So ToyFair 2015 has come and gone, and it was a blast. There were a lot of great reveals, and there are plenty of exciting products on the horizon. Unfortunately, there were also a few questionable choices made by a variety of companies (e.g., gendered Tinker Toys?).
But let’s talk about the Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards: the big prizes handed out on the eve of ToyFair. To be eligible in any of the categories, the product must have been available at retail in the United States on or before November 24, 2014, and it must have been introduced to the marketplace within the last two years.
Finalists in each category are selected by a nomination committee of 10-15 “experts,” and then final voting is open to a much wider audience. Depending on who you are, your vote carries a different weight: consumers = 20%; journalists and bloggers = 20%; retailers = 30%; and members of the Toy Industry Association = 30%.
The TOTY Awards ceremony was held this year on February 13, 2015- the night before ToyFair officially began.
In addition to the overall Toy of the Year, other categories include E-Connected Toy of the Year, Educational Toy of the Year, Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year, Outdoor Toy of the Year, and so on. (Click here for a complete list of winners and nominees.)
These are all fine and good, but I’d really like to talk about two categories in particular: Boy Toy of the Year and Girl Toy of the Year. Ladies and gentlemen, here are this year’s winners:
Really, I’m not even sure where to begin. Boy Toy of the Year? That’s Zoomer Dino from Spin Master up there on the left. It’s a way cool remote-control toy that balances on two wheels, roams freely, and responds to your voice and hand motions. It’s so cool, in fact, that it also won the grand prize Toy of the Year award. (Check out this video to see him in action.)
Girl Toy of the Year? The Shopkins Small Mart Playset by Moose Toys. It comes with a plastic shopping cart, a couple plastic shopping bags, and a checkout counter (with working treadmill register).
Do I have to point out the discrepancy? First of all, just look at those two toys. In what world are the two even remotely equatable? In fairness, I’m not trying to dismiss the Shopkins playset or claim that it’s a bad toy (I’ve not seen one out of the box), but it’s just molded plastic. It’s not all that different from countless other playsets on the market. However, I’m not interested in arguing its merits or the validity of it being called a “toy of the year.”
What I’m confused about is this…
In 2015, why do these categories even exist? The whole debate over “boys toys” versus “girls toys” is so old as to almost be cliche. But it seems like the Toy Industry Association hasn’t gotten that memo. I’d like to think that we’re already beyond such narrow thinking, but apparently we still have a long way to go.
I mean, heck, even McDonald’s has done away with the gendered labels for their Happy Meal toys. The toys themselves are still often very obviously gendered, but at least their official policy is to not ask gendered questions.
An interesting contrast to note here is that the UK Toy Retailers Association also has a Toy of the Year award (and Toy Fair) but without the gendered categories. And, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been any rioting in the streets about it.
You could argue that the UK awards cover similar ground with the Construction Range of the Year, Action Figure Range of the Year, and Doll of the Year awards. But you know what? Those awards aren’t intentionally limited by gender. Hey girls! You can play with dump trucks and action figures. Boys! Step right up to the dolls!
It’s almost as if they’re awarding the best kinds of toys—and not according to who they think should be playing with them. That’s crazy talk.
(I wonder if it’s no coincidence that there’s a very vocal group in the UK called Let Toys Be Toys, which advocates for retailers and manufacturers to classify and market toys by theme and function instead of gender.)
Here in good ol’ America, though, the U.S. Toy Industry Association apparently thinks LEGO Disney Princess sets are “developed specifically for girls” and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures are “developed specifically for boys.” (Both were nominees in the girls and boys categories, respectively.) You know who loves playing with the LEGO Cinderella castle in my house? My son. You know who loves playing with TMNT action figures? Yep—my daughter.
At best, these awards perpetuate the tired argument that boys and girls should be limited to rigidly confined spheres of play. At worst, they betray a sexist mindset in the toy industry that thinks shopping and princess worship are the best of what we want our daughters to aspire to.
We’re better than that. And the toys should be, too.