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Vintage Ad Reminds Us Girls Used to Just Be Kids

vintage-lego-ad-marketing-to-girls-boysRemember Slinkies? Those coils of steel that walked down stairs alone or in pairs? Just yesterday I was singing about that spring! a spring! a marvelous thing! to my daughter.

When I came to the last line of the jingle, “fun for a girl and a boy,” I thought to myself: dang, what a throw-back concept. A genderless toy. And marketed as such!

We don’t do that anymore, market toys to kids. We market them to girls. Or boys. Rarely both. And that’s ridiculously sad, because it’s 2010 and we’re talking about things like women out-earning their husbands, and in the very recent past envisioned a woman as president of the U.S.

Today over a Feministing, they’re discussing another (formerly) genderless toy, which now appears only to come in pink/purple/pony or blue/green/construction sets: Legos. And everyone’s feeling nostalgic — not necessarily for Legos, but for a time where a little girl in jeans, sneakers and a blue T-shirt could happily show off her primary color creation. In order to sell a product. To girls and boys.

I’ve ranted plenty here about pinking up sports gear, and gender stereotyping and division in toy ads, and though once in awhile there are improvements, it’s still a girl-boy world out there. I like to lay the blame in the lap of marketers, etc., but really, they’re responding to us, people who buy toys.

As Connie Jeske Crane highlighted in her recent Babble feature on Legos, the company turned around its sinking bottom line by, among other strategies, embracing gender stereotypes. Big time. And parents bought it. Big time. And they keep buying them.

It’s not as if the powers-that-be at Legos spend hours in the drawing room brainstorming ways to make little girls feel weak or confined or simply different from little boys. I doubt there’s a company mission to keep boys interested in traditionally male jobs like fire-fighting, construction work and pirate mayhem. But Lego marketers are watching and responding to how people shop for toys. And we’re shopping for toys like a bunch of Mad Men-era cliches.

I admonish and yet I’m guilty of it too. My four-year-old daughter didn’t show a lick of interest in Legos until I brought home said pink/purple/pony cart set. She loved it! And exactly for the girl and pony. She’s been socialized in a world of princesses, like most other girls in this country, so why did I expect otherwise?

But here’s the thing. I’m not about to give up on letting girls be kids. Just look at the Feministing ad. Aren’t you thinking about the cords and sneakers and blue T-shirts you or your sister wore as a little girl? Why is that such a statement — today! What I really would have liked in a Lego kit for my kid (and what I know my daughter would have liked as well) is a set that had girls and boys, dogs and ponies, purple and green, a fire hydrant and a flower cart. If the gender-ized stuff sells, I get that. But why can’t we have one set with both? In pairs? Fun for a girl and a boy? Why do we keep settling for this other stuff?

How do you navigate the pink/blue divide? Quiet toleration? Only vintage on ebay? Are the big bad toy companies at fault or do we parents (and grandparents!) shoulder the blame?

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Photo: via Feministing

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