Thursday, October 15, 2015

Buying for Boys and Girls

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-oYP7jao9eHs/UR_LN7dnsJI/AAAAAAAAI0g/IXXJWRs8XaE/s200/IMG_2661.JPGA couple of months ago, I listened to an interesting discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show about gender marketing for kids. The show followed Target's announcement that they were going to take down signage for their toys and bedding with the words "Boy" or "Girl" in them so they would be more gender neutral. They were also going to remove the pink backgrounds from some areas. I found the discussion about how these conventions developed very interesting.

Pink for girls and blue for boys has not always been the norm. It first was suggested in the late 1800's but didn't become common until the late 1950's. A study in the 1920's in department stores showed that gifts for baby girls and baby boys were about 50/50 pink and blue for each one. Meaning, baby boys and girls were getting equal amounts of pink and blue gifts. And later when there was more differentiation, it was very culturally dependent. Blue is the color associated with the Virgin Mary, so in countries with a large Catholic population, blue was for girls. And red was associated with stronger things like blood, and since pink was a variation of that, it was associated with boys.

Also, there was more neutrality in clothing than today. In the 1950's and 1960's, girls had to wear dresses to school and boys wore nicer clothes also. Then they came home and put on play clothes. A look at catalogs back then showed a small section of dresses for girls, a small section of nicer clothes for boys and a large section of play clothes that were for both girls and boys--no differentiation. These went through size 10-12. Today almost all clothing is geared toward either a boy or a girl.

A look at the way toys were marketed also showed some interesting trends. When ads were studied from the 1920's through the 1960's, it was found that the toys that were marketed to girls had to do with household duties and boy's toys were geared more to building sets and cars. However, only about 50% of the toys had any kind of gender identification. Fast forward to today and a look at a Disney Store's website shows 100% of the toys are targeted to either a girl or a boy. But today instead of trying to sell girls little brooms or irons, they are selling princesses.

In between these times at the height of feminism in the 1970's, only 2% of the toys were marketed for specifically girls or boys. This neutrality declined until the mid 1990's when about half of the toys were now gender specific--just like it was in the 1950's. One other thing mentioned was that however toys were marketed when someone was growing up is what they think is the norm. Everything is compared to that.

So what does this all mean? I"m not sure but I do find it interesting that in the 1950's when there weren't as many opportunities for women, half of the toys were still gender neutral. And now in 2015, when there are many more opportunities for women, almost all of the toys are marketed specifically to either a boy or a girl.

This is a very complex subject with many layers--too many to explore in this one blog post. So I'll leave you now to ponder marketing of kids products over the years. What were things like when you were growing up and did you change how you bought things for your kids or grandkids?



9 comments:

  1. Interesting! Even though Target is planning on changing its signage, it won't eliminate the toy companies from packaging items in a boy- or girl-patterned style. I had a conversation with a mom a couple of years ago in the toy aisle of Target. We were looking at the Target version of Calico Critter toys (I think they are called Little Woodeez or something on that order). I mentioned to her that my daughter loves the Target car and camper toy and that it's well-made--her comment was that she wished it wasn't in pink because her son would love it, too, but she felt the pink was a barrier to her purchasing it. I have the good fortune of having a boy and a girl and they have shared their toys back and forth--in fact, when my daughter received the afore-mentioned car/camper, my son was every bit as excited about playing with it as she was. I'm not sure I would purchase a pink camper for a boy, either, and it's a shame--it really is a gender-neutral toy--both boys and girls go camping ...

    I'm with you on finding the gender marketing on toys to be interesting. Right now we are going through the annual what-to-do-for-Halloween ritual. The girl costumes are all variations on princesses and fairies, and my daughter has zero interest in either of those. Sooo as usual, I turned to my best friend Google and we are in the process of making her a gumball machine costume. It's less expensive and more fun, anyway!

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    1. It's a shame that everything is marketed to either a girl or a boy because there are lots of toys, like the camper, that most children regardless of gender would like to play with. The only thing I can figure is they can make more money that way. Toys won't get passed around as much between girls and boys if they are all pink or blue. (Although, girls are more likely to play with boy toys than the other way around. Same goes for books.)

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  2. Very interesting. I was a kid in the seventies (sixties too, if you must know, but I was a diaper tot back then, so I don't exactly remember it all that well) and there was some princess stuff out even then, but it always made me want to barf - then and now. I had a hand-me-down princess bedspread and some frilly pajamas, and I didn't hate them but as a kid I tried to get worked up over them, as I realized girls were "supposed to" do, but I never did. The unisex play clothes look was for me. In fact, I pestered my mother for "boys shoes" and succeeded only some of the time.

    To this day I wear a lot of men's shoes. I think I wear gender-specific clothing most of the time, but of the unisex-looking variety. Ultra-fem is not for me; I don't do my nails and all that. I'll wear pink if I feel like it, which is anytime. I simply don't care about which clothes should be for men and which should be for women; I've never given it tons of thought. As an aside, I must have benefited from generations before me, since I grew up thinking I could do anything I want to, career-wise, and I still do. In fact, I really don't think about gender at all when I think about myself.

    As for the toys, they can market it any old way but they should not "mark it" for either gender. Kids can play with whatever they want. My daughter happens to like trucks and dolls, too. I never thought transportation and building were gender-specific interests, so I can understand why she loves "big rigs" that make lots of noise, fire trucks, and Bob the Builder.

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    1. I'm a little older than you and I don't remember princess stuff much at all. I grew up in an all girl family (four girls) and while we had dolls, we just played. We had dolls, trucks, and played cops and robbers, as well as pretending to be Santa Claus. We were expected to work hard no matter the job. However, next door to me lived a family of two boys and two girls and there was very much a gender difference down the middle with girls doing more housework while the boys played more ball. I wonder sometimes how things might have been in my family if I had had brothers, if there would have been a difference in the way we were raised. I'd like to think not, but we'll never know.

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  3. My 20-yr-old grandson had dolls and girl things. I bought him a broom and mop. He had a doll house his parents got him for Christmas. Now that I have two little grandchildren and two older, with a boy and girl in both sets, I worry about giving the girls things that do not address anything outside of pink and home. However, I do not hesitate to buy pink clothing. It is just the toys that give me pause.

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    1. Darn. I lost my first reply to you, Practical P. Do you have much luck in finding gender neutral toys for you grandkids?

      As far as clothes go, right or wrong, little girl clothes are cuter than little boy clothes. Buying clothes for a little girl is something I missed in having only boys.

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  4. It's interesting that you wrote about this at the same time I am reading Born to Buy which explores the marketing efforts specifically for children. While my boys had dolls as well as "boy" toys they played differently with the dolls than girls did I noticed more gender specific toys marketed to my children's age group than to mine but it was nothing like it is today and yet boys and girls still enjoy playing with a variety of toys so why the gender specific marketing is a question to be explored further.

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    1. You'll have to let us know if you learn more in "Born to Buy". I think in the end, it all comes down to money. They must have bigger sales when they have more gender specific toys.

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    2. I will. I had planned to include a review in my end of month book post but there is so much I would like to explore from this book I'll probably do an entire post on it

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What do you think?