Boys can play with dolls too: Toy industry makes leap to gender neutrality

July 15, 2022

TOKYO – Children’s toys are becoming more neutral, with signs saying “For boys” or “For girls” disappearing from toy stores. The shelves are filled with new products suitable for boys and girls. And an environment is created where children no longer have to give up the play activities they enjoy because of their gender.

In February, 18 different toys, including a doll, a dollhouse and a shogi, or Japanese chess set, were brought to a class of 4-year-olds at Sakura Certified Daycare Center in Tochigi City to observe the differences in the way boys and girls play. .

“It’s for girls,” a boy says looking at a doll and a dollhouse. The boys first watched these toys from a distance. Two weeks later, there was a major change. The boys played doctor with the doll as a patient and made a house for the doll out of cardboard. There was no difference in the types of toys boys and girls chose or how they played.

“When there is an environment where they can play freely and safely, boys and girls play the same way,” said Masahiro Hori, the kindergarten director.

The project was carried out over an 11-week period by Kokoruku, an organization that promotes ways to get children thinking about the UN-adopted Sustainable Development Goals, and People Co., a toy manufacturer.

To avoid giving the impression that some toys are for boys and others for girls, the toys were shown to children after removing their packaging.

“When giving toys to children, it should be done with care so that adults’ established gender views do not influence them,” a People official said.

The toy industry, which traditionally categorizes products based on the gender of target users, has begun to re-evaluate this business practice.

Toys”R”Us-Japan, Ltd., which operates about 160 stores across Japan, has decided to stop using signs such as “Toys for Boys” and “Toys for Girls” in its retail spaces. Since last year, they have gradually been replaced by signs such as “role play” which focus on types of toys.

The move is prompted by criticism that gender-based categorizations are at odds with the times and narrow consumer options.

To gain insight into consumers’ experiences with gender distinctions, a joint survey was conducted this year by Kodomo Living, which publishes a childcare news magazine, and the Dentsu Diversity Lab. The survey covered 681 parents of children aged under one year to sixth graders in primary school.

About a quarter, 24.5%, of respondents said they had not bought a product at some point because they considered it unsuitable for their child’s gender, even if the child wanted it.

Regarding the types of products not purchased, toys accounted for the largest percentage, at 53.3%, with several possible answers.

“When there are gender category signs in stores, people tend to select products under the influence of these signs,” said an official from the Dentsu Diversity Lab.

Toy makers are also thinking hard about what they can do.

In 2019, Bandai Co. released Horen, a boy doll. The company uses boys in product advertisements and for promotional purposes to emphasize that playing with dolls can be fun for both boys and girls.

Pilot Corp. added a boy doll to their Mel-chan doll series.

In response to the view that pink packaging keeps boys from saying they want the dolls, the company has been using mostly light blue since 2016.

Daisuke Fujii, editor of Toy Journal, a monthly industry journal, expressed his hopes for the transition saying: “If toys become gender neutral, it will contribute to a growing market and children will be able to learn more about gender equality. through toys.

Fujii also said that many consumers still make conventional gender-specific purchases, such as looking for a toy “suitable for my 8-year-old grandson.”

“To deal with the issue, the entire industry needs to seriously think about how to create an easy-to-buy environment and meet the wide range of consumer needs,” Fujii said.

Understanding vital for growth
In order for children to be able to play freely with their favorite toys without worrying about conventional gender distinctions, it is essential that the people around them are understanding.

This point is illustrated by a survey of parents and children conducted last year by the Danish toymaker Lego Group, with a total of 6,844 respondents in seven countries including Japan and the United States.

The survey showed that around 70% of boys feared being teased by others if they played with toys traditionally associated with girls. The percentage for a similar question asked of girls was 40%.

Professor Hirotomo Omameuda of Tamagawa University said: “Using expressions such as ‘because you are a boy’ or ‘even though you are a girl’ will not only discourage interest and enjoyment of playing children, but will also hurt their feelings and discourage them from choosing toys. .”

Omameuda said when such expressions are used by children while playing together, educators and other adults should help them correct this way of thinking by explaining that there are various values.

He also said: “Adults should be sensitive to each child’s interests and concerns, rather than acting on the stereotype that playing with dolls and playing house are for girls and playing with them. plastic toy blocks is for boys.”

About Lola C. Chapman

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