Girl Toys vs. Boy Toys

My daughter had her fifteen-month shots last week, and on our way home, I decided to take her through the drive-up at McDonald’s to get a special lunch. After ordering a Happy Meal, the drive-up attendant asked, “boy or girl?” I assumed she meant, “do you want a toy for a girl or a toy for a boy?” so I replied, “either would be fine.” She seemed a little caught off-guard and asked for clarification: “well … is your kid a boy or a girl?” I responded, “either toy would be fine, thank you.”

Back at home, my daughter chowed down her chicken nuggets while I did some quick research and learned that the current Happy Meal toy offering is Adventure Time toys for boys and Paul Frank monkey notepads and purses for girls (because obviously all boys like going on adventures and all girls carry purses and write in a diary — what!?).

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Through my research, I also found that I’m not the only Kansas City mom frustrated with McDonald’s and their apparent need to offer a “girl toy” and a “boy toy.” This recent article in the Kansas City Star outlines exactly how I — and how other moms — felt when asked the “boy or girl” question in the drive-thru window line.

Here’s my thing: my daughter might end up liking blue and playing with trucks (her two favorite books are The Little Blue Truck and the sequel). She might end up liking pink and playing with dolls (just last week, I posted a picture on Instagram of her feeding her “baby” a bottle). Or, she might end up enjoying a variety of toys in a range of various colors, shapes, sizes, and subject matter, which is also fine and dandy with me. What I don’t understand is why we are typically given two main options as parents: “girl toys” or “boy toys.”

One quick walk through the toy aisles at the nearest big box retailer proves my point:


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And look at the contrast between Lego’s products and marketing from 1981 (top, image via) and today (bottom, image via):


Lego has even managed to frustrate their own target consumer, as evidenced by the now internet-famous seven-year-old girl who wrote them a letter urging them to “let [girls] go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!”

And who could forget the debate over Merida’s makeover last summer, which turned the spunky, unruly-haired Scottish adventurer from Disney’s movie Brave into a “sexier” version (which Disney later retracted due to harsh criticism from fans).

The gender/toy debate is not a new one, but it does seem to be getting a lot more attention these days – and I, for one, am thrilled. I think this is a discussion that all parents need to participate in, and one that each of us needs to take a stance on. I also think it’s an opportunity for us to teach our children about a variety of topics including diversity, career options, emotional well-being, respect for others, life skills, and more.

While my daughter is young, I want to focus on providing her with a variety of toy choices: different colors, different subject matter, different sizes, “boy” toys, “girl” toys — whatever — and then just let her play. As she grows and matures, she’ll be able to choose what she likes and dislikes and will develop her own preferences and interests; then, it’s my job to support her choices. In my opinion, it really is this simple:


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One final note: there are thousands of articles and pieces of research out there regarding gender and toys. I’m not an expert, and I always want to learn more. Here are a few links to other articles I found that were thought-provoking: check out this, this, this, and this. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and additional articles or links in the comments below!


3 Responses to Girl Toys vs. Boy Toys

  1. Kristin Wooldridge February 6, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    Great piece.

    Gender casting is unnessary and unsupported at our house.

    I hope a lot of people read this piece.

  2. Emily February 6, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    Great piece, Erin! Thanks for addressing this! This topic is near and dear to my heart. We work really hard to keep toy options open for our daughters. It’s easier when they’re little. I know it will get harder as they age. Going to a school where licensed character products are not allowed helps a little. There are so many marketing dollars going towards influencing our kids; it’s an uphill battle but an important one and one worth fighting. For now my 3 yr old is enamored with her dolls – her favorite is a doll with a pink frilly shirt, pink striped pants, and a pink stroller – a doll that was clearly intended to be a girl. My daughter has named him Jack. I’m pretty happy about the fact that she can look at a frilly doll and see it as a boy. Being open minded is important!

    Three recommendations:
    – Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter – an enlightening and accessible read – great for parents of boys and girls
    – Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
    – Princess-Free Zone

  3. Judy Mills February 6, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Hi all! As Erin’s mom, I guess growing up on a farm had a lot of influence on today’s topic. Oh , she had the typical girl toys, but also played in the barn, on the sack swing, went canoeing, played air hockey, learned the game of football, and jumped on a blue trampoline. I think she turned out pretty okay! Just let your kids play!