An End to Toy Awards’ Gender Divide?

The Toy Industry Association is considering abolishing its gender-stereotyped Toy of the Year. But will it?

The Toy Industry Association (TIA) needs to bring its prestigious Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards up to date. Honors in two categories—the “Boy Toy of the Year” and the “Girl Toy of the Year”—rely upon and reinforce the outdated gender stereotyping of toys.

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The ultra-stereotypical winner of the Boy Toy and Girl Toy TOTY Awards. Image courtesy of John Marcotte / Heroic Girls.

As I explained last week in the Washington Post:

Contenders for the “Boy Toy” award include three Star Wars toys, a remote-controlled Hulk toy, a Hot Wheels garage, a Nerf blaster and a video streaming drone. In contrast, the “Girl Toy” contenders include a Disney’s Frozen Sing-A-Long Elsa doll, a Nerf Rebelle bow and arrow, a Girl Scout cookie oven, a Shopkins ice cream truck, a blacklight-illuminated nature journal and the interactive Zoomer Kitty toy pet.

Such segregation is unnecessary. Many girls like “Star Wars” and Hot Wheels and drones. Many boys like Frozen and cookies and kittens. All of these toys are suitable for children of either sex, as long one doesn’t mind boys playing with the occasional pink-tinged item.

When asked by entrepreneurial toy reviewer Dan Nessel to consider retiring these categories, however, Toy Industry Association executives declined to reply to him. Instead, VP Ken Seiter accidentally copied Nessel on an internal conversation about his request, which read:

“Needless to say we don’t touch this. Obviously this guy needs a job.”

Perhaps owing to the Washington Post piece, however, the TIA appears to be reconsidering the matter. In fact, the TIA’s CEO addressed the subject from stage that evening, according to Debra Sterling, Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, who tweeted live from the TOTY Awards:

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Stating this publicly, before the assembled award-goers, is a great sign. A question remains, though: How serious is the TIA about addressing the matter? Nessel worries they may be merely paying lip service to their critics: When he saw Seiter at the Toy Fair, Seiter indicated that he really didn’t understand Nessel’s perspective.

“He told me there are so many bigger issues, like toxins in toys—why would I spend my time on this?” Nessel said. “Thus his ‘get a job’ comment: He thought I was wasting my time on a minor issue.”

The conversation continues nevertheless. Yesterday, Toy News followed up with a report stating that the TIA may be open to dropping these gender-based award categories, based on their interview with TIA president Steve Pasierb. Toy News wrote:

TIA president Steve Pasierb has revealed that the organisation is open to shaking up its Toy of the Year Awards categories, including dropping those based around gender.

At this year’s Toy of the Year Awards, the Girls Toy of the Year category was won by Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck while LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon won the Boys Toy of the Year.

As the association firms up its strategic plans up to 2020, Pasierb is looking at how the Awards categories can steer clear of “false dichotomies”.

“We try to rethink everything we do at the TIA,” said Pasierb.

“We know that with our Toy of the Year Awards, there are categories we need to add and there are categories we need to change. The question keeps coming up: if you have a boys’ toy of the year and a girls’ toy of the year, why don’t you have a boys’ outdoor toy of the year or a girls’ outdoor toy of the year?’ Is dividing by boys and girls the best way to do it? Some shows do it by age group. We’ve encouraged our TOTY committee to go back and look at this.”

I hope the committee looks at the issue with an open mind. The segregated awards—and their incredibly stereotypical results-–shortchange children. Because of this, to those who care about the industry and understand the problems with gender stereotyping, the current awards are an embarrassment.

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. 

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