Tween activists
Toy shops beware this shopping season, some kids have had enough of being dictated to.
(Shawn Benjamin)
In retailer speak, it’s only 78 shopping days to Christmas. Soon, newspapers will be bulging with inserts offering everything from weed-whackers to washing machines as the ideal gift.

Our mailboxes will cringe under an endless barrage of similar advertising, making us feel like Scrooges for not wanting to buy our loved ones a lifetime membership to the cheese of the month club.

And amidst all the snowflake-covered ads, no other sales pitch will thud onto the doorstep with quite the solid conviction of the toy shop specials. But in Sweden this year, there may be a slightly new angle on the old ‘dolls for girls’, ‘weapons of mass destruction for boys’ story in the material aimed at kids.

In a heartening show of tween activist power, a group of Swedish children filed a complaint last Christmas against Toys R Us for their catalogue. They were objecting to gender stereotyping in the product photos, depicting ‘outdated gender roles’.

Among the kids’ complaints is the active role taken by boys in the pictures, while girls stand around passively.

Naturally, behind the protest is a passionate teacher, who has been coaching the group on the subject of gender roles for more than 2 years.

Strength to them, if they can change the way that marketers think by even one micron.

Barbie’s vengeance

Others have tried radical action to get the attention of marketers who blithely perpetuate stereotypes in the design and marketing of toys for a gender-segmented market.

The Swedish kids’ toy store activism is reminiscent of the early 1990s actions of the Barbie Liberation Front (BLF), who claim to have used screwdrivers rather than the law as their instrument of protest.

In a famously subversive move, the BLF swopped the famous fashion doll’s voicebox with that of GI Joe, resulting in Barbie shouting ‘Vengeance is mine’, while Joe wistfully suggested: ‘Let’s plan our dream wedding.’

The BLF may not have managed much widespread change, but chances are that Swedish toy stores are having a last minute rethink on their latest catalogues.

Yes, we may at last have mobilised the most important link in this chain: the kids themselves.

Can and should the gender toy divide be bridged?

Read more by Adele Hamilton

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