When was the last time you ventured into the children’s aisle of your local superstore?
Maybe you were in search of a birthday gift for your niece, or perhaps you were curious about the types of toys on the market today. If you’re me, you were there just last week in a futile attempt to find a Tamagotchi.
Whatever the case, maybe you’ve observed some key differences between the types of children’s toys advertised to young boys and girls. As I combed the store for the Tamagotchi, I couldn’t help but realize I hadn’t truly explored the children’s toy aisle since I was young enough to appreciate Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shops.
With my new adult perspective, I was prompted to make connections about the items on the shelves that I could not have considered when I was a child.
Red and dark blue race cars, monster trucks and GI Joe action figures decorated the racks of the boy’s section, while the girl’s aisle featured lots of pinks, pastels, baby dolls and Barbies. In fact, the only real “grey area” was a couple of Lego sets in the aisle.
The mere color-coding of the two aisles seemed to instruct young boys and girls what they should enjoy playing with and how they should behave. Boy’s toys entail more action-based activities, while girls are advertised dolls and other playthings that inspire the development of good hygiene, self-care and a nurturing persona.
Looking back on the child version of me, I was happy to entertain myself with games that coincided with my gender identity, and I had no trouble finding dolls that were representative of my skin color or physical abilities. It had never occurred to me to question why I didn’t particularly care for cars or action figures, or that some little boys would like to play with the toys I enjoyed.
And while it was acceptable for me to delight in my favorite toys because they matched my biologically assigned gender, this is certainly not the case for all children.
As modern society questions gender norms and standards that prioritize white, thin and able-bodied individuals, children’s toy companies must rise to the occasion of creating products that are relatable to all kids, regardless of their race, gender identity or ability. According to Mintel, a company that specializes in marketing research, businesses will flounder if they continue to produce toys that normalize antiquated ideals.
The next time you find yourself shopping for children’s toys, consider supporting these businesses that are contributing to a safer, more inclusive world.
Seven-year-old me would have loved to own one of these highly customizable dolls. And, the best part about this brand is that it demolishes societal gender norms by assigning each doll no particular gender.
Kids can blur the lines of masculinity and femininity by mix-and-matching different outfits, hair and style choices for their dolls.
With an “all welcome” motto, Creatable World dolls are for every child. As featured in their Instagram bio, this doll is “designed to keep labels out and everyone in.” This children’s toy can be purchased at Target, Amazon and Walmart.
2. Friends With Diverse Abilities
Even though no harm is intended, young children often stare at those who look different from them — specifically members of the disabled community. This doesn’t necessarily come from a place of malice, but rather an attempt to understand the unfamiliar.
That’s why the Friends With Diverse Abilities doll set makes the perfect gift for children young enough to enjoy dolls and action figures. Instilling in youth the diverse set of abilities that comes with the human race, this assortment of children’s toys offers characters that may not already exist in many kids’ toy boxes, such as a basketball player in a wheelchair and a young girl wearing an eye patch.
Made of a durable vinyl material, this playset is especially suitable for a younger audience.
3. Plastic Army Women
The classic green soldier has been around forever now, and is a staple in the toy chests of many kids throughout the generations. It was even featured in the “Toy Story” movies.
Though the company already produced pink female soldiers, Vivian explained in her letter that “Some girls just don’t like pink.”
This children’s toy is quite simple, yet it so profoundly instills in kids that girls aren’t confined to a world of pink.
4. Braille Uno
While playing Uno as a child (and as an adult), it had never occurred to me to wonder if or how the blind community is able to enjoy some of the most classic games played in many American households.
As a sighted person, I have the privilege of partaking in most games without worrying if a disability might prohibit me from doing so.
Had I owned a Braille version of some of my favorite games growing up, perhaps I would have been prompted to think more about this privilege — as well as many other advantages regarding my physical abilities.
You don’t have to be visually impaired to own this version of Uno. If anything, gifting this card game to a child might invoke more critical thoughts about the unique abilities the world has to offer.
The children’s toy industry hasn’t always welcomed diversity. In fact, it still has quite a long way to go. But the addition of these games and dolls brings a much-needed sense of inclusivity into the homes and imaginations of children of all ages.