Why can’t toy manufacturers leave well enough alone? Without a doubt, toys are divided along gender lines – fair enough – in principle. Little girls like caring for baby dolls, boys love pushing trucks through the sandbox. Between these poles lies a vast world of gender free play and imagination.
What baby didn’t have a set of wooden blocks, floating bath tub toys or stuffed animals; gender neutral beginnings, understandably parting ways as kids get older. My daughter loved mermaids and unicorns, my sons trains and trucks; perfectly natural, part of growing up. My ponder takes no issue with gender based toys – at least not in this post. My irritation stems from that sea of gender neutral fun that once nestled between the two. Ingeniously simple play, accessible regardless of gender.
Etch-A-Sketch, Slinky, Play Doh, Lego, Kinex, Brio, Playmobil, and Kinder Surprise – examples of non specific gender marketing – simply great toys. Toys that didn’t have to be pink or blue, toys that any kid played with. I’ll be generous by forgiving pink Etch-A-Sketch or Slinky; attempts to jump start sales in a ToysrUs, mega-store era. I’m not sure what was wrong with Mr. Potato Head but suddenly there was a Mrs. Play Doh began marketing gender specific “play sets”, Lego introduced “Lego Friends”, specifically for girls – gone was square head Lego man – replaced by ridiculous plastic bimbos, kittens and puppies.
Kinder Surprise for girls was too much; the travesty responsible for pushing me over the edge. Kinder eggs began in 1974, the brain child of Ferrero – put a toy inside a chocolate egg. Billions sold, thousands of different toys inside the yellow capsule – really cool surprises waiting to be assembled. High quality, clever little gems – often silly, but never totally lame. You never knew what that yellow capsule would give up – one thing for certain, it wasn’t guaranteed to be a ring, hair accessory or plastic princess. At least not until Kinder for girls came along.
We always buy Kinder Surprise to put in Easter baskets and Christmas stockings. My kids are adults now yet they still look for that foil wrapped egg. My husband had no idea of Kinder’s gender split when inadvertently picking up eggs wrapped in slightly pink foil – they keep their gender packaging subtle. Horror gave way to outrage as egg after egg revealed disappointing centers.
The logic behind gender specific everything eludes me. Girls liked square head Lego man, and took no offence with Mr. Potato Head. Girls don’t need pink paper or ridiculous depictions of girlish nonsense at every turn. There used to be a realm of toys children played with because they were great toys. Once upon a time, a world of non-gendered fun entertained generations of kids. I wish someone would tell marketing nit-wits to leave well enough alone.