You can give a boy a doll, but you can't make him play with it

The logistical and ethical problems with trying to make toys gender-neutral

Published: Monday, Dec. 10 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

In this Monday, June 20, 2011 photo,  Pedagogic In this Monday, June 20, 2011 photo, Pedagogic "emotion dolls" at "Egalia," a Swedish preschool aiming at gender stereotypes, Stockholm, Sweden. At the "Egalia" preschool, staff avoid using words like "him" or "her" and address the children as "friends" rather than girls and boys. Every little detail has been carefully planned from the color and placement of toys to the selection of literature to make sure the 30 or so children don't fall into gender stereotypes. "Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing," says Jenny Johnsson, a 31-year-old teacher. "Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be." The public preschool which opened last year in the liberal Sodermalm district of Stockholm is among the most radical examples of Sweden's efforts to engineer equality between the sexes from childhood onward. (Associated Press)

Our take: Christina Hoff Sommers from The Atlantic looks at the push for gender-neutral toys and gender neutrality in society. She notes that due to biological hardwiring, boys and girls are not the same, thus they do not play the same way and are not interested in the same kinds of toys.

Is it discriminatory and degrading for toy catalogs to show girls playing with tea sets and boys with Nerf guns? A Swedish regulatory group says yes. The Reklamombudsmannen (RO) has reprimanded Top-Toy, a licensee of Toys"R"Us and one of the largest toy companies in Northern Europe, for its "outdated" advertisements and has pressured it to mend its "narrow-minded" ways.

After receiving "training and guidance" from RO equity experts, Top-Toy introduced gender neutrality in its 2012 Christmas catalogue. The catalog shows little boys playing with a Barbie Dream House and girls with guns and gory action figures. As its marketing director explains, "For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we have had to adjust."

Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating — less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of the Sweden's Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman, proposed a "man tax" — a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women's Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun "hen" to be used in place of he and she (han and hon).

Egalia, a new state-sponsored pre-school in Stockholm, is dedicated to the total obliteration of the male and female distinction. There are no boys and girls at Egalia — just "friends" and "buddies.

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