TOP-TOY Group, a licensee of the Toys “R” Us brand, has published a gender-neutral toy catalog for the Christmas season in Sweden. The publication includes images of girls playing with toy guns and pictures of boys playing with toy blow-dryers.
The change is driven in part by the Swedish government's efforts to require “gender equality” through the law, but also by some societal trends. Since the 1970s, some experts have claimed that children are biased toward certain behaviors because of societal standards, not biology. The change in Swedish toy advertising is the latest manifestation of that belief system.
However, the theory remains debatable. A story at the Huffington Post, hardly a conservative outlet, reported that research done with monkeys in 2002 and 2008 found that male adolescent monkeys preferred to play with wheeled vehicles while the females preferred dolls. This would suggest biological factors, not the “macho” expectations monkey parents have for boys, were the cause.
Writing at Parenting magazine's website, psychologist Anita Sethi noted that as a “post-feminist Mom” she strove to avoid giving her children gender-stereotyped toys, “offering glittery finger paint to my son and trains to my daughter. But it didn't matter: My son turned his doll's crib into a race car and my daughter was obsessed with shoes.”
Even as some groups insist on a strict gender-neutral approach to selling children's toys, those marketing to adults aren't as constrained. The Wall Street Journal recently noted airlines are finding men and women have very different preferences when flying. The carriers are adjusting service to appeal to women, who now represent a much larger share of frequent-flier travelers. Delta Air Lines is considering menu changes to in-flight servings. Hyatt Hotels is changing the brands of bathroom products it uses.