Star Wars pretty much dominates our household these days – a fascination driven by my daughter, aged 6 and in grade 1, who has watched all movies, is watching the Clone Wars and carries around the Star Wars Encyclopedia day after day.

In searching for Star Wars themed party things – I was appalled to discover ToysRus Canada  (@toysruscanada) considers 138 of their 139 Star Wars as toys for boys not girls.   I tweeted the #fail – wondering if I am making a mountain from a molehill.   But it continues to bother me and importantly, my daughter agrees with me – “I feel sad and its weird” she says to ToysRus Canada only listing 1 of the 139 Star Wars toys as a girl toy.

I had to wonder if this was hap-hazard product classification based on old stereotypes.    With gender specific filters – certainly there is strong responsibility to ensure accurate classification.   Could misclassified toys have a role in promoting old stereotypes?  Are girls not getting into Star Wars because a large toy retailer fails to include them in their toy recommendations – thereby limiting girls out of popular sci-fi experiences?

Low interest in Star Wars by girls would surprise me – especially these days with the successful Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon tv series and their strong female character leads like Jedi Ahsoka Tano and Senator Padme Amidala.   (And I do consider Ahsoka is a far better role model than pre-90s disney princesses).   Could erroneous product classification give parents and boys the wrong cues about girl interests?

Upon a bit investigation, I found a wonderful anti-bullying essay by Carrie Goldman, @cmgsart , that I missed from November 2010.  She spoke about her daughter, Katie Goldman, taunted by boys in her grade 1 class who believed Star Wars paraphernalia to be ‘for boys only’.

Her blog post created strong internet support for girls who like Star Wars and don’t deserve to conform into traditional ‘sci-fi is for boys’ thinking.    It made me think about the role retailers, like ToysRUs Canada, has when you have gender based filtering on products – especially for kids.   Did it start with the boys believing Katie should not have a Star Wars water bottle or could they have gotten their cues from retail?

A little more investigation turns up a wonderful interview by Ann Hoevel, @cnngeekout , Geek Out! producer for CNN with Ashley Eckstein, @heruniverse and voice of Ahsoka Tano  –   “Her Universe is Ashley Eckstein’s Battle Cry” .   She highlights the 2011 shift in Star War popularity from boys to include girls as girls show they are not afraid to embrace sci-fi.

‘somehow even children hold fast to the idea that sci-fi is only for boys.   I think we have a responsibility to the younger fans today, and I think obviously we saw that with Katie Goldman, the ‘Star Wars’ girl.

Ashley goes on to say “many girls are told “this isn’t for you – for so long. Told that, ‘just accept that (sci-fi franchises are) a boy’s and a men’s property,’ “ – well – @toysruscanada is doing the same thing.   [ Ann’s interview with Ashley – excellent!]

Certainly, I have appreciated gender specific recommendations for gifting in the past.  And yet,  I think any retailer who offers an opinion on what is best suited by gender has a strong responsibility to ensure gender specific recommendations are accurate and do not uphold old stereotypes for either gender.   Toysrus – its time to look more closely at your 139 Star Wars toys and identify many of them as gender neutral.

2 thoughts on “@toysruscanada – Star Wars toys are ‘girl’ toys too.

  1. I think Ahsoka is a cool role model for sure. Toys R Us, however, does not have a “For boys” and “for girls” section in their store. They usually merchandise based on the TYPE of toy rather than gender recommendations. I.e. a Star Wars toy would be in the action figures section along side the superheroes and whatnot. Then you go to the Mattel aisle and it’s all Barbie. I think the real issue is that Toys like Barbie, Bratz, and all the baby doll toys are so over-the-top “girly” (i.e. everything in pink, fuzzy, cutesy) that it causes everything that’s not decidedly “girly” to default to boy’s toys.

    Perhaps the difference between boys’ and girls’ toys rests on how violent the source material is. As magical and generation-gap closing as star wars is, there’s little argument that compared to Teddy Ruxpin, Star Wars is violent. Boys tend to like grittier things and girls do not. We are all socialized into those gender roles from a young age either in school or at home. Here’s an old poem that illustrates that:

    When I was a kid I was fascinated by Teddy Ruxpin because the brilliant creator of Teddy and his pals was able to make a toy that was definitely gender neutral. You had the fuzzy, cute teddy bear that happened to tell stories of high adventure and imagination – although not particularly violent stories. At school everyone had or wanted one, both boys and girls. However a boy would not be caught dead with Barbie anywhere near them because there was just nothing to relate to – again they are just so over the top. Girls however could play with say, Micro Machines because they were fun and non-violent, and not really get too much flak for it. But whenever a girl wanted to join in playing Transformers or Kenner Superfriends they would almost invariably take the theme of the play in a direction that smacked of Barbie type play style (i.e. Superman and Wonderwoman would play house instead of kicking the Joker’s and Lex Luthor’s asses). But what if you were a boy that was curious about Barbie? I mean plenty of girls were positively obsessed with Barbie so what if a boy just wanted to know what all the fuss was about? Yowch!

    When I organized Star Wars Day in Toronto we had a pretty good mix of girls and boys of all ages. Fans of the franchise all know that the entire story is gender neutral. Leia was the picture of female empowerment and ever since then, Star Wars has always had a strong female character as part of their formula. Amidala, Ahsoka, Asajj Ventress, Master Luminara and more. In fact I would conjecture that having strong female characters is a big reason for the Franchise’s longevity and accessibility – there’s something for everyone. Love stories, action, political drama (The Senate and Republic, War) etc etc. I think that in the same way that Star Wars bridges the generation gap, it could also bridge the gender gap. If kids of either gender are watching Clone Wars then they know that the female Jedi kick as much butt as Obi Wan and Anakin and would therefore play truer to the source material because that’s what they see on TV and would want to recreate that.

    1. Micheal,
      Thank you for your comments – as the organizer of Star Wars Day in Toronto – I knew you would give your own local perspective.

      It has been a while since I’ve been in-store at ToysRus – and so can not comment on in-store aisle categorization. I am pleased to hear that it is not gender specific in-store. On the web, however, I do use filters – and there within lies their gender restrictions.

      I’m not sure why my daughter gravitates to Star Wars – though the strong female role models play a strong part I’m sure. She is still a fan of Disney, pink & purple and has her Rapunzel polly pocket is playing alongside Ahsoka lego action figures. She doesn’t mind athletic type violence though admittedly is not enamored with the Darths, unlike my son. And yet, it is a franchise that has my daughter reading, consuming and talking to adults. It is her own world and I am thrilled that we can do activities together. (Montreal has an upcoming Star Wars Identities show).

      Most of all, I’m glad to hear that you see a good mix of girls and boys of all ages at recent Toronto Star Wars events – perhaps a good indication that ToysRus online filtering of Star Wars toys needs a changing.

      Thanks again.

Comments are closed.