Are doll dream houses, pretty purses and party packs the worst toys for girls? There's more than one way to play when you're a girl—but you wouldn't know it as you cruise the corridors of your local toy store.
Almost every plaything that sports a pink, purple or pastel color scheme is designed to target little girls. How can you find the best toys—and avoid the worst—for your growing daughter in a sea of pink and glitter?
Parents should be concerned about the "pinkification" of toys across all categories, says Abi Moore of the media marketing blog Pinkstinks. "We're concerned," she says, "that by gender segregating all toys, play is limited, and by further stereotyping toys, in particular those that are aimed at girls, to involve passive play roles around beauty, cooking and shopping... we instill in very young and impressionable children limiting and damaging ideas of what it means to be a girl."
Even long-time expert toy makers like LEGO sometimes get it wrong. LEGO is known for its construction kits that encourage creativity. Recently the company came out with a new storyline called "LEGO friends" aimed at girls. The LEGO friends live in a city with beauty parlors, bakeries and boutiques but without firemen or policemen. Why not just buy your little learner the regular "LEGO City" kit? Why a special city for girls?
Moore, of Pinkstinks, says that it's a mistake thinking that the preference for pink and princesses is innate, that girls are born that way. The LEGO marketing materials for the "Friends" kit seem to imply this very thing. A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology disputes this, noting that color preferences for toys and other objects for both boys and girls don't emerge until around age 3—about the time that kids are becoming aware of social roles.
Compare and contrast the qualities of the following toys as you tackle the "princess" problem:
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn My Pretty Learning Purse ($19.95, ages 6 months +) This bright pink plastic purse claims to be a learning tool but the harmful stereotypes it reinforces outweigh any educational component. The purse comes with toy lipstick, mirror and money and other "girl" stuff. The purse will sing when it's turned on, but the song lyrics are questionable. The tune that teaches colors, for example, names all of the colors and then says that "of course" my favorite color is pink I think (!). Many other toys teach toddlers color concepts without the unnecessary stereotyping. The V Tech Spin and Learn Color Flashlight ($11.99, ages 1+) is a multicolored, hand-held toy designed to appeal to tots, but it's more gender neutral (red, yellow, blue, green) and encourages more active discovery. Your little girls won't be "told" that she likes pink—she'll get to spin the light and choose her own favorite hue.
Disney Princess Make-up Kit ($29.95, ages 5+) Playing dress-up can be a creative and imaginative activity for boys and girls alike—but this make-up kit for the kindergarten crowd is a creativity killer. The small lipsticks and other make-believe cosmetics are firmly tied to the princess theme and allow for no other interpretation. For more inspired play, choose a less girl-centered option for dress-up like the Rubie's Costume Company Makeup Factory for Children ($7.99, ages 5+) which comes with a lot of options, including both glitter and fake blood—so your budding heroine can pretend to be a monster or a mermaid—it's her choice!
Bratz Party Doll ($25 and up, ages 6+) Bratz aren't pink, but easily earn their spot on the worst toy list. Bratz work on the same principle as Barbie—your kid collects accessories and outfits for the doll and plays. Unlike Barbie, who occasionally goes to work in a commendable (and not always female-friendly) field as a doctor or a scientist, these scantily-clad playthings do nothing but party and have no aspirations beyond buying their next set of high heels. Other Bratz dolls are equally limited—they model clothes or style hair. Marketed to tweens and younger, these toys embody the most toxic female stereotypes. If your girl's gaga for dolls, opt for one of Barbie's best alter-egos. Mattel's I Can Be Computer Engineer Barbie Doll ($22.99, ages 5+) encourages your little one to think beyond appearance, and even comes with a tiny laptop.
Playhut Beauty Boutique Play Hut ($34.99, ages 3+) This is a pre-fab pop-up beauty parlor in the standard pink and purple colors, complete with a "dressing room" and mirror. Every child likes a space of their own where they can dream and play, but this toy tells the story for you—it can only be used for beauty and primping and definitely no boys allowed. A better choice for creative and open-ended play for girls would be a Crafty Kids Adventure Castle ($44.99, ages 3+); this playhouse in the shape of a castle is made from recycled cardboard that your little artist can draw and paint on, letting her imagination run wild.
It's about more than a color. The worst toys for girls promote passive play, limit imagination and reinforce rigid stereotypes. For a wise parent, it's possible to think beyond pink and find toys that appeal to girls, but that also encourage positive aspects of play such as creativity, active engagement and imagination.