sweden’s top toy company releases “gender-neutral” christmas catalogue
A Swedish franchise of the Toys R Us chain, Top Toy, has released their Christmas catalogue and its gender-neutral style has garnered attention across the globe. The Swedish catalogue features boys holding babies, and girls playing with guns and swords. Debates over gender-roles have been historically vocal in Sweden and the catalogue demonstrates the Swedes’ progressive attitude to the issue.
Top Toy’s move to this gender-neutral position comes after the company was criticised by the country’s advertising ombudsman in 2008 for its out-dated images, such as of girls dressed as princesses and boys dressed as superheroes. Director of sales at Top Toy, Jan Nyberg, told the TT news agency on Friday that ‘for several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we … have had to adjust.’
The company released both Danish and Sweden versions of the catalogue. In the Danish catalogue, a boy is shown with a toy gun, while in the Swedish version, he is replaced by a girl. A boy is photoshopped into the Hello Kitty page of the Swedish edition, while a girl’s shirt is also changed from pink to light blue. These changes attempt to remove conceptions that certain toys are exclusively for boys, and some are for girls. Such a move reflects the growing gender debate in the Nordic country.
The Swedish government has spent 110 million Swedish crowns (AUD$16 million) promoting gender equality in schools since 2008. Alongside this has been a push for the formal introduction of a gender neutral pronoun “hen”, a complement to the “han/hon” – “he/she” construction. “Hen” was invented in the 1960s, but only since its adoption by transgender groups since 2000 has it been a serious alternative to existing pronouns.
The use of “hen” was thrown into the spotlight this year with the publication of the children’s book Kivi och Monsterhund (Kivi and the Monster Dog) by Jesper Lundqvist. Kivi och Monsterhund exclusively uses “hen”, dispensing with “hon” and “han” entirely. Defending the grammatical choice, Lundqvist argued he wanted to create a book aimed at children, not little boys or little girls.
Advocates for the term say that it is a tool for gender equality, promoting the idea that gender is not always relevant information. Conversely, some critics, such as linguist Mikael Parkvall, suggest that language does not change cultural attitudes, making such a change redundant. The use of “hen” mirrors the move by Top Toys to challenge the myth that gender is inevitably a binary force. By marketing toys at children, rather than at boys or girls, Top Toy demonstrates an awareness of the growing rejection of stereotypical gender roles.
Regrettably, such a forward-thinking attitude is lacking in Australian advertising. This summer, Cottee’s Cordial is launching a “Boys versus Girls” campaign, marketing an identical product to children in a way that enforces the idea of an inherent difference between the sexes. Similarly, Bioglan, an Australian natural health brand, recently launched their campaign for children’s multivitamins. Despite having the same chemical formulations, they are branded as “Kids Gummies Multivitamin for Boys” and “Kids Gummies Multivitamin for Girls” for ‘your little racer’ and ‘your little princess’ respectively. The packaging is complete with images from the movie Cars for boys and Disney princesses for girls.
The latest Australian Toys R Us catalogue reveals how Australia falls behind on the road to gender equality. In the catalogue, girls hold baby dolls and dress as princesses, while boys are dressed as superheroes and are photographed with tools and cars, the same stereotypical imagery that Sweden has been working to combat for nearly four years.
Advertising techniques such as these do little to shake limiting conceptions of the roles of men and women, particularly when targeting children.
What do you think of Top Toy’s move to release a gender-neutral catalogue? Let us know your thoughts below!
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