Girls, Boys, and Toys: Gender-Neutral Gift Advice

Monday, November 25, 2013

Buying a toy – be it gender specific, or gender neutral – can be seen as a political statement these days. We open the phones and take your calls about what toys you're excited about giving to your children 7 and under this year, and how to navigate the gender issues around dolls, easy-bake ovens, pink vs. blue, and more. Tips and highlights from the conversation below.

Advice From the Crowd: What Our Callers Had to Say

  • Avoid the box-store pink aisles. Jodie from Stamford has a tomboy. She says the easiest way to shop for her is to shop local. If you go to the big box stores they have pink aisles… in the local stores you’re more likely to find science kits and engineering toys and less gender-specific pressure.
  • It's not the hand-me-downs that are the problem. Joaquin has 10-month old, and has found that hand-me-down items usually come from all genders. You can create some balance with those items because, as he says, when the grandparents are buying stuff "it has to be pink."
  • Ask the parents first. Another caller says that when she is buying a gift for her friend's kids, she always asks the parents first about what they're in to, and whether they want gender-specific items.
  • And we leave you with this questions to take up on the comments page: Despite your best intentions, do you find that boys will gravitate towards cars and guns, and girls will gravitate towards pink and princesses? How much does trying to be gender-neutral ignore innate gender differences? Discuss!

Watch The Viral Video Ad for GoldieBlox

Comments [20]

Me feller from Provincetown, MA

These 2 points are for Brian, both topics I learned on NPR. 1-as a variant of red, pink was considered masculine, I believe in Victorian times and into WWI era. I don't know what changed that perception but it is interesting to note that at the same time baby blue was considered feminine, derived from the association of that color historically with the Virgin Mary in Western art. 2-Tylenol manufacturer is reported to have actively lobbied FDA and suppressed knowledge of the product's association with severe illness from liver toxicity in use of recommended dosages, particularly in infants but in children and adults as well, continuing to market the drug as the safest pain remedy available OTC, despite its history.

Nov. 27 2013 04:30 AM

@ John A: What about the Raspberry Pi?

Nov. 26 2013 06:25 PM
Amy from Brooklyn, NY

I was really disappointed to hear so many of the callers (and the host, sorry, Brian) dropping the brand name GoldieBlox as shorthand for a non-sexist, empowering science toy. If anyone looked beyond the slick ad, you could see that the toy itself is extremely poorly engineered, the accompanying book is horribly written and rife with stereotypes, and it teaches almost no engineering skills. Girls deserve REAL science, not pinked-up marketing (and the Beastie Boys deserve royalties, but that's another matter entirely).

I'd appreciate a story on gender, science, and toys that involves a more sustained consideration of the process of learning via playing, and a hard look at actual games/toys (versus their marketing). It's pretty depressing to see this conversation devolve into linking to an advertisement for a subpar product, as it has on most forums.

Nov. 25 2013 10:12 PM
Lisa from New Jersey

When my now 21 year old daughter was young, I refused to buy her a barbie doll because I didn't want her to think that that was they way she had to look. (Of course, she had hand me down barbie dolls from her cousins but when she asked, I wouldn't buy her any) When her younger brother wanted a barbie doll, I immediately bought it for him. I was glad that he wanted to play with dolls - that he was comfortable with a "girl" toy. (At nearly 18, this is a story he does not like me repeating!) I also was annoyed when my daughter would go to birthday parties and come home with make-up in the party favors. I took it away from her. I didn't want her to think that in order for her to look pretty she needed red lips and cheeks, and colored eye lids. This is not to say that I never bought her 'girl" toys, I did but I didn't want them to affect her self esteem. My boys both liked to cook and as a matter of fact when my almost 24 year old son wanted a Emeril pot for his birthday or for Chanukah, I was happy to get it for him.

Nov. 25 2013 04:05 PM
Kate from New York City

Growing up, my sister and I had a LOT of Barbies and a LOT of pink. But that didn't stop us from playing adventure games. Oftentimes, our Barbies were left in their box on beautiful summer days and we were instead out with our neighborhood friends playing hide and seek, capture the flag, and more. Often our creative play was very adventurous as well: cops and robbers, secret agents, alien-fighting superwomen, and more. We used our Nintendo "Duck Hunt" guns as our futuristic blasters and crafted command stations out of cardboard and buttons. On rainy days, we played indoors and made forts.

I wouldn't worry so much about what toys you give your kids, but rather focus on giving them the creative space to make and play. And let them play undirected. Play is serious work for children. Let them figure it out.

Nov. 25 2013 02:56 PM
Judith Kurland from Pomona, NY

When my son was young, I once bought a combination stove, sink, refrig and he used it not to cook but as his store and his lab, and in many other ways. During those years 1968/70's there was a company called Creative Playthings that sold open ended toys made from plain blond wood, with generic parts that could be used as anything the child wished. Also sold plain looking dolls that were vaguely tan, dark haired, with no real coloring. Could be from any culture. Unfortunately they went out of business but I really liked their type of toys - no plastic, brightly colored just beautifully made.

Nov. 25 2013 12:26 PM
Kelly Shermach from Chicago

My 4-year-old son has been asking for Barbie goods, fire trucks and police cars, Hello Kitty makeup, and Spiderman merch since he was tiny. Two years ago a neighborhood retailer refused to sell me a play kitchen. He asked if it was for my son, and I said yes. This year my guy wants a Baby Alive doll and a Playmobil police helicopter for Christmas. I've stopped buying by gender guidelines and stand by him when he clutches his flowered backpack at the bus stop.

Nov. 25 2013 12:00 PM
Amy from Manhattan

A friend told me her sister, who had both boys & girls (now in their teens) said that baby gifts for boys were around 50% clothes, & the clothes were various colors, & the gifts for girls were 90% clothers, overwhelmingly pink.

Nov. 25 2013 11:58 AM
Mandolyn W. Rosen from Saugerties NY

I have a 3-yr-old daughter and a 5-yr-old son, and I hate the Pink Aisle. I resist all things princess and baby dolls, though my daughter loves it. My son is into science, building stuff, and "studying nature." I will try to encourage my daughter to try out her brother's games, and also let her guide me with her own interests. As soon as my daughter is older, I'll be getting her some Goldi Blocks!

Nov. 25 2013 11:58 AM
Rhys McClure from Northport

Stores are dominated by things for girls in general. Book stores, toy stores, clothes are all focused on girls with boys items shoved in the corner.

Nov. 25 2013 11:58 AM
John A

Older children with engineering interests and some available advisor - Arduino toy computers are fantastic. I'm talking 11 to 17.

Nov. 25 2013 11:57 AM
Chaney from Bayside, Queens

I have a 4 yr old girl & 6 yr old son, and I have found that board games are the most all-gender-inclusive toys for both sexes. Like Connect 4! Every child loves it! Or drawing my own version of CandyLand.

Nov. 25 2013 11:57 AM
Laurie Skantze from in exile in Florida

My daughter was uninterested in my son's old Lego Duplo toys until I bought a few of the Lego Duplo Princess sets. Now she uses the legos and build creatively...not with the same enthusiasm, but she does enjoy them.

Lego Duplo are the bigger legos for smaller kids.

Nov. 25 2013 11:55 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Cue sanctimonious b.s. Why is this even a discussion? Let kids play with whatever they want, they will anyway, one way or another, and it won't affect them.

Nov. 25 2013 11:48 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

When my nephews were young, I used to take them to the Barnes & Noble bargain books section and let them select half a dozen books each. Anything that was below grade level I discouraged and anything of an adult nature was prohibited, but essentially they got to select anything that was of interest and enough above grade-level to increase reading ability. I also printed personalized book plates for them, so their books were their own. Gender was NOT an issue, as books are books, and I never took them to the children's section in which gender might be an issue.

Apart from that, I do feel that there are gender issues, and while buying a Barbie doll for a boy does not necessarily mean he will grow up to be gay or transgendered, I think it is more important to give a gift that will be of interest to a child. If you buy something that gets put aside in 5 minutes in exchange for the box in which it came, you've got the wrong gift.

And, of course, if you hate the kid's parents, feel free to get whichever gender child something that makes as much noise as possible, as well as a full supply of batteries...

Nov. 25 2013 10:46 AM

"Fifty-dollars paid the rent..../Girls were girls and men were men/, THOSE WERE THE DAYS!!!"

Nov. 25 2013 10:26 AM
Chike Chukwulozie from Manhattan

I am NYC parent to 3 young kids and I also own a kids toy and clothing store so I feel a sense of responsibility to bring quality toys into local homes. In my home and business, I avoid the commercial toys that become an eye sore after 15 mins. We try and find things that kids will love well beyond the holidays and might even keep into their adulthood, like our knit rattle toys. We have baby rattles shaped like a classic NYC taxi, a metrocard, a purse, a firetruck and even more, see They are unique, graphic and affordable - $16 each. This is baby gift that I proudly make and give people because it makes an immediate impact and is memorable.

Nov. 22 2013 10:50 AM

You should have asked what to do when your son wants a pink sparkly wand! Haha.

When my son was little he was among fair number of boys who loved pushing those toy strollers around. He'd steal them from girls and race around the park with it so I bought him one as did many other Upper West Side moms of boys. Many of the boys used the strollers for motion while the girls tended to use them to transport their baby dolls.

Nov. 22 2013 10:49 AM
carolita from nyc

Very simple: when I didn't get what I wanted for christmas (or whatever), my parents just told me I could buy whatever I wanted someday when I made my own money. Till then, I should accept gifts graciously.

Nov. 22 2013 10:40 AM

This study says it all and has informed the way I treat my daughters:

Nov. 22 2013 10:08 AM

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