NYT: The Unrelenting Pink of Girl Toys Is Fading As Dads Do Their Part

An inch at a time, the stark gendering of kids’ toys is loosening, and a new article talks about why.

Feminists call it the Aisle of Pink. It’s the single sharpest visual example of how gender training starts young, something too stark and sudden to deny. It’s when you’re in a toy store and you round the corner to the Girl Toys section.

Your visual field is suddenly overwhelmed with pink, the entire rest of the spectrum fading into nostalgic sepia tones as your eyes frantically try to compensate for the overload. A sea of fashion dolls, makeup dolls, and housework training devices immerses you, the dead hands of 1950s sitcom mothers clutching up at you from the deeps, trying to drag you down into the lightless, stygian pink realm they inhabit.

What I’m getting at is it’s creepy as hell.

Fortunately, that’s beginning to change, according to the New York Times:

Construction sets for girls are a speedy growth category, thanks to Lego’s introduction of its Friends line in January. Despite criticism that those sets were sexist — themes include a beauty shop and a fashion studio — Lego’s chief executive said in August that the company sold twice as many of the sets in the first half of the year as it had expected, and retailers like Amazon and Target have named them hot holiday toys.

She said that a set aimed at girls could be beneficial, if only because it might increase girls’ likelihood of participating in construction activities.

Dr. O’Brien, the consultant on the new Barbie set, said adults had traditionally been “the limiting factor” in why girls have not played with those toys as often.

That’s not the best part. The best part is why it’s changing:

Consumer surveys show that men are increasingly making the buying decisions for families, reflecting the growth in two-income households and those in which the women work and the men stay home. One-fifth of fathers with preschool-age children and working wives said they were the primary caretaker in 2010, according to the latest Census Bureau data. And 37.6 percent of working wives earned more than their husbands in 2011, up from 30.7 percent 10 years earlier.

“Kids are going to grow up with dads that give them baths and drive them to soccer and are cutting up oranges for team snacks,” said Liz Ross, president for North America of BPN, part of the IPG Mediabrands holding company, which recently completed a study on male consumers. “What will go away, albeit slowly, is the image or the perception of the befuddled dad.”

In other words, the more people are freed from limiting gender roles, the more they free others from limiting gender roles. As dads discover that their dicks don’t drop off if they genuinely engage with their children, they seek similar liberation for their own kids. The gendering of toys is being opposed, both for boys and for girls. And that’s as it should be. With time, let pink become merely part of a full spectrum of colors kids can enjoy, rather than the mandated uniform for half the population. Because no joke, the Aisle of Pink is creepy.

Photo: Tony Crider/Flickr

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. I’ve got young twin daughters and a wife who loves pink and girly things. Mom likes to get them stuff she likes, which includes a lot of pink toys, fru-fru dress-up stuff, and other “gendered” playthings. For me to stop this would mean telling my wife her own likes/dislikes are flawed and take an intentional effort on my part to thwart her choices of what my girls play with or wear. I think that would be far more sexist and chauvinistic of me than simply accepting her tastes for what they are and being fine with her sharing them with our daughters. At the same time, I also get them toys that appeal to me, because I want to expose them to variety and things I like, not because I’m trying to keep them from being “girly” or because I secretly wished I had a son. One of their Christmas gifts, for example, was a tool workbench thing with play drills, stuff to build with, etc. which now sits in the room near a kitchen set they got a year or so ago.

    To the extent dads are “freeing [their children] from limiting gender roles” by throwing off the shackles of the pink aisle, I suspect it has little to do with having fixed gender roles in mind and consciously trying to break free of them. I think it’s a byproduct of dads being more often involved in purchasing decisions than they used to be of things like toys and clothes, and no matter who’s buying, people tend to buy what they like for their kids, at least until their kids get old enough to develop and express strong preferences of their own. An aisle of pink toys exerts no influence on how kids are allowed or encouraged to play outside the toy store, any more than an aisle of nothing but cereal in the grocery store constrains my choices about what to eat based on society’s expectations. It’s pure marketing, and it’s there because they sell more toys that way, not because it’s been deemed an effective way to keep little boys and girls in their place. Nothing about the pink aisle forces parents to limit girls’ play choices to items from that aisle, or to exclude little boys, and in my experience, very few parents are that rigid about gendered play, despite all the online fretting I’ve seen about it.

  2. I humbly disagree with the premise. I’m a very hands on father, with four girls and a boy on the way. It’s ok when girls get girly pink toys and clothes. Instilling confidence in a child isn’t about pink and blue.

  3. PursuitAce says:

    Here’s me doing my part.
    Pink is just not that attractive a color. Don’t buy in to the hype. Both genders should avoid this one.

  4. Sending this to the Princess Free Zone. She will love this! Nice to see a practical Dad!

  5. Noah, I published my own rant against pink–I mean, Santa’s!–today on Huffington. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-day/pink-toys_b_2233724.html

    Less of this please! Great post, and a great new way of looking at the problem! Thank you.

  6. As a victim of the Aisle of Pink, I couldn’t be happier that toys are becoming un-gendered. A girl who wants to play with RC cars and superhero action figures, or a boy who wants to have Barbie tea parties, should feel free to do so without the ridiculous amount of social stigma that’s traditionally been attached to playing with the “wrong” toys.

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