Dolls for Billy, toy guns for Sally? One of Sweden’s largest toy chains has caused a stir by publishing a gender-neutral catalogue showing girls playing with toys typically perceived as those for boys and vice versa.
TOP-TOY released their gender-neutral Christmas catalogue this week showing a girl brandishing a toy gun and a boy playing with a doll, after the company was previously chastised for being too conservative in encouraging outdated gender roles in their marketing material.
“We want our catalogues to reflect the way boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them. If both girls and boys in Sweden like to play with a toy kitchen, then we want to mirror this pattern,” said Thomas Meng, Retail Marketing Director for BR Toys and TOYS “R” U.S. in the Nordic countries, in a statement online.
In 2008, the retailer was reprimanded by Swedish Advertising Ombudsman after customers complained about catalogues that featured girls dressed as princesses and boys dressed as superheroes. The company decided to try a more gender-neutral approach to the catalogues and receive training from the Ombudsman’s office.
TOP-TOY produced identical holiday catalogues in Denmark and Sweden, but the gender of the kids is reversed in the Swedish edition. The Danish catalogue shows a boy holding a gun, while in the Swedish version, a girl holds a gun. The Hello Kitty page in the Swedish catalogue also replaces a girl with a boy and one girl.
Shamie Ramgoolam, co-owner of the toy store Silly Goose Kids in Toronto, says she tries to run her store with the same gender-neutral philosophy.
“It’s the way it should be,” said Ramgoolam. “Kids have certain things they like and they will play with what they like,” she said. “But the marketing is not aimed at the children, they are marketing to the people, the parents and grandparents, who will buy those toys,” she said.
The Toronto store sells dolls for both boys and girls in addition to a slew of gender-neutral toys. Trains are very popular this year.
As a mom of two — a boy who loves cars and a girl who loves princesses — Ramgoolam says she believes there is nothing controversial about encouraging kids to try toys traditionally aimed at the opposite sex.
“To me, why not bring out the nurturing the side of boy,” she said. “Who says, you can’t bring out the masculine side of a girl, too.”
Meng says similar changes will be made in other Nordic markets as well, but the Swedish catalogue was changed first because the “gender debate in Sweden is further ahead,” he said.
Earlier this year, Sweden introduced a new gender-neutral pronoun — ‘hen’ — to replace he and she in its National Encyclopedia. The move took place following national debate sparked by the publication of the country’s first gender-neutral book Kivi and Monster Dog, in which Kivi wants a dog for “hen” birthday.
And since 2008, the government has spent millions on promoting gender equality in school, including introduction of laws and regulations that ensure that teachers are actively working to reverse gender stereotypes.