TinkersToys vs K’nex: Gendering American Classics


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 Originally made of wood, the spokes and sticks are now plastic.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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