Swedish Toys R Us franchisee goes ‘gender neutral’ in Christmas catalog

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Sweden’s largest toy firm, a franchisee of the U.S. brand Toys R Us, has embraced “gender neutral” advertising in its 2012 Christmas catalog, abandoning traditional associations between certain toys and either boys or girls.

This year’s Toys R Us catalogs in Scandinavia will include a photo of a girl wielding a gun, a girl Photoshopped out of a page of “Hello Kitty” toys, and a boy holding a baby doll.

In the catalog of BR Toys, another retail brand controlled by the same franchisee, a young girl’s pink T-shirt was altered to a light blue shade.

“For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we … have had to adjust,” said Jan Nyberg, director of sales at Top Toy, according to The Local. “With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or a girl thing, it’s a toy for children.”

Top Toy, Sweden’s most ubiquitous toy retailer, has the exclusive franchise for Toys R Us in Sweden and Denmark,

Sweden’s advertising watchdog agency reprimanded the company three years ago for gender discrimination, following complaints about gender roles depicted in its 2008 Christmas catalog. That year, boys were shown dressed as superheroes alongside photographs of girls playing princess.

Nyberg said this year’s offering was produced “in a completely different way.” His company received “training and guidance” from the advertising watchdog, a self-regulatory industry group.

In March, prominent Swedish feminist blogger Lady Dahmer spoke out against traditional gender stereotyping in the toy industry. “The problem with toy stores and their catalogues,” Dahmer said, “is that they’re selling a concept; an idea about boys and girls and what kind of qualities and interests they should have,” she told The Local.

In the United States, however, Toys R Us draws a clear dividing line  between boys and girls — even separating “Boys’ Toys” and “Girls’ Toys” on its website.

“It’s about money because as long as they can fool us into believing boys and girls are fundamentally different, they can keep selling us twice as much,” Dahmer claimed.

On August 31 the LEGO Group, known principally for producing boy-themed play sets, unveiled a new “LEGO Friends” line of products specifically for girls. The new line includes kits for building Mia’s bedroom, Olivia’s house, Emma’s design studio and LEGO “cupcakes” at Stephanie’s bakery.

In Sweden, however, BR Toys’ website features the feminine LEGO products without reference to either girls or boys.


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