My youngest son (age 8) is crazy about My Little Pony. He had heard children talk about the show at school and then became aware there was a movie as well. Roughly around the same time, my husband picked up a Tesco toy catalog. The first couple of pages in the catalog were completely gender neutral, featuring a range of “popular” toys without showing kids playing with the toys. My youngest happily circled the My Little Pony toys to put on his Christmas list and announced he really wanted to see the movie too.
Gender neutral marketing opens up possibilities
I have to admit I had never given much thought to gender neutral marketing. I had heard people on the internet mention that it would be nice if toys weren’t marketed as “boy” toys or “girl” toys, but it didn’t really bother me. My oldest was always more interested in cars and trains than anything else and this was fine with my husband and I. We never consciously steered him one way or the other, but I think subconsciously we veered more towards the “boy” toys for him.
When my youngest started showing an interest in what is traditionally known as “girl” toys or “girl” colours, I wasn’t really bothered. After all, everyone is entitled to their own tastes. When he picked a pink fluffy pencil case for school, he told me – unnecessarily defensively – that there are no “girl” or “boy” colours. I have never been a prouder parent. At least we were doing something right.
Back to My Little Pony. Because of the gender neutral marketing on the first pages of the Tesco catalog, my son didn’t class My Little Pony as a “girl” toy. He liked the look of them – and he loved the movie – and so he thought it would be great to have the figures to play with. It wasn’t until he told some kids at Sunday school that he went to see the movie, and was laughed at, that he had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t a boyish thing to do. Luckily, he is quite resilient and this did not deter him from liking My Little Pony and he was over the moon when Santa gifted him Princess Twilight and her friends. He has already spent many hours happily playing with them.
Gender neutral marketing stops toxic masculinity
We have a real issue in today’s society with rape culture. Part of this issue stems from the fact that we raise our boys to conform to a very narrow definition of what it is to be a man. Men don’t cry. Men are hard, tough, dominating. This toxic masculinity damages our boys from a young age and conditions them to shun everything that is considered female. To be soft is seen as a character flaw. While it is perfectly acceptable for girl to be tomboys, wear trousers and grow up to do a man’s job, we don’t allow our sons the same freedom. Girl can play with cars, but boys can’t play with dolls. Girl can like blue, but boys can’t like pink.
This also has its roots in homophobia. We often hear people say that they are worried that if they allow their boys to wear dresses, they may grow up to be gay. Apart from the fact that this is not how it works, the attitude that we must avoid “turning out kids gay” is homophobic and we should stop it. Kids should be kids. They should allow to develop their own likes and dislikes whatever their gender. Gender neutral marketing – and gender neutral toy shops – are essential in raising boys who will turn into well balanced men who will respect women. Changing rape culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not enough to tell men to stop raping us, we need to allow our boys to grow up knowing it is all right to be “soft”.
I am proud of my son choosing his own way in life, despite some kids laughing at him. I wish, however, that his choice of toys (and colour) was more accepted, so he can feel proud to show his peers what he got for Christmas without fearing ridicule. We still have a long way to go to eradicate rape culture, but gender neutral marketing is such an easy step. All shops should do this.