I recently started a Twitter account, and quickly started following @LetToysBeToys, which is a great campaign aimed at getting toy manufacturers to stop segregating the genders and make toys for kids as opposed to boys and girls.
We also recently found out some friends of ours are pregnant. Don't know the gender, but I wanted to get knitting ASAP because I usually procrastinate, and then I agonized over whether I should go with gender neutral colours or wait until we find out.
It's got me to thinking, though, that the toy manufacturers aren't the problem. At least they're not the whole problem, and I'm inclined to think that their part is smaller than we're often inclined to believe.
Maybe my perspective is coloured by the fact that we don't own a TV, so my family and I aren't bombarded with shows and marketing clearly aimed exclusively at boys or girls - maybe it's because, at 10 months, the little monster is too young to care who a toy is supposed to be for. But this is what I think:
Toy (and movie and clothing and cereal and lunchbox) manufacturers are going to keep making things for boys and different things for girls. Why? because it's in their best financial interest to convince us (and our children) that it's necessary to purchase multiple versions of essentially the same toy. I don't think there are marketing teams sitting around saying "Let's do one in pink with flowers because we believe that girls are inherently pretty and delicate." They're saying, "Let's do one in pink and one in blue and people will feel compelled to buy both." Which isn't to say that gendered toys don't enforce stereotyping. They do. But I think it's more a matter of toy companies using an outdated cultural narrative to their advantage than that they actually care about maintaining a dichotomy of gender on a societal scale.
But whether I'm right or wrong about their reasons, I'd say the chances of everyone realizing their mistakes and taking initiative to fix them are fairly low. It's up to parents to explain to our kids, in age appropriate terms, exactly how and why advertisers are trying to manipulate them, while at the same time letting them know that they can be whoever they are.
"Mum, that one's for girls."
"What makes you think it's for girls?"
"There box is pink and there's a girl on it."
"That's because the toy makers want to trick you into thinking is's just for girls."
"Because then people with a boy and a girl will feel like they have to buy two, so the toy company gets more money."
Depending on the age of this hypothetical child, I'd also ask why a pink box with girls on it means it's just for girls. "That girl on the box has brown hair. Does that mean it's only for brown-haired girls?"
I think a similar conversation would work fine for clothes. Asking the kid questions like, what makes something for boys or for girls? Who decided what colours are for boys and girls? Also, referring to the boys' and girls' clothing section as "The kids' section".
Of course, my monster is still little, so none of this has come up for us yet. He has a few "girl" things, a pink polka dot plush toy, a couple of butterfly toys, a pair of embroidered Capri pants*. As he gets older, he'll be allowed to play with and wear what he wants**. Right now, I dress him mostly in "boy" or gender neutral clothes because, while I really don't care whether strangers can easily identify his gender (which is the only real reason for gendered clothes, when you think about it), I'm trying to be careful not to make him into a walking(!) billboard for my philosophies and beliefs about gender politics. So if I see an adorable dress, and think to myself that there's logically no reason why he can't have it, I ask myself if it would be for me or for him - and since he could happily leave the house naked and not care as long as it was warm enough, the answer is pretty clear. That, and while I have free reign over his fashion choices, turning him into a little Dad clone is just too adorable to pass up.
What I'm getting at with all of this is, yes, absolutely keep hounding the toy companies to change their ways. They will, if they get enough consumer pressure. Actually financial pressure from consumers is likely the only thing that will make them change, so if you don't like the options a toy company is giving, don't settle, boycott.
But more than that, parents need to say fuck it and just buy our kids what they want regardless of which gender it's "supposed" to be for. I think it's particularly incumbent on parents of boys to do this, because while it's now socially acceptable in many circles for girls to be tomboys (another useless label), boys who want to wear/play with/ do girl things are mocked, because our society still views boys and boy things as somehow better.
So this is getting long, and could easily get longer, but I think I'll call it a day for now. I'll undoubtedly revisit this subject (over and over) as the monster gets older and has more exposure to advertising and the expectations of society.
*I actually nearly removed the candy embroidery from them, to, I don't know, de-girl them, until Mr. Wolfman asked me why, and then I realized that there was zero reason, other than that I've been brainwashed by society to think there's something wrong with my son having lollipops on his pants.
**Within reason; I'm not a huge fan of electronic toys and clothes that cost 10 x as much because they have a certain logo.