‘Toy of the Year’ Awards Suggest Boys Like Dinosaurs, Girls Like Shopping (#FAIL)

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Photo Feb 14, 9 13 15 AM

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.)

Source: Spin Master


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).

Source: Moose Toys


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.

Source: Let Toys Be Toys


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.

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16 thoughts on “‘Toy of the Year’ Awards Suggest Boys Like Dinosaurs, Girls Like Shopping (#FAIL)

  1. This is just so backwards and infuriating, and the marketing really does affect kids thinking even when parents try to promote equal access to all toys. I’m writing a letter to the Toy Association immediately. I hope other parents do the same.

  2. “which advocates for retailers and manufacturers to classify and market toys by theme and function instead of gender.”

    I really wish stores would remove the gender labels from the toy aisles and simply start putting all the actions figures and dolls in an aisle together, all the play house type stuff (pretend kitchen, tool sets, etc) in the same aisle and so on, and have a few color choices of each available.

    I’m in my 30s and still love those Turtles, too. Even if the marketers like to largely ignore that plenty of girls/women are fans and stupidly try to market a very small amount of specifically girlified products to girls. (Not that they aren’t cute, but come on… female people are surprisingly capable of liking primary colors.)

  3. Obviously not real “dads” writing or reviewing here. Else you might recognize that gender natrually finds the toys it likes, the toys dont find the gender. I have never placed gender on any of my childrens toys. However at less than 2yrs old (before other children could even influence him) my son took a HUGE liking to Cars, anything with 4 wheels was amazing to him. Years later he has never strayed. My daughter on the other hand could care less about cars, never has cared. Yet at 2 for her it was furries and pretty girls (aka dolls). Again we never thought to give her dolls that young but she was drawn to them on her own. that said both my Girl and Boy love LEGOS and building/artsy stuff. My point is these toys sorted themselves out naturally. With to with out the labels in my experience it will happen. there’s nothign wrong with believing boys and girls have natural instincts that draw them to different style of play and thusly toys. Get over it.

    1. As one of the dads writing about this, sorry but your anecdotal evidence doesn’t match with mine. At two my son played with what was around – dolls, cars, stuffed animals, whatever. My daughter, now 14, played with Barbies, cars, LEGO, swords, super heroes, etc.

      Kids like to play. If you let them, they’ll play with anything. Societal pressures, be it from peers, parents, relatives, or even store layouts, will shape that play certain ways.

      Do all boys and girls play exactly the same? No. But that’s kinda the point.

    2. Are you condescending to everyone you speak to, or just online?

      If you think you not placing gender on toys was the only influence on your child’s decisions, you should have paid more attention. I have paid very close attention to when, how, and why my daughter’s decisions have been influenced. Not to control them or change them, but to see where they come from. There are quite a number of influencers every single day that push her toward ‘gender correct’ options and, as she grows, I will discuss them with her, hoping to help her understand that she can make her own decisions.

      There are changes coming. Get over it.

  4. To the dad “Nocash”: I strongly disagree with you. I have two daughters that love different things across a spectrum of toys.. My oldest loves (5) dinosaurs and princess castles. She mixes her Friends LEGO sets with her Star Wars sets. She is currently obsessed with the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies (she loves the Cars line too). You might think my youngest (18 mo) loves to play with dolls, but she really loves anything anthropomorphic and cuddly. Dinosaur? Yep. Donald Duck? Yep. Cute girly dolls other people buy for her? Yep.

    When my oldest daughter recently had a Spider-Man/Ninja Turtles themed birthday party–at her request! We were ready for Minnie Mouse or a princess theme, but she wanted to go with action heroes. Some parents were a bit confused by the invitations–one even assumed we only gave Spidey/Turtle invites to the *boys*. HA!

    If toys and toy lines really ‘sorted themselves out’ as you describe, why in the world do our girls constantly cross the gender lines with their toys and interests? It is adults that do ALL of the gender assignment for toys, not other kids. How many princess movies did your son watch before Cars? How many dinosaurs did your daughter get with her dolls? There is a ‘nurture’ side to this issue that you are completely–and wrongly–dismissing.

    1. Absolutely agree with Mr. Bailey, and Mr. NOCash…it appears that you have never known a transgender, bisexual, homosexual, or lesbian individual in your life. I have friends who state that the knew they were in the wrong body from their earliest memory. They chose different toys than their friends, and always felt that they were “wrong”. We need to remove such labels altogether to raise children who don’t feel like outcasts.

      1. Your comment only proves my point. A girl trapped in a boys body is still drawn to a “girl” toy. Therefore the toy still has a gender label. Just because some people may have gotten shorted some hormones during development does mean the rest of the world no longer has gender. You want to remove labels and strip everyone of their identity? What a sad drab world you live in. In reality people are not equal and never will be and thats what makes this colorful world a wonderful place. Everything should be labeled, everything is unique and everyone is special because of their differences, even their toys. Kids love knowing this toy is made for them, and if that includes gender it just makes it that much more special.

        1. Why does removing labels make the world drab? Everything is still there that was before, it is just available to more people. You’ve fallen into the trap of believing that those of us who care just want a grey world. You are mistaken. People being unique IS special and wonderful. That’s the point…

  5. It would be nice if toy makers showed more leadership. The reality is, suppiliers and retailers go with what sells. When it’s time to vote for TOTYs, it’s hard to ignore what’s been moving off the shelves, and to whom.

    Doesn’t matter how enlightened parents might be, their friends and relatives still ask shop keepers to recommend “something for a 6-year-old gir”. But many parents even do it themselves. It’s how the culture is still wired, five decades after the so-called sexual revolution. The kicker is, kids tend to want what their friends have. So if Buster’s buds are playing with trucks, guess what he’ll ask for? Not always, but often enough for marketers to pay attention.

    Looks like the Brits are moving in a useful direction. But if you really hope to remove gender stereotyping from children’s play, it’ll take a lot more than changing the labels in a once-a-year awards ceremony.

  6. Our 3 boys and 1 girl each got a Zoomer from the grandparents at Christmas and it’s the girl who plays with all of them everyday. As well as Optimus Prime, an array of light sabers and her favorite doll. The only thing that makes a toy gendered is our our own preconceived notions.

  7. Toy stores need to be the ones to step up first if we are ever going to see a change. Toy companies cater to their buyers. And their buyers think only what they can put in the girls aisles and in the boys aisles.
    The only gender neutral area seems to be craft and even then it’s still usually split in half.

    Also after reading some other articles shopkins took out first prize due to its sheer number of sales in such a small time frame.

  8. I just read this article because my husband took our boys to McDonald’s today where they asked boy or girl as always. He showed me the creepy boy toys (not sure what they are from) but said it was better than the sexist shopkins, which after his description got me pretty upset. I just don’t get it.

  9. A little late to the party, I know, but this is so frustrating as the mother of a girl who loves dinosaurs, animals, trucks, space, and a host of other topics normally considered “male,” as well as a boy who is equally at home playing with his legos and cooking in the kitchen. Yes, there are biological differences between men and women, but it is this sort of biased socialization which underpins so many of our social problems from gender and pay inequality to flat-out homophobia and violence. Enough already. Perhaps I’ll start my own toy business and make toys for CHILDREN, not boys or girls.

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