Gender Free Toys: Do they exist?

Sometimes it feels that for some reason, some group of toy makers, somewhere have determined that girls can only play with pink toys. A new innovative toy is introduced and within one season, there’s always a new “pink” version. Even great classic toys like Monopoly and Twister are now pink-a-fied. Perhaps it’s my formative years in the 70s women’s movement, but why must it be pink? Several years ago when scientific studies indicated that playing with building blocks developed important visual perception skills that helped kids achieve higher math scores — toy makers responded with building kits for girls (a good thing)–pink and lavender (unfortunately), and the themes: build a mall, a stable or a cottage (even more upsetting).

I have nothing against pink. Ok, as a kid I did. Much to the dismay of my mother, I really preferred the Hot Wheels tracks that my brothers played with to the dream dollhouse she bought me (that stood without a homemaker for most of my childhood). I have since apologized for not really getting into the whole “doll” thing either. My worst playdate — being sent to a house where the effusively pink bedroom was chockful of huggables and dolls — both sisters were very excited to play dolls. I never went back. They were well meaning, but it just wasn’t my thing.

As a professional toy reviewer (and mother of two boys), I quickly saw that there was also a problem on the other side of the equation. Boys tend to get two types of presents: things that move and things to build- that’s pretty much it. When we first started, a mother was surprised that I suggested a toy kitchen for her son. “Do you want him to grow up and feel comfortable in a kitchen?” I asked. This is where it starts. When my younger son and his friend took their dolls (yes, both my sons loved huggables and dolls) in their strollers to the park, an adult commented loud enough for everyone to hear “only in Greenwich Village”. He then asked the boys (almost three years old) what they were doing. “We’re playing daddys” they both chimed. It was one of my proudest parenting moments. They parked their “babies” and ran off to play on the climbing equipment.

Throughout the years we have kept track of what we call the GenderAgenda in Toyland. Our annual book has a gender-free list of toys and products that bend the gender agenda. We applaud toy kitchen makers like Step 2, Little Tikes and Small World Toys–that have broken away from the stereotypical pink kitchen.

So what can you do?

Buy building sets for your daughter – the more open-ended the better!

Buy a gender free ride-on (they also have the added advantage of being enjoyed by younger siblings no matter what their gender).

Buy your son some dishes and a toy kitchen. Your future daughter-in-law will love you for it.

Buy board games for both – playing games enforces not only reading, math and language skills- it’s an important way of introducing negotiating skills – something we all need!


Since we didn’t publish our book this year, I thought I’d share our GenderAgenda list with the caveat that with the exception of the Cat In The Hat Game and the Kidizoom Camera, we did not test any of these toys for lead.

ActiviTot Developmental Mat (Tiny Love)
Amazing Baby Sound Balls (Kids Preferred)
Cosmic Catch (Hasbro)
Go Baby Go Stride to Ride Lion (Fisher-Price)
Hyper Dash (Wild Planet)
Cat in the Hat! I Can Do That! (I Can Do That!)
Kidizoom Camera (VTech)
Kitchen Appliances (various makers)
Retro Rocket (Radio Flyer)
Trikke 5 (Trikke Tech)
Word Whammer Fridge Phonics (LeapFrog)
Ultimate Lego Duplo Set (Lego Systems)


7 Responses to Gender Free Toys: Do they exist?

  1. Joyce says:

    But what if that is all my daughter wants…pink things? She’s got a list a mile long, but everything on it is so girlie girlie! I think it is my mother-in-law’s doing. She is always bringing her princess clothes and princess dolls and princess craft kits. She even calls her “Princess!” I talked to her about this, but it is a lost cause. I don’t want to disappoint my daughter or turn her gifts into a political statement. I agree with you, but I don’t want to spoil the holidays,either.

  2. toyportfolio says:

    I agree–I don’t think the holidays are a time to have this battle. My objection to a pink-a-fied world is really more about girls thinking that they can only exist in that world.

  3. abbe says:

    shopping with a friend and her sister the other day looking around to see what I could buy for Hanukkah (even though I had more then I needed already) my friends sister says “I hope you aren’t sticking to just pink and girlie girl things,” and before I could even answer my friend says no way the baby is only 3 months old and she wears pink, purple, blue, red, green orange, and so on. sure my granddaughter won’t be in an outfit that is truely for a boy but she’ll play with anything she wants. about 50% of the population is male and about 50% is female, learn to love the other gender you aren’t and what they offer.

  4. Nancy says:

    First I want to say I am a huge fan of the toy portfolio. Keep up the great work. I totally agree with you. Toymakers stereotype our toys to be either “pink and lavender” or “shooting” type toys for boys.
    I am a mother of three young boys and after reading your books I buy all types of toys for them. Lots of craft kits too!! The only thing that worries me is since I don’t buy them the typical “boy” toys that most boys play with I am afraid they will get picked on by their friends. For example, I already heard a comment from someone that my kids are so hard to buy presents for because they don’t play with Power Rangers, Ben 10 etc.. I am afraid that this is setting them up to be “different” and this will hurt their self esteem.

  5. toyportfolio says:

    Thanks Nancy! If anything by giving them a chance to explore all different types of play you are instilling a broader sense of confidence for taking chances. Doing a craft or a building project are both so important for reading directions, problem solving and learning how to do things in sequence–a skill that both boys and girls need. Thankfully there are more craft kits that will appeal to boys as well as girls–Balitono, Creativity for Kids and Skullduggery all make kits that are fun for boys (even Power Ranger lovers!).

  6. Kathleen says:

    I’m shopping for my daughter — I’m intrigued by the Step 2 Main Street Village set — an opportunity to get her a gender neutral house (the cottage), but also a matching fire house, airport (she loves both trucks and planes) and tractor! You have not reviewed these toys — do you have any thoughts on them? They don’t get the buzz that the FP Little People sets do, but seem a little more versatile.

  7. toyportfolio says:

    We did not test these products this season, so I can’t comment directly on these toys but the general concept is right on. We did love the larger wooden castles in their Woodland Adventures series. I don’t know how old your daughter is–but they are worth a look for 3 & up. Their Castle of Courage won a Platinum Award from us. You can see it on our website. I also do need to mention that our testers did love the very pink castle in this line. Although the parent noted to keep hold of the directions, because her daughters loved taking it apart!

    Here are a couple of things to look for when looking at any of these mini-pretend settings: (1) small parts – the pieces on many of these play settings are getting smaller and smaller. You can use a toilet paper roller to check size; (2) sound effects-make sure that the moos and nays are coming from the animals, not the buildings! We found that many of the sound effects were built into the structures–so if you put the pig where the horse is “supposed” to go, your child will learn that the pig says nay. Pretty silly. We think kids can make their own sounds!

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