieved by these brands, however, they’ll choose to start projecting a more gender-neutral message in the future.

This post was written by a RWL Guest BloggerMonica Lowry is a freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She is a full-time stay at home wife and mom, forever drinking coffee and cheering on the Bulldogs.

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