Positive Picks! Progress in Upending Gender Stereotypes

gecko kickstarterMay 29, 2015 Update

Check out the all new Kickstarter from Gecko Clothing featuring “funky, ethical, organic, unisex” clothes crowdsourcing both the design and the funding! 

There’s a strong sense of urgency with this adorable selection of togs, as this startup has an “all or nothing” timer on their crowdfunding so if you want it to see the light of day in the marketplace, time to get clickin!

I try hard NOT to voice opinions on Kickstarter ventures as I get inundated with “help me” pleas, but being raised in Hawaii, geckos are iconic (okay, almost sacred, given that I read Good Night Gecko to my child nightly growing up, my mom wears a ‘good luck’ gecko around her neck, and I have flashbacks of creating tissue box ‘pretend play’ ambulances when my childhood hound would accidentally startle them and they’d detach their wiggling tails to distract, an awe-inspiring prey deflection in the animal kingdom!) so in short?

Seeing their cute Gecko logo meant they ‘had me at hello’… and that’s BEFORE I read in-depth about into their eco-values/ethics/sourcing within their small business and of course their “let clothes be clothes” cuteness that helps with the gender segregation silliness.

gecko clothing spaceThe wildlife critters particularly appeal as a nature enthusiast, though the STEM styles are “out of this world” with the space themes having a universal appeal, and some of the cutest designs I’ve seen in that sphere yet.

In related cyclebreaking and STEM, the UK’s Guardian newspaper has a wonderful database resource called “Women in Space” that meshes with this theme well, pointing towards historic heroines and modern marvels…Inspiring to girls AND boys alike. After all, isn’t that what this is all about?

Let Toys Be Toys…Let Clothes Be Clothes…Let Books Be Books…Let Careers Be Careers…Good luck, Gecko!

bear sweatshirt-tootsa mcginty

April 7, 2015 Update Adding some toy joy along with a dozen more kids’ clothing companies… Thrilled to see healthier play patterns on the horizon, upending gender stereotypes and letting toys be toys for adventure fun for all. Check out this new startup Ember World that ditches the heavily marketed appearance-driven cues and sexualized snorefest to successfully appeal to all in “Let Toys be Toys” mode!

If you liked the post about Lottie Dolls, and various mentions of PFZ Inc’s “shero” TooLula,Lammily,GoGoSportsGirls, Amazon’s Annedroids show pointing beyond STEM to STEAM for boys AND girls, then keep the good news coming, and the pressure on for positive picks as we’re reaching a tipping point. Can you feel it?

Here’s to the “lead, not follow” focus that’s necessary for cyclebreaking. Brava! From prosocial Guardian Princesses as planet protectors to the new hashtag #RealPrincess and highly marketed GoldieBlox girl-centric engineer positioning, consumers are using their voice and views to show and tell how “girl focused” framing should offer a wider canvas of childhood with a landscape of possibilities rather than narrowcast with formulaic vapid values about beauty duty from industry titans.

April 3, 2015 Original post

And now…for some GOOD news.

With raised awareness of prevalent and pigeonholed gender marketing stereotypes being even worse than they were 50 years ago, and scholars like Elizabeth Sweet and Rebecca Hains and Lori Day helping to connect the dots with the ‘what does it matter?’ crowd, it’s interesting to watch some of the sideshows taking place as new market opportunities reveal themselves as profitable havens for more inclusive media messaging.

It seems we’re finally nudging towards a tipping point where exasperated consumers wildly champion every new startup pushing back against the roles and rules of retail filling racks with sameness.


lego beautiful lori dayIt’s not happening fast enough…

…but it IS happening, and that’s a great thing.

Time to celebrate some of the GOOD news inching forward with companies making positive changes to upend stereotypes…and work hard to ‘get back to where we once belonged’ booting out gendered presets and prefabs to open up imaginative building…as this fabulous post by our Brave Girls Alliance partner and educational psychologist Lori Day explains in a “that was then, this is now” flashback that went viral.

Today I’m running a “positive picks” guest post by parent and early child development pro Monica Lowry, who knows why it’s so important to build on brain plasticity and possibility for equal opportunity play patterns, rather than segregate girls and boys in a distorted perception of ‘what appeals to whom’ marketing methodology.

Toca Boca: Gender, Diversity Built Into Kids Apps

toca boca screen shotIn the “who’s doing apps right” category, I’ll add kudos to the open play patterned, gender neutral digital apps from Swedish app maker Toca Boca, citing this post on their blog, Beating the Toy Aisle Blues (and Pinks) and this new one from CoolMom Picks about the stringent focus they’ve put into “pure play” turning robots and hair styling into ‘let toys be toys’ open-ended fun. Brava!

Trend-tracking another favorite of mine, this Washington Post article by 12 year old 6th grader Madeline Messer makes tidal waves, specifically tracking the gender breakdown of characters in the top 50 apps, noting less than half even include girl characters, and then parsing the stats to reveal 90% offered boy characters for free, while only 15% offered girl characters for free. wow. That’s a change agent in action. Provide a raw, real indictment of gender disparity in gaming and ask pointblank why she has to pay a premium…all from a middle school pulpit of powerhouse competence and a sense of social media agency. App makers take note. Well played.

easy bake oven nongenderedBefore I publish a handful of the worthy “wins” (and let’s face it, some of the toy industry changes are petition driven “feel the heat vs see the light” corporate social responsibility) a quick media literacy caveat…

I’m keenly aware that in multinational companies there’s a considerable amount of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ examples that often make it a zero sum game. But given that the “show me the money” playbook is putting forth outdated, often sexist cultural credos deeply embedded in hyper-gendered marketing which is not good for anyone, I believe ANY positive change needs wildly supported in order for industry mucky mucks to point toward positive profit potential in an effort for systemic change to stick.

Hawking double the goods by making boys and girls versions of everything, is a recent greed-n-heed marketing manufactured strategy that consumers are increasingly becoming aware of in terms of social cost and psychological harm creating false barriers. Parents are learning preferences are NOT innate, and that it’s downright damaging from a free play and early learning standpoint to thwart imaginative brain plasticity at this fragile early juncture.

It’s not only unethical to make money on the backs of kids while denigrating developmental equity and seeding relational aggression through bullying caused by artificial boundaries, it may soon be corporate suicide as more and more informed consumers vote with their wallets and parents use their purchasing power to push back when they see a brand continue to make the same gender profiling missteps.

toolula screenshotThat’s the best form of ‘peer pressure’ there is to watch industry change, (albeit glacial) to ‘get back to where we once belonged’ in the “Free to Be” era of 70s “anyone can play” mindshare. (as evidenced by diverse, non-typecast sheroes like TooLula, (shown at left in a scene from her PFZ Inc. series)

Soraya Chemaly calls out corporate disconnects and backsliding spectacularly in her Role Reboot deconstruction of companies like Hasbro, Lego, Disney, and EA Sports admonishing “Toy companies that profit from damaging stereotypes shouldn’t be given awards for ethics.”

While Hasbro’s hailed for ‘Easy Bake Oven’ progress, they’ve also had considerable gaffes with gendered decisions in My Little Pony and Star Wars…While Lego rides the lift of the female scientists wave, they also crash it into the sand discontinuing the line despite market demand, opting to blitz the retail shelves with beauty duty once again with the new floofy Elves line parroting the much maligned Friends line of ‘salon and bakery’ narrowcasting.


As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “and so it goes.”


So here’s a whiff of good news as a strong sign of the changing tides…with more to come. Please add your own positive picks in the comments or share what you’re seeing in your region in terms of shifting the track on this runaway train of gendered marketing.


Let Kids Be Kids: Gender Neutral Products That Appeal to One and All

By Monica Lowry

let toys be toys logoA walk down most stores’ toy aisles in the past decade or so would likely result in the impression that girls only want to play with dolls, princesses, and pink kitchen playsets, while boys prefer action figures, Army men, and monster trucks. Surprisingly, these gender-specific toys were not always the norm. According to The Atlantic, marketing of toys is more gendered now than even 50 years ago, when gender discrimination and sexism were the norm.

Up until recently, what children play with was not left up to the child’s interests, but to whether they were born a boy or a girl. Sure, there are girls who honest-to-goodness prefer pastel-hued ponies and boys who would rather play with Megatron on any given day, but what happens when that’s just not the case? Fortunately, some companies are bucking the gender stereotypes when it comes to children’s products, proving that perhaps these so-called norms shouldn’t be considered normal after all.


Swedish Lead the Way, Defying Stereotypes


Top Toy, the Swedish branch of Toys ‘R Us, made headlines for its gender neutral advertising campaign in 2012, which featured girls shooting Nerf guns and boys cradling baby dolls, among other stereotype-defying images. The new and improved marketing tactic was launched in order to better reflect the changing Swedish market along with the modern values of customers. In a press release on Top Toy’s website, retail marketing director Thomas Meng stated that the company wants their catalogs to “reflect the way that boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them.”


Tootsa: Unisex Brand for Children


Featuring unisex clothing options for children of all ages, Tootsa was launched from fashion-veteran Kate Pietrasik’s home in 2011 after the designer noticed how segregated kidswear had become. Rather than focus on designing clothes to fit specific genders, Tootsa MacGinty’s aim is to create pieces that are simply “bright and cheerful and as colorful as a paintbox.” In the handful of years since its inception, the clothing company has expanded to include an adult collection as well, offering gender neutral options to the older set—though the clothes are just as comfortable and fun as the toddler-sized versions.


Easy Bake Oven: Cooking Up Chefs of Both Genders


Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven has been a much-coveted toy since the early ’60s, finding its way onto many a young girls’ birthday wish list and playing a key role in plenty of slumber parties. But in 2013, Hasbro set out to change the “no boys allowed” perception of their brownie-baking hit, thanks in large part to a petition started by 13-year-old McKenna Pope. According to Slate, Pope wanted to buy her little brother the popular toy for Christmas but was frustrated to find it only came in “girlish” colors, something she knew wouldn’t fly with her 4-year-old sibling. Armed with 30,000 signatures and a convincing video she made for change.org, Pope convinced Hasbro that baking is not just for little girls. The Easy Bake Oven is now available in black, silver, and blue, in addition to the original pink and purple hues, allowing children of any gender the chance to choose which color scheme appeals to them most.


Let Books Be Books: Let Toys Be Toys, Let Kids Be Kids!


The latest off-shoot of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, the recent Let Books Be Books movement encourages children’s publishers to stop labeling books, whether in title, cover art, or packaging, as “for boys” or “for girls.” A number of publishers and authors, including Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and author Philip Pullman, creator of the best-selling His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, are among those who support the movement. Let Books Be Books, much like its parent project, aims to end the gender stereotyping of children’s products present in advertising and retail locations. Rather than dividing literature by gender, the campaign hopes books can be accessible to, and enjoyed by, all children.

tootsa mcginty

About Monica Lowry: This is Monica’s first guest post on Shaping Youth, as a freelance writer and work at home mom based in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s eager to contribute on lifestyle trends and her unique parenting lens coming from a strong background in early childhood education. Welcome!



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