Top-Toy, one of Sweden’s largest toy chains and a licensee of the Toys”R”Us brand, made headlines worldwide when it released a holiday catalog that features little boys cradling dolls and girls wielding toy machine guns. The gender-neutral catalog was published in response to pressure from an advertising watchdog group, which accused the toy company of portraying “sexist” stereotypes in its advertisements.
Last week, AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers weighed in on the practical and ethical implications of the movement for gender neutrality in children’s toys in an article for The Atlantic. Sommers reminds us that boys and girls have distinct attitudes and interests rooted in biology, and any effort to modify children’s’ play preferences is both futile and misguided:
Few would deny that parents and teachers should expose children to a wide range of toys and play activities. But what the Swedes are now doing in some of their classrooms goes far beyond encouraging children to experiment with different toys and play styles—they are requiring it. And toy companies who resist the gender neutrality mandate face official censure. Is this kind of social engineering worth it? Is it even ethical?
Sommers’ article has garnered widespread attention and praise—including 5.3 thousand “recommends” on Facebook, more than 350 tweets, and references from commentators and bloggers such as Laura Ingraham’s Shut Up & Blog, Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Beast, Bernard Goldberg, and Instapundit. Real Clear Science reposted the article with an amusing and perhaps more fitting title: “Give a Boy a Doll, He’ll Rip Its Head Off.” Sommers’ analysis appeals to moderate feminists and level-headed commentators across the political spectrum, because it reinforces a simple truth that most of us see with our own eyes: Boys and girls are different, and we should extend tolerance and understanding to children with all types of play preferences—whether traditional or gender-reversed.
Those who assume that the gender-neutral toy movement is restricted to Sweden—the so-called “Saudi Arabia of Feminism,” as Sommers explains—should think again. Popular toys such as Hasbro’s “Guess Who” and the Easy-Bake Oven have recently been targeted for alleged gender bias by American feminist groups. The Lego Friends Butterfly Beauty Shop has been labeled one of the “worst toys of the year” and nominated for a TOADY (Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young Children) Award for promoting “gender stereotyping.” Although radical feminists in America have not yet achieved the level of influence seen in Sweden, we can only expect that their misguided pursuit of gender neutrality in the toy industry will continue.
This week, Christina Hoff Sommers will be a guest on the Ricochet Podcast to elaborate on this debate. The second edition of her book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming our Young Men, will be published in summer 2013.