Just A Barbie Girl... In A Nerf World?
February 20, 2013

Just A Barbie Girl… In A Nerf World?

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys, right? Just like girls play with dolls and boys play with guns, these are facts we all know and embrace. Toymakers have been happy to go along with this idea of gender differences in toys, but now a few of them are starting to push the boundaries.

Hasbro released a new line of Nerf guns last week, the Rebelle, which is hot pink and black. The guns are aimed at girls who want to emulate Katniss and stage their own Hunger Games triumph. Mattel is also doing some cross-gender marketing with Mega Bloks Barbie, the first time a little girl can build a Barbie dream house, not just decorate one. Both of these companies are trying to play catch up with Lego’s launch of a line of pastel colored bricks and dolls aimed at girls last summer.

“This trend is hot because you’re expanding from appealing to 50% of the market to appealing to everyone,” Gerrick Johnson, a toy analyst for BMO Capital Markets said to CNN.com.

Toymakers are making a smart move. Just by changing colors, they have opened the door to an entirely new market for themselves without having to invest in expensive R&D, or retooling. They are exactly the same toys, just with new colors and names.

Maureen O’Brien, a developmental psychologist who consulted with Mattel on the Mega Bloks Barbie set, says that parents are loosening up about which child plays with which toy as more studies come out showing the advantages of different toys.

Those studies are revealing things like girls who don’t get exposure to construction play at an early age back away from science and math by the time they reach middle school. But these toys have been marketed exclusively to boys for decades.

“There’s an overarching cultural dialogue that’s happening in regards to gender, and that is reflected in the products coming out,” said Rachel Cooper, a Mattel spokeswoman.

“By inspiring more girls to build, we are able to build a new audience …with whom we can foster skills such as patience, perseverance, confidence, self-esteem and pride of accomplishment,” Lego spokesman Michael McNally said.

While I’m really glad that they are finally catching on that little girls like to play with trucks and blocks and guns too, it’s a bit insulting that apparently only boy’s toys foster these positive traits. And let’s be honest, they aren’t forging new ground here.

First, the toys being offered are still being offered in Barbie pink. And the construction sets are so girls can build fashion boutiques, and a pet salon.

“We’re in the transitional phase, so it makes sense that companies are still trying to capitalize on people’s natural ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ inclinations to get them into it,” said O’Brien, the development psychologist. “Once parents realize their kids like the toys, the toys will likely get more gender neutral.”

Market analysts and the toy makers are expecting this shift to be a giant revenue builder.

I want to give them kudos for finally hearing what the studies have been saying for a while; that boys and girls both need science, physics, logic, violence and nurturing. They aren’t mutually exclusive to one gender or another.

Then I want to know, when are you going to stop acting like fashion and fluffy things are the only things that matter to girls? A pet salon? Build a fashion boutique? Really? Girls are reading books like The Hunger Games, and Tomorrow When the War Began. Sure, there are moments of dressing up and playing “girl” in these novels, but for the most part the young women are kicking ass and taking names. They create strategies, lead war parties, show compassion, and generally run the world. I don’t see many novels about building pet salons influencing little girls.

I also want to ask, what took you so long? The grownup world and marketing gurus figured this out years ago when they started marketing pink fly rods and rifles. Hell, I’ve even seen a pink filet knife so you can feel like a girl when you skin that fish! I’m not so sure about that one, I’ve never felt particularly feminine when I’m covered in fish scales, blood and guts, but I guess it could happen.

What’s next? Will there be a pink erector set? Lincoln Logs? And where is the crossover for boys? Boys could use some time nurturing a baby doll and practicing the rituals of family as while the girls learn logic and physics.

So, nice start, toy companies…but we are still living in a Barbie world… “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”

Image Credit: Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock

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