On LEGO and gender-neutral toys
This image has been making the rounds on Reddit recently, for good reason:
The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls…. The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.
One popular response is, “Why don’t they do it like this anymore?”
Good question. According to this NYTimes article on how Disney has branded Frozen, the 1970s were way more gender-neutral than today:
Princesses may seem like a permanent feature of the toyscape, but they were less common before the 1990s. “The idea that pink princess fantasy dream dolls have always been a part of girlhood is false,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, who studies the cultural history of toys. Sweet has found that the popularity of gender-neutral toys reached a peak in the mid-1970s. Since then, toy makers have embraced the market-doubling effect of pushing certain toys to boys and other toys to girls. Sweet says the level of gender segregation has never been higher. A typical big-box store might have four aisles of blue toys and four aisles of pink toys with an aisle of yellow toys in between. “Separate but equal,” she says. Legos, for example, evolved from simple packs of building blocks into play sets mostly sold to boys, often with brand tie-ins. In 2012, the company introduced Lego Friends, which are basically Legos for girls.
Here’s another NYTimes article from 2012 on gender-based toy marketing:
Gender was remarkably absent from the toy ads at the turn of the 20th century but played a much more prominent role in toy marketing during the pre- and post-World War II years. However, by the early 1970s, the split between “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” seemed to be eroding…
But by 1995, the gendered advertising of toys had crept back to midcentury levels, and it’s even more extreme today. In fact, finding a toy that is not marketed either explicitly or subtly (through use of color, for example) by gender has become incredibly difficult.
There are several reasons gender-based marketing has become so prevalent. On a practical level, toy makers know that by segmenting the market into narrow demographic groups, they can sell more versions of the same toy.
Follow the money.