Considering that Sweden is consistently rated to have one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world, it makes sense that consumers have been vocal about wanting marketing images of children to align more closely with this national value. Responding to consumer pressure and complaints to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, Top Toy company, which owns more than 280 toys stores in Sweden (including Toys R Us), has made a big effort this year to "reflect the way boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them."
Whether the company's intent is sincere, brought on by criticism or is primarily a publicity grab (as some articles are suggesting), gender and toys is a topic that comes to the forefront during the holiday shopping season when toy buying is at a seasonal high and advertisements are prolific.
Last year at this time, toy industry expert Richard Gottlieb dissected the toy catalogs for Kmart, Walmart, Taget, Sears and Toys R Us with an eye toward portrayals of gender. He found that not only were boys and girls usually depicted using toys that fell into traditional gender roles (e.g. girls using play kitchens, boys riding on cars), but that pictures of girls in general were underrepresented within toy catalogs (Sears fell the shortest in this category, only showing girls in 17% of its imagery).
Here are a few examples from Top Toy's catalog for BR-Toys:
Do you notice gender depictions when you shop for toys? Do you think your kids pick up on these subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) messages from commercials and ads? Several times my 4-year-old son has told me that certain toys were "for girls" or "for boys" and when I asked him why he couldn't provide any further insights into why he thought this.
If this topic interests you, readers had some interesting comments on a post I wrote nearly two years ago, Thinking Outside the Gender Toy Box (or Not), about a survey of parents exploring attitudes toward gender and toys.
• Top Toys Press Release
• "Swedish Toys"R"Us Christmas Catalog Challenges Gender Stereotypes" on Huffington Post
• "Sweden makes my gender-free toy Christmas wish come true" on The Guardian
• "Parents Are Freaking Out Over These Gender-Bending Toys 'R' Us Ads From Sweden" on Business Insider
• "Swedish Toys R Us Catalogue: Where Children Take Aim at Stereotypes" on The Toy Detectives
(Images: BR Toy catalog)