Advent calendar: 24. Playmobile and gender segregation of toys

Hamleys had come under fire for their gender separation of toys in their store, and recently rearranged their floor labelling by theme and type instead of gender. Even this attracted some criticism – presumably in a large part from those parents who can’t work out which toys are otherwise appropriate for their kids without a gender label.

Perhaps it’s to avoid scenes like the one I witnessed in Toys R Us recently – I still can’t work out whether it was heart warming or heart breaking. It involved a little boy of probably about four years old, who had stumbled across a pink ride on pony. It was the only ride on pony in the store, and he loved it, riding it or leading it around the store with his parents as they shopped. His dad was not impressed. Towards the end of their shopping trip he exclaimed “Do they not have a better horse than that!?” – presumably meaning one of a more natural colourway. Sadly they didn’t, but luckily for the boy, his mum was a little less concerned by the colour and put the horse in their trolley anyway.

Regardless of whether or not aisles or floors in toy stores are labelled as for boys or girls, some toys are clearly marketed that way, thwarting any efforts of any retailers to encourage personal choice beyond possession of particular genitalia. One such example is the Playmobil Fi?ures, launched (I presume) in direct competition with the Lego Minifigure collectable series. You can even build these figures yourself unlike the main Playmobil sets. Here is the display:


You can see it’s split between pink and blue, labelled as boys and girls. Here are the individual packets – as you can see, the figures in each set are different:


In the pink set, there are 12 female characters, including a fairy, two princesses, a witch and a mermaid. In the blue set, there are 12 male characters, including a knight, an executioner, a footballer and the grim reaper. Take a closer look:


On seeing the display, my first thought was that it was such a shame to segregate these characters when many boys may want the rider or robber girl for example, and many girls may want the knight or guitarist. Why limit the choices?

On second thoughts, maybe the choices aren’t limited. A key point here is that there are twelve female characters and twelve male characters. This, as we discovered, is a much more natural gender diversity than that shown in the Lego sets.

For this, I suppose Playmobil should be applauded. There’s nothing actually stopping girls buying blue packs and boys buying pink packs (other than general society or peer pressure, and perhaps a parent concerned that their offspring may turn out gay). At least the display of both colourways is in the same place – the pink packets aren’t hidden around the corner with the Barbies, baby dolls and pink guitars.

As, I should mention, the Lego Friends sets were in Toys R Us – right next to the Barbies and toy hair straightners.

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5 Responses to Advent calendar: 24. Playmobile and gender segregation of toys

  1. Nandi says:

    My 4 year old son loves playmobil. He spends all his pocket money on it and definitely very happy with either pink or blue packets, though he thinks the pink packets have a more interesting selection. He has a mermaid, a fairy, queens, princesses as well as knights and pirates (all male figures I’m afraid!) Doesn’t mean the play has to conform to stereotypes though. Plenty of knights tea parties and fighting mermaids!
    I’ve just remembered a conversation with an ex-boyfriend’s mother about 20 years ago. I was telling her how much I loved my train set as a child. She replied, “Oh, did you think you were a little boy?”

    • impeus says:

      Sounds familiar! I’m glad your son likes the pink packets too, that does suggest that Playmobil may actually be on the right track here.

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  3. Katherine says:

    My 4 y/o son loves his Playmobil. He only has a few sets, some Roman soldiers, some knights and Santa (all male). So for Christmas he asked for a princess and a bride (to have weddings). I picked up a pink case with a female fig in a while dress and his father picked him out a fairy garden with another white dressed fig. Then we realized he only had male figs and got him two pink booster packs. It’s getting more equal in here, but I do wish that there were more fairy princes and woman warriors!

  4. Elisabeth says:

    The thing about these packets is that the figure inside is a surprise. If a boy wanted the robber girl or the spy girl, or perhaps the witch (to fight with his knights, of course!), then he might end up getting the fairy princess or the bride. If a girl wanted the cute blond athlete boy or the cool pizza chef, she might end up getting the mummy or the figure who looks suspiciously like the Grand Dragon of the KKK (but that’s another issue). The reason they are separated into color is because girls are more likely to want the pink-packet ones, and boys are more likely to want the blue-packet ones.
    P.S. The second “generation” of these packets have green for boys and yellow for girls. So the color thing is ‘fixed’.

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