Christmastime is (almost) here -- and with it, Christmas catalogs. This year, a Swedish toy catalog is making headlines for using photographs that challenge traditional gender roles (in contrast to some images used by U.S. retailers).
The catalog in question was created by TOP-TOY, which runs nearly 50 Toys"R"Us retail stores in Northern Europe. It shows “gender neutral” photos, including images of a girl shooting a Nerf gun and a boy playing with a baby doll -- as well as pictures of boys and girls using a play kitchen, a mock changing table and a pink Barbie Dreamhouse.
In a statement on its website, TOP-TOY says: "This year’s Swedish Christmas catalogues are more gender neutral and reflect the values dominant at the Swedish market. Swedish customers appreciate this new approach."
“We want our catalogues to reflect the way that boys and girls play in real life, and not present a stereotype image of them. If both girls and boys in Sweden like to play with a toy kitchen, then we want to reflect this pattern," retail marketing director Thomas Meng said in the statement.
In 2008, a class of Swedish sixth graders complained to the country's advertising ombudsman, the Reklamombudsmannen, about "outdated gender roles" in a Toys"R"Us Christmas catalog. The agency upheld the complaint, calling the catalog "narrow-minded" and "degrading to both genders," according to The Local.
While these kids may be happy to see what’s in the 2012 catalog, it’s worth noting that some images in it are more traditional. For example, a page advertising costumes appears to show a boy in a Batman outfit and girls in dresses (including several dressed as princesses). A page with musical instrument toys shows a girl playing on a pink keyboard and a boy playing on a red and black one -- as well as girls and boys using karaoke sets with similar color schemes. You can see the full catalog online here.
The statement from TOP-TOY also emphasizes differences between Swedish and Danish versions of the catalog for BR Toys, another retail chain for which TOP-TOY is licensee.
This isn’t the first effort Swedes have made to bash gender stereotyping in toys. Earlier this year, Leklust published a catalog featuring pictures of a girl riding a tractor and a child dressed as Spider-Man pushing a pram.
This time around, the catalog has been well-received. "Santa has already given me what I want," Sarah Ditum writes in the Guardian, arguing that the catalog is "good news for Swedish kids" in part because "[y]ou can't resist the gender sorting hat for ever, but you can give children a start that shows them the gender sorting hat isn't a natural and inevitable part of being human."
Others recognize that the decision is at least partly commercial. Rebecca Pahle writes at The Mary Sue: "It reads as a publicity stunt/calculated financial decision, and I can’t imagine that a single toy catalog by itself will really do much in terms of combating gender stereotypes. But whatever. That Top Toys has been forced to change their public approach to gender does indicate that Sweden’s active approach toward promoting gender equality is working at least a little bit."
In The Telegraph, Thomas Pascoe is less impressed. "Sweden's anti-discrimination laws are as bizarre as they are magical," he writes. "No boy grows up dreaming of being a princess. I find it hard to believe many little girls grow up wanting to shoot people. This make-believe may salve the conscience of the Left, but it does society a great deal of harm, both here and there."
A certain young gender-equality advocate might be interested to note that the game "Guess Who?" is listed on page 6.