Guys and Dolls: A Parent’s Perspective on Gender-Targeted Toys

Have I sent subtle messages that some toys are for a specific gender? Or is something else going on here?

Parker Barry

The toy struggle is real, y’all.


This photo of my kids, while several years old, is 100 percent unstaged. Notice my son covering his eyes in revulsion, clutching his Hot Wheels, while his sister decides which princess doll to get.

Where did he learn this behavior?

Certainly not from me. As a kid I remember a toddler cousin being discouraged from carrying dolls, which he loved dearly, until My Buddy came along and made it a little more acceptable. Even as a little kid I knew that there was something inherently wrong about this.

Certainly not from his dad, who himself as a kid included “girl” toys in his play, along with the more traditional “boy” toys. “I played with Barbies — the regular kind and the big-head kind where you do her hair,” he told me. “And Strawberry Shortcake dolls and My Little Ponies.” So for sure he’s an enlightened dad when it comes to his kids and gender-targeted toys.

Kids are catching on

IMG_0403Our daughter — even though she did go through a princess phase — never felt limited to “girl” things. We shopped for her clothes in the girls’ section and the boys’ section. When her brother was into Hot Wheels, she was too — although more as a “collector” (her word). Once when she was invited to a princess tea party, rather than wear a traditional princess costume, she dressed as Wonder Woman, who is, of course, a warrior princess.

Were we subtly sending our son messages that there were some toys that were right for his sister and some toys that were right for him? And that the ones right for his sister were toys that he shouldn’t even look at when in the toy store?

Maybe. But I think more than likely it was the very deliberate gender-targeted marketing that is a fact in today’s world that got to him. Some kids are on to the toy companies and have something to say about it:

Companies respond

Some companies are listening. Some are actually making changes at the urging of the kids they’re targeting — kids like McKenna Pope:

Still, many companies have doubled-down on gender-based marketing, and have had great success. So what’s a parent to do?

My son doesn’t like Barbie. Or princesses. Or anything else perceived to be girly. And that’s totally fine with me, as long as he isn’t teasing other kids about what they like (I’m pretty sure he’s not). But I would like for him — and all kids — to be able to walk through a toy store without feeling like there are aisles where he has to shield his eyes, or that there are aisles where his sister isn’t welcome.

Any ideas? Let us know in the comments section.

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