Boys and Barbies: Stereotypes falling in toy business

TORONTO — In the back corner of Silly Goose Kids, a Toronto independent toy store, a little boy plays with a doll in a space where children get to check out some of the retailer’s offerings.

Parents who shop here increasingly want to let their kids to play as they please, not according to traditional ideas of pink for girls, blue for boys.

“I think a lot of people don’t want to think their girls are princesses and boys are heroes,” said Shamie Ramgoolam, the store’s co-owner.

Lainie Elton did just that earlier this year when her four-year-old twins wanted a particular kind of birthday cake.

Elton sweated for six hours conceiving and baking a “Hulk Princess” cake for her girls. After pictures of it were shown online, the posting went viral.

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“They didn’t want the traditional girly (cakes); that’s just who they are,” she said.

“I don’t see any reason to force them into liking pink or pigeon-hole them into liking a colour or style.”

Elizabeth Sweet, a sociology professor with the University of California, has focused her research on gender and children’s toys.

She says in the last four decades toys have become more, not less, aimed at one gender or the other.

“As toys are more gendered, they’re also more infused with gender stereotypes and we know gender stereotypes play a big role in social inequality,” she told Global News.

In the lucrative video game industry, consumers are “about 50/50” female and male, says Aubrey Anable, assistant professor of film studies at Carleton University in Ottawa.

But Anable says games tend to be targeted at boys, not girls.

“Girls are being under-represented,” she said, adding much of the current content reinforces gendered stereotypes about what girls are suppose to be interested in.

“Games about shopping, games about cooking, games about acceptable feminine activities,” she said, emphasizing that those stereotypes can affect how girls see themselves as they get older.

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Anable says it’s important that both genders are represented equally in the gaming world because she says game-playing builds a foundation for kids to develop interests and skills related to computers.

But behaviour is changing and many parents are championing that shift.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to shut that creativity down,” said Elton, who says she didn’t expect the response she got to the unconventional birthday cake.

As evidence of a shift in consumer marketing, Moschino recently released a television commercial for its own Barbie doll online.

The surprise?

The advertisement included a boy.

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