The Toy Industry Association just held its massive yearly convention with a dazzling array of new products including 3D printers for kids and robotic arms. The industry also handed out its annual awards for the best toys, which are segregated by gender — with a Shopkins ice cream truck winning Girl Toy of the Year and a new version of the LEGO Millennium Falcon from Star Wars: The Force Awakens winning Boy Toy of the Year. This year, however, some toy industry veterans were excited by the Association’s CEO’s suggestion that they may soon retire the boy/girl titles for toys, a move that has been suggested for years by a variety of parties. After all, does this distinction exist for marketing and branding purposes alone? Considering that there is the belief that playing with certain toys could determine future career choices, promoting gender neutral toys should be a priority among toy industry executives. For example, we’re certain that Rey’s kick-butt leading character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be able to put together any LEGO set rather efficiently (duh), and we know quite a few boys who can belt out tunes from Frozen, who love to cook, and who would enjoy writing down their observations from outdoor play (a sing-a-long Elsa doll, a cookie oven, and an illuminated nature journal were all finalists for the “Girl Toy” awards).
The United States is lagging behind on its gender equity progress for toys. European toy industry groups don’t divide toys according to gender when awarding them and when a British grass-roots organization called Let Toys Be Toys contacted major retailers about their efforts, the vast majority responded that they are in the process of removing gender signs from displays and working towards gender-neutrality. While individual retailers including Target have promised changes to their current gendered toy and home product lines, an official statement from the Toy Industry Association would show that the leaders in toy innovations are committed to inclusiveness and equality among all toys. While it’s definitely not a certain decision as of yet, an interview with TIA president Steve Pasierb revealed that the future for gender inclusion in the toy world seems cautiously optimistic: “The question keeps coming up: if you have a boys’ toy of the year and a girls’ toy of the year, why don’t you have a boys’ outdoor toy of the year or a girls’ outdoor toy of the year?’ Is dividing by boys and girls the best way to do it? Some shows do it by age group. We’ve encouraged our TOTY committee to go back and look at this.”