By Malissa Rogers
Sweden has recently decided to tackle traditional ideologies and market their toys though gender-neutral advertising for the Christmas season.
Top-Toy Group, a licensee of the Toys “R” Us brand, has published a gender-neutral Christmas catalog this year.
In recent years Sweden’s leading advertising watchdog - Reklamombudsmannen, or RO - has criticized Top-Toy for their catalogs and ads that depict only traditional roles of boys and girls.
"We want our catalog to reflect how kids are playing today," Jan Nyberg, Top-Toy’s sales director in Sweden said. "It's important for us to be modern."
Top-Toy is currently working towards revising their store displays and packaging to be more gender-neutral as well, according to the Washington Post. On Top-Toy’s own kitchen set, “Happy House,” boys and girls can be seen playing together on the boxes.
"We can't decide what the big toy makers' boxes should look like as their products are made for the global market, but we can make changes on our own boxes and in our stores," Mr. Nyberg said.
The gender-neutral approach could be linked to the Swedish government’s efforts to embrace equality between men and women. The government has planned to spend more than $340 million by 2014 to promote gender equality within the workplace.
In a country of 9 million people, gender equality is seen as an essential basis for a productive workplace and leads to a more healthy state as a whole. Since WWII, women have been sought out by four different government entities that are devoted to maintaining an equal labor force with an effective output.
A saleswoman said she hasn't seen much difference in store displays but noted employees now are trained to avoid stereotypes when talking to customers. "If someone asks for a present for a 5-year-old girl, we don't automatically take them to the dolls section," she said. "Instead, we ask them what her interests are."
Lisa Wade, a sociologist and professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said Top-Toy's gender-neutral approach is extremely important because it challenges common ideas of what is the “norm” by putting dolls and hair dryers into the hands of boys, according to the Washington Post.
In the United States, traditional gender roles have been a topic of discussion since the 1970s, when a study was published questioning whether or not children were being raised to be bias toward certain behaviors or ideas. Throughout recent years parents have challenged these stereotypes and began buying “girl” toys for boys, or vice versa.
Sweden isn’t the only country that has realized the potential in creating a gender-neutral shopping experience. Harrods, a London department store, opened a shop that categorizes toys by theme, instead of by gender. Could the United States be the next gender neutral country? Elisabeth Trotzig, who serves as the ombudsman for RO, believes this idea will eventually catch on to other countries.
"I'm convinced others will also follow this line," Trotzig said. "It's especially important when it comes to children and young people since they don't have the same experience and opportunity to evaluate marketing communication."