TinkersToys vs K’nex: Gendering American Classics

Education Entertainment Featured Toys


There was a lot of silly and random gendering at ToyFair 2015. I saw the same foam bows and bikes painted pink, and lots of building toys like the TinkerToy sets above. One place did it the other way—their soap making kit had girls on it, but their one for boys was for making “prank” soap. Because cleanliness is for girls.

Then I got up to TinkerToys. Who didn’t love TinkerToys as a kid? These building toys, first introduced way back in 1914, are great. Originally made of wood, the spokes and sticks are now plastic. Unfortunately, they’ve also made a fairly annoying change as well by adding the “girl” box on the right. If you look at the old school box on the  left, you’ll notice that it also has a girl on it. What it doesn’t have is pastel colors and a princess. In short, it doesn’t condescend. You know what does condescend? Those “PinkerToys.”

Being slightly rude, I commented on this to representatives of the company, who agreed. On the condition of anonymity, I was informed that this was not driven by their company, but by retailer demands. Retailers wanted “girl” versions of TinkerToys, to stock on the “girl toy” aisle (aka, girl ghetto).

Seems like the right place to post this meme. Source: The internet at large.
Seems like the right place to post this meme.
Source: The internet at large.

I guess my frustration was visible, because they then showed me something from sister company K’nex. As with TinkerToys, there was a desire for “girl versions” of the toy with pink and pastels. Unlike TinkerToys though, they decided to do more than just change the colors and stick a princess figure in. Instead, they did research on what girls wanted from K’nex (answer: guided play with a set goal). The result? Mighty Makers. The line (which reminds me of “A Mighty Girl” with the name), is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) centric. Yes, the airplane set is pink (with a few other shades, thank Kirby), but it’s a pink set that teaches about aviation.

Let's be fair: science can be pink. Source: K'nex.
Let’s be fair: science can be pink.
Source: K’nex.

With so many companies thinking the only way to get girls into their product is to make play about princess and stores demanding that those same toys be shoved in a pink ghetto, it’s good to see K’nex bucking the trend.

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16 thoughts on “TinkersToys vs K’nex: Gendering American Classics

  1. Why is it condescending to put pink on a box? Seems to me that is more in the eye of the beholder who thinks girls are inferior, so making things girlish is demeaning.

    1. Why does something need to be pink for it to be for girls? What’s wrong with the original colours it came in? Is this really what parents need to be presented to boot them in the butt and say “hey, maybe it’s NOT weird for my girl to want to build things”?

      This is stupid and the toy industry needs a serious wake-up call. Instead of putting this extra money into processing new parts with new dyes and such, why can’t they just change the packaging? Instead of having boys be the only focus on the GOOD toys, maaaayyyyyybe picture a boy AND a girl.

      OMG! Flippin’ brilliant!

      1. I like you. Let’s be friends.

        Seriously, there’s nothing inherently masculine about regular TinkerToys.Even the choice of red and the fact that there’s a girl on the box could have been enough for toy stores to stick them in their “girl toy” aisles.

        But no, it’s not really a girl toy unless it’s pink and has a princess.

        1. Why is it so bad they they offer this toy in pink, purple and other bright colours? That is what I would have liked. I am saying this as a child that had a chemistry set, puppy surprise and loved the Doctor Dreadful Labs and a brother that carried a dolly.

          I think the biggest problem is that people are making a black and white issue (pardon the pun). What children are going to want is a sliding scale and what I see is these toys is providing options.
          This is a supply and demand industry with many retailers and companies trying to provide a variety of options. If you really want to stay away from pink stuff then don’t go into the pink aisle. However, if you really want to break down the stereotyping of children, have a look through the entire store and pick something for the individual child instead of trying to make a point about stereotyping.

          1. You make valid points. One reason I pointed out both TinkerToys *and* K’Nex is that K’nex is doing it the “right way” (based on how children actually play) vs TinkerToys just doing what retailers want (“Make it pink and throw a princess in there).

            It’s actually one reason that LEGO Friends gets a pass from me. It’s based on what the kids want, via focus group, not retailer demands.

    2. Again, he’s talking about gendering toys in such a way that reinforces gender stereotypes and says that girls can only do [this small set of things].

      Fun fact: the toy for Princess Celestia, a character from the current My Little Pony cartoon and toy line was originally coloured pink, rather than white as in the show, based on retailer demands. Meaning the retailers though that the winged, unicorn pony princess was stereotypically girly enough. O_O

  2. It’s condescending to say all toys for girls must be one or two colors (pink and purple) and that modes of play must somehow involve princesses.

    Some? Sure. There are absolutely girls who eat that up. But every toy?

    It’s also condescending to say, as I note in the article, that boys won’t make soap unless it’s gross soap.

    1. It’s tricky. You’re probably going to want to kick a Buyer, who’s answering to someone else you can’t kick, who’s following market studies based on someone you can’t kick, which are based on existing trends (ie, the ones that keep getting enforced by the existing store layouts).

  3. This is trickery, people. The same bull that allows shampoo and conditioner brands to make male and female versions of their products.

    It’s an excuse to sell more.

    Let’s use a scenario in which we have a couple of one man and one woman: they both like the same brand of shampoo. But the woman’s version is SUPER girly and the man’s version is TOTALLY boyish. So, instead of having one single bottle, they each have their own. So the brand makes that extra $$ from this one couple. And then if they both use conditioner, the company makes that much more.

    Total sales, marketing, gimmick bull.

    Social “norms” and gender perceptions are not good, peeps. They’ve never actually added anything good to the world.

    1. How does the man and woman having their own shampoo bottles translate to additional cost? Wouldn’t they still buy the same amount of shampoo per year?

  4. It’s glad to hear that the manufacturers are hearing this. It’s always nice to hear that you’re not just shouting out into the void.

  5. The following are just some of the questions parents of girls have to ask:

    – What on earth makes the skylanders top “Boys” …is it a radically different cut to any 6 year old girls pjs?
    – Where are Gamora and Black Widow on any GOTG or Avengers clothing…will having the lone girl in the team put boys off from wearing it?
    – Lego Friends. What the fu …honestly.

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