Monday, June 18, 2007

Up Close: Girl toys that empower and inspire

Are today’s properties and toys doing enough to empower girls,
especially in a society that sends them so many mixed messages about
how and what they should be? Playthings asked several vocal industry experts to weigh in.

“If they want to be a fashion designer, great, but what if they want to
be a scientist or an emergency vet like my twin girls? Building strong
self-esteem, a platform of confidence around their own abilities and
that they can do anything in life, will ensure that we are helping the
next generation be stronger than the last.” Richard Tait, president of Seattle-based Cranium

“So much of our industry and specific licenses are geared toward boys,
but we are missing 50% of the population . . . I absolutely think this
is an area for growth.”

“I think it’s really important to find books, dolls, toys and other products that promote power and agency in girls,”

“In our culture, girls face significant barriers to self-esteem and
empowerment. One of the biggest…is an unrelenting assault on their
personhood that comes, frankly, more from marketers than anywhere else.
And it is marketing the lie that how they look is more important than
who they are, that getting some theoretical male to pay attention to
them is more important than their own contribution to the world.”Joe Kelly, founder of the Dads & Daughters national non-profit organization

According to Dr. Toy, aka Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D., a toy industry veteran of 30 years and author of Smart Play Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. Play Quotient, “Girls
traditionally have been left out of the action.” Boys’ play “is very
fully extended,” she says. “They have a lot more stuff to play with, to
act out their roles.”

To counter this, stores should strive to offer to parents a good
balance of products that provide girls with all options for play,
including active/outdoor play, creating and crafts, logical thinking,
science and exploring, building and social/dramatic play

“As we understand play and its ramifications we understand that it
requires balance and strategic times for introductions of varied
playthings. Toys provide stimuli and help to open the door—a prop to
new experiences” Auerbach says. “That’s why American Girl
is so popular. They have offered more depth—it’s not just a doll or
prop, there are extensions to it. If you get introduced to history
early, and you become interested in it, you’ve got an opportunity to
educate girls about the past. The same thing is true with science and
other areas of learning.”

Think Pink?

So what about all the classically
“girlie” products that are out there in toy stores, like princess
clothes, baby dolls and pink vacuums. Are these bad for girls? Not
necessarily, Auerbach says. It’s only when girls’ play is limited to
these items, and no other choices in terms of styling or types of
products are available, Auerbach says. “I really think that’s dumbing
down girls,” she says. 

“I think the color palette becomes very separatist and very demeaning
to girls, so I really think it’s healthy to get away from being locked
up in colors, to allow girls to have choices. I think this is something
the toy industry has been guilty of for a long time.”


“Green is a good color too,” Auerbach
adds. “Go into an American Girl store, I don’t even see the color pink.
That’s something very important for the toy industry to pay attention
to . . American Girl is very popular, and the public wants it, so there
must be something to this.”

Retailers can also look at options for providing those girls who
naturally gravitate to princess and fairy products with empowering toy
options that build their skills in other areas. Like building kits in a
Cinderella theme? “Absolutely,” Auerbach says. Since every category of
toys offers something important for kids’ development, it’s important
that there are appealing choices in all of these areas, she notes. “If
she’s only playing with dress-up, she’s not learning the way you can
with puzzles and with construction products. That’s part of the
challenge .

Kelly adds, “I think that the diversity is really important . . .
having a wide diversity of objects, even blocks that a kid can pretend
are people, because that leaves room for the kid’s imagination. I also
think a really important thing is that the toys and activities not be
mediated or electronic.”

“Girls these days like many varied activities from [crafts] to science;
cheerleading to fashion; playing parenting skills with dolls to being
teachers, dancers, athletes or movie stars—the sky is the limit and
today there are no limits,” Auerbach says. “Girls have interests in
just about everything and thank goodness these interests do not depend
on pink.”

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