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Major Toy Companies Are Permanently Getting Rid of This One Thing

The move is part of a recent trend that hopes to make playtime more inclusive.

The toys we play with as children can help us create some of our earliest fond memories. And while new technology has filled some modern toy boxes with microchip-operated playthings, many of the same games, figurines, and items have remained unchanged even as each generation ages out of them. But now, some major toy companies are beginning to rethink their products by permanently getting rid of one thing. Read on to see how playtime will soon be changing.

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Major toy companies are beginning to remove gender bias from their products.

asian mom and son shop at toy store

For decades, most toys have been designed and marketed to appeal specifically to either boys or girls. But as part of an overall trend towards greater inclusivity and modernization, an increasing number of major toy companies have begun getting rid of gender bias in their products.

The most recent example comes from Lego, which recently announced that it would be removing gender stereotypes from its iconic building block toy sets. The company says it based its decision in part on new research that surveyed nearly 7,000 parents and children between the age of six and 14 from China, the Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, the U.K, and the U.S. Results found that 71 percent of boys said they were afraid of being mocked for accidentally playing with anything considered to be "girls' toys." The results also found that parents were equally anxious about the same potential situation.

"Parents are more worried that their sons will be teased than their daughters for playing with toys associated with the other gender," Madeline Di Nonno, the chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, who conducted the survey, told The Guardian. "But it's also that behaviors associated with men are valued more highly in society. Until societies recognize that behaviors and activities typically associated with women are as valuable or important, parents and children will be tentative to embrace them."

Lego has already made changes over the years to make their products more gender-inclusive.

Family building lego ships

The most recent decision by Lego—which is the world's largest toy company—comes as the latest in a string of changes made to its lineup of products and how it markets them. The company now says it promotes nurturing and caring as well as spatial awareness, creative reasoning, and problem-solving.

"We're working hard to make Lego more inclusive," Julia Goldin, chief product and marketing officer for the Lego Group, told The Guardian. She added that toys were no longer labeled as "for boys" or "for girls" on product packaging and that the company's website had swapped out gendered search options for themes known as "passion points."

"Traditionally, Lego has been accessed by more boys, but products like [arts and crafts line] Lego Dots or Lego City Wildlife Rescue Camp have been specifically designed to appeal to boys and girls," Goldin said.

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Hasbro also recently announced it would begin offering a gender-neutral Mr. Potato Head.

A child playing with a Potato Head toy

Lego isn't the only toy company that has made changes to its lineup recently. In February, Hasbro announced that it would begin selling a gender-neutral option of its iconic Mr. Potato Head toy. While the company clarified that both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head sets would still be available for purchase in its initial statement, it said it was "making sure all feel welcome in the Potato Head world by officially dropping the Mr. from the Mr. Potato Head brand name and logo to promote gender equality and inclusion."

Other major toy companies have previously made changes of their own. In 2019, Mattel announced the release of a gender-neutral lineup of dolls called Creatable World which includes a range of wardrobe accessories and changeable hairstyles that allows children to design each doll "with short or long hair, or in a skirt, pants, or both," The New York Times reports. And in 2016, the company announced that it would be adding more female characters to its Thomas the Tank Engine franchise.

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Some states have passed laws requiring that toy aisles become gender-neutral.

Empty toy store

Outside of industry decisions, lawmakers are also advancing the trend towards removing gender bias from toys. On Oct. 9, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law requiring that large stores with 500 or more workers sell toys and child care products in one gender-neutral section rather than separate aisles, the Associated Press reports. The new legislation, which excludes clothing, will go into effect in 2024.

"We need to stop stigmatizing what's acceptable for certain genders and just let kids be kids," Evan Low, the California State Assemblyman who wrote the bill, said. "My hope is this bill encourages more businesses across California and the U.S. to avoid reinforcing harmful and outdated stereotypes."

The move comes as some major retailers have already changed the way they display their products. In 2015, Target announced that it would stop using gender-based signs in its stores across the U.S.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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