Posted August 14, 2014, By Gary Pope, Client Director
In June 2014, we conducted a research study to find out what children and parents really thought about the gender archetypes that society foists upon us.
We spoke to 1000 parents online, 120 face to face in depth interviews and a further 120 children – and we reviewed 56 academic documents on the subject. This is just a taster, a flavor of the study, but amongst the many insights gained we learned some shocking truths.
Please remain seated…
Girls prefer nurturing toys, whilst boys like action.
SHOCK! Boys and girls are different. Boys like playing with stuff that is generally designed for boys and girls like playing with stuff that is generally designed for girls. But that doesn’t mean that boys stuff is all “blue” and girls stuff is all “pink”. Categorisation of product is key (dolls, construction, dress-up, crafts), instead of gender. Let’s let the children decide themselves, shall we?
Throughout our qualitative work, dads were always a little more guarded than mums. They got a little uncomfortable by talk of boys wearing dresses and playing with dolls. The statistics showed that dads are far more concerned with their boys exploring dimensions perceived as feminine, than their girls engaging in “boyish” activities.
A sign that we’re not as far forward as we thought we were?
As a species our assumptions are based on millennia of development. But the world we’re living in now is a very different one to the place it was even just a few years ago.
In speaking to the parents and children it became clear that the tablet is gender-neutral. Wonderfully, it especially enables boys to try apps, which - if they were real toys - would of course be way out of bounds. All the boys we spoke with said that they had played, and enjoyed playing, “Toca Boca Hair Salon”. However, when we showed those same boys images of a “Girls World” mannequin head, they were resoundingly against playing with such a thing. Boys don’t feel exposed by this type of tablet play - whereas playing with the head of an oversize doll was “just wrong”.
Perhaps one of the most interesting findings from the quantitative research was the fact that parents also see all the major TV Channels as gender-neutral. The perception of Disney XD however – which although has a well crafted “boyish” positioning and tone - was 75% gender-neutral from the parents, and “for boys and girls” from the children. So, are we missing the point? Isn’t it really just about content?
Toys. Search “Girls Toys” on Google images and it’s an ocean of pink. But search “Girls Apps” and of the 36 images above the fold you’ll see only 4 pink icons. Toy marketers particularly seem to be a little stuck in their ways – “it’s ‘for girls’ so it has to be pink”. Some girls do like pink – which is great. But some don’t.
With this in mind, the troubling thing is the large toy companies increasingly own more of the creative process and distribution system.
Indeed, the toy industry’s Christmas-in-July this year, as every other year, told the same old story. There are 10 toys on the list. 4 are clear designs for girls, 4 for boys, and 2 that are ‘gender-neutral’ – according to perceptions of these toys, driven by the marketers.
That doesn’t mean that the play patterns are just for girls or just for boys. Merely that the plaything has been designed in keeping with what have become the perceived cultural norms.
The thing to remember though, is that parents and children are telling us that maybe this isn’t the best way to go...
Look out for the upcoming Kids Industries "Pink and Blue" conference, or get in touch to be involved. We're going to be digging a lot deeper into this topic over the coming weeks!