‘PINKIFICATION’ : Social Media’s Gender Bender
It is not uncommon for toy manufacturers to market toys to specific genders, based on assumptions that little girls love their barbies, dressing up and pretend-play; and boys take to action figures and racing cars with great enthusiasm.
On the other hand, gender equality activists say that these gender specific preferences exist only because at a impressionable age, children are subliminally taught by corporates, parents and society, to like things and adhere to roles specific to their gender. They insist young girls are bought houses, dolls, ponies and kitchen sets, all in bright colours and pinks, thus creating this very gender stereotype.
HISTORY : TOYS AND GENDER ROLES
Society tends to associate certain toys, like dolls and toy soldiers; or even colours, like pink and blue, with specific genders. Boys who play with toys “meant for girls” are frowned upon, while girls are expected to like all things pink and cuddly. Of late, this “gender – stereotyping” of toys has been widely talked about, with the biggest names in the toy industry coming under the scanner.
The past few months have witnessed quite the lineup of events that triggered the backlash against gender specific toy manufacturing and marketing. It began last year with the uproar about gender based segregation of toys at Hamleys’ - the girls’ “pink floor” and the boys’ “blue floor” was said to be in bad taste. The debate was reignited by the launch of the new and clearly ‘feminine’ Lego Friends set. In turn, related issues like McDonalds Happy Meal’s toys being distributed based on the child’s gender and the concept of Disney Princesses itself were subject to criticism.
We at Webfluenz tracked the issue on social media using our upgraded system with a focus on what stand consumers of each gender would take, to find surprisingly “gender-bending” results!
THE GEOGRAPHIC BREAK DOWN
Of all social media chatter around the issue, an overwhelming 57% came from The United Kingdom, The United States and Canada alone. The chatter from the rest of the world (excluding mentions where geographies were not listed) amounted to a modest 11%.
All said and done, social media clearly indicated that -
- The percentage (5%) of people talking about the issue was quite low when compared to the worldwide conversation on toys
- The chatter was mainly confined to North America and the UK
Despite the low volume and geographically confined chatter, it got the biggest names in world media talking. Almost 40% of all consumers talking about the issue on social media shared links to news articles, mostly by Forbes, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Fox News.
THE BRANDS UNDER FIRE
Fingers were pointed at toy industry giants: Lego – the third largest manufacturer of play materials in the world, McDonalds – the largest distributor of toys worldwide (due to their “Happy Meal”), Disney Princesses – the biggest inspiration for countless movies, books, songs and merchandise for girls the world over; Hamleys – the oldest and largest toy store in Europe and one of most famous in the world.
Lego, despite being the brand most referenced in the controversy, has stood its ground, with official press releases (with research numbers and soaring sales backing the claim) stating - “We heard very clear requests from moms and girls for more details and interior building, a brighter color palette, a more realistic figure, role play opportunities and a story line that they would find interesting.”
Feminist group declares war on Lego- YOU DECIDE:Are toys that foster gender identity inappropriate tinyurl.com/8x82drw
— Gabriel Mitman (@purbu2go) April 21, 2012
McDonalds was criticized for giving out gender specific toys with a Happy Meal, even though a significant number of women have expressed a preference for the “boy’s toys”.
When I was younger I always got the boy toys in my happy meals, the girl ones where always stupid !
— love me, Vickii D. (@admireemyflawss) March 24, 2012
In December ’06 Peggy Orenstein published “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” in The New York Times, famously stating “It’s just, honey, Cinderella doesn’t really do anything.” The Disney Princesses have been tagged as “bad role models” for girls and they invariably come up in gender stereotyping debates.
Pink, plastic “Disney Princess” toys really annoy me!
— Jess Littlewood (@jess_littlewood) April 8, 2012
Hamleys was accused of gender stereotyping (as stated previously) in October 2011. Their flagship store in London went “gender-neutral” in December’11 – with the management stating that the store was overhauled not because of any campaign, but ahead of the Olympics to make it “the best toy shop in the world”. Gender equality activists, however, claimed it as a “success” and moved on – this is reflected in the chart above which shows that the furor around Hamleys has now clearly died down.
Meanwhile Leklust, a Swedish toy manufacturer, released “gender bending” advertisements – a boy pushing a stroller and a girl driving a racing car – which were well received. Sweden is already considered paradise for liberated women – gender neutrality is being pushed in every area, right from baby names to restrooms! The brand’s quick reaction to the controversy by marketing directly against gender stereotypes has them riding the “gender-neutral” toy craze even outside their home country.
BRIDGING THE GENDER DIVIDE
Women clearly dominated the social media conversation on toys and gender roles (they authored 65% chatter v/s 35% by men).
Most authors expressed opinions or shared links which specifically (or directly) referred to the gender stereotyping issue; while the rest have made indirect references in conversation – stating their observations, likes or dislikes regarding “girl toys” and “boy toys”.
Direct references to the issue united consumers against stereotyping, irrespective of their gender – both men and women had near identical (and highly negative) sentiment trends.
In-direct references to the issue yield surprisingly different gender sentiment trends – both men and women expressed a strong liking for their respective gender’s “stereotypical” toys. Women, in particular showed a higher percentage of fondness towards “girl’s toys”.
The results seem to be in perfect alignment with the TED talk “Social media and the end of gender” by Johanna Blakley, posted in December’11 – though women had a higher share of voice, both genders have shown incredibly similar trends within their online conversations. Social media analytics on the topic has helped us corroborate Blakeley’s opinion and suggests that it was not gender, but an individual’s interests and innate personality that defined his/her opinions on the issue.
THE TOY MARKETER’S DILEMMA
The toy corporates claim that though all children initially have gender neutral toy preferences, by preschool they prefer things that are more gender specific. Boys get into action and adventure; while girls prefer pretty and detailed play things. In order to be fair to both genders, they HAVE to create toys that adequately cater to each gender’s specific tastes.
On the other hand, analysis of social media chatter tells us this is an issue which has the genders almost mirroring one another’s opinions -
- When the issue was directly referenced, both genders were strongly against stereotyping
- Whereas when indirectly talked about in conversation, both genders exhibited a fondness towards their respective genders’ stereotypical toys!
In the light of the above, do you think this united chorus of disapproval by the genders when directly referring to the issue suggests that the corporates should consider adopting a radical “gender-neutral” strategy?
Alternatively, in-direct references implying that the genders actually fancy the very same “stereotypical” toys raises another critical question – are gender neutral toys what today’s kids really want?
What is your stand on the issue? Leave your comments below!