Friday, April 6, 2012

Who Decided That Girls Need Pink Toys? (Or Why Gender Marketing is a Bad Idea)

Pink!Pink! (Photo credit: fabrice79)I’m seeing pink.

It’s enough that girls must have pink clothing, pink bedrooms, and glittery pink cell phones. It’s enough that girls are taught to recite “pink” as their favorite color. It’s enough that Barbie’s 3-Story Dream Townhouse and Pop-Up Camper are pink. But Legos? Do we really need to force pink Legos on our girls?

Last week, this blog post entitled OMG! I’m Going to Be a Grandmother and I Hate Gender Marketing, caused quite a stir. The author makes the case that while she expects princesses to be pink, there is no practical reason why a corn popper push toy for a girl needs to be pink, and sold side-by-side with the blue popper for boys. There is no logic for the girl’s parking garage to be pink while the boy’s parking garage is red and yellow. Why can’t girls and boys park their cars in the same garage?

I wondered – do girls really prefer pink? Is there a case for the toy companies to market separate colors for boys and girls? According to this article in Time Science, there is indeed a difference in color preference between genders; women chose the redder shades of blue (those with reddish-purple tones) while men chose the greener shades of blue. But the study found that both genders universally prefer blue.

That’s right, men and women agree on blue.

So when Lego decided they needed to reach what they call “the other 50%” of the world’s children, they did extensive market research. And, according to this article in Jezebel, they found that girls play differently than boys. They found that while boys like to focus on the building and following directions that the girls like to take breaks and start developing story. This resulted in a line of toys for girls branded Lego Friends, with pink and purple packaging. They don’t include directions.

Now you’re probably expecting me to rant about why these toys are a bad idea. But I’ll be honest. I like pink. I like purple. I look at the new Lego Friends line and I am drawn in. The packaging is attractive, I like the colors, and I like the idea of a toy built around a story (I am, after all, a story-teller). I am completely on board with the concept of the new Lego Friends line. As a marketer, I think it’s a brilliant idea. What I don’t like is that they are only for girls. It’s the gender marketing that has me seeing pink. I reject the notion that girls can't follow directions. I reject the notion that boys can't be creative. Must we have toys that are for boys and toys that are for girls?

Gender marketing pigeonholes our children into specific roles and behaviors. Is this what we want?

If we insist that girls need pink toys while the boys play with toys that are blue, green, yellow, and red, how is it possible that we can expect them to aspire to the same jobs? If we continue to expect that girls can’t follow directions to build Legos, how can we expect women to learn the skills to debug computer software? If girls need to park their cars in the pink garage while boys park in the yellow garage, how is it possible that we can expect women to be invited to sit at the same boardroom ta


Liz Fichera said...

I think it boils down to how the parents help to shape their kids' behaviors. If parents disagree with the marketing, they can refuse to buy the products.

Liza said...

Well said! This reminds me of when my daughter was little. She was best friends with a little boy from daycare and stayed that way until they went to kindergarten. Then they stopped speaking to each other. She told me it was because girls can't play with boys...I certainly didn't teach her that. Who did?

Colette Martin said...

Liza, soooo sad that someone told her she couldn't play with boys :-(

Liz, I do think parents have a role here -- no denying that -- but I think it's much more complex than what they choose to buy. It's also about what other parents are teaching their kids, what educators are teaching them, what messages they are being sent (TV, online, playground).

Carol Kilgore said...

My niece has a young daughter. Before she was born, her room was decorated with a jungle animal theme - greens and browns. It still is. Her favorite color is pink. She's two.

Perhaps it's not that girls can't follow directions, but that girls think the directions are boring and make their own rules :)

Victor Deloach said...

Colette, I must admit that I am sometimes guilty of using this "pigeonhole" idea on my kids(especially the boys,I give them toys that are colored black and blue). In example, since most women are at home tending for children while the father is at work, legitimate home based business can't just be advertised on moms alone. It restricts the chance of reaching more people about the opportunity.