Sunday, February 22, 2015

Girl stuff, Boy stuff

I was in ToysRUs yesterday and overheard a conversation that made me sad.  A man was escorting his small daughter around the store and they were being guided by a salesperson.  The salesperson walked them up to the Lego aisle and pointed at the small chunk of it devoted to the Lego Friends brand and said "This is the girl Lego section" then pointed at the vast remainder of the Lego and said "And this is the boy Lego."

Really?  Girls get a couple pieces devoted to magical hair salons and boys get all the superhero stuff, all the houses, all the helicopters, all the pirates, all the castles, and all the spaceships?  

It just blew my mind for two reasons.  First off, designating everything that isn't explicitly marketed to girls as being for boys seems like an awful message to send and it doesn't even seem like a good approach from a moneymaking perspective.  I don't like overt sexism in marketing but at least I can understand it when it seems like there is a financial incentive but taking a toy that so easily can be gender neutral like Lego and pointlessly subdividing it strikes me as counterproductive.  Greed, I understand.  Even if I don't like it, I understand.  But pointless gendering of toys for no reason at all?  Argh.

It reminded me of the most egregious example of this sort of thing I have seen - the gendering of washrooms at Tim Hortons.  I remember watching five women stand in line to get into the women's washroom when the men's stood there empty and just raging at the idiocy of it all.  Both washrooms were single occupancy, neither had a urinal.  They had a gender slapped on them just because the designer was a sociopath, I guess?  Again this isn't even good for Tim Hortons because it inconveniences customers and that isn't good business.  It is good for no one, makes life easier for no one, and contributes to this ridiculous idea that everything has to be divided into two genders.

Objects do not have to be male or female.  Just like, you know, people.


  1. I remember a discussion about this and the idea was that the subdividing is actually beneficial from a financial perspective. If you have both a boy and a girl (and many parents specifically want at least one of each) then you have to buy all new stuff and can't reuse the "boy" stuff with the "girl" stuff. So you get to sell twice as much stuff!

  2. Lego themselves explicitly denies that they make "boy" and "girl" lego. They acknowledge that it was feedback from girls and moms that led them to create sets with softer palettes and more story elements. So I think if you are looking for the "why" it is this: a huge number of consumers feel the need to buy boy toys for boys and girl toys for girls, and if your toy is not for boys or for girls then you risk having it sit on the shelf because no one knows whether it is for boys or for girls.

    I think the toy manufacturers are just reflecting the culture they exist in for the most part. The real problem isn't with lego selling the set that had lots of pinks and soft purples in it, it's with the parents who won't buy that set for their son even though it's the set he wants. I know someone who worked in a children's clothing store and said it was nearly every day there was a boy in the store who wanted pink clothes whose parent wouldn't buy them for him.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that people making decisions about which toys to manufacture are probably sexist morons who make decisions entirely based on what worked before for someone else instead of actually thinking about anything.

  3. I agree with you Sthenno. That is, I don't know that we can blame Lego at all for the issue that parents deliberately put toys into girl and boy categories, usually using box colour for their sorting. I think Lego making toys that deliberately feature women is a good thing... I just wish people weren't so awful about it.

  4. And Bung, you have officially made me even more of a cynic than before. Congratulations...?

  5. But it's not the parents that did it. It's like genre. There was no genres for art until most people could get recordings of music and copies of books. With a sudden increase in market, merchandising became important. And making divisions works for selling things. People don't do well with large amounts of selection, but divide it into smaller blocks and you sell more. Make those blocks presented so that people feel like they'd probably like anything from that shelf and they'll buy more again. Convince the people that the divisions are their idea to begin with and you win everything. Really, there is so much that people today believe was demand of the people creating things in the market that was completely the other way around. Making a new market for your product is much more effective than trying to fit into an existing one.

    With the boy/girl stuff, I think the clearest example is right in your own statement... "box colour". The way colours from the line of purples have come to be recognized as all things feminine in last little while, is simply amazing. This is very much a branding strategy... one that allows companies to sell products to women with little change.