If you look down the bright pink girls' toy aisle and think to yourself that toys weren't always broken down so clearly along gender lines, then you're right. A sociologists has written a fascinating history of how toys have been marketed over the decades and how gender has come into play.
Photo by Janet McKnight.
Elizabeth Sweet is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California at Davis and her research focuses on gender and children's toys. She has a very interesting article up at the Atlantic about her research and what she has learned about how toys, marketing, and gender have changed over the last century.
While toys in earlier decades often traded on gender stereotypes, with domestically inclined toys for girls and industrial toys for boys, even 50 years ago, roughly half of toys were advertised in a gender-neutral way. And as we swept into the 1970s and more women entered the workforce, there was a brief plummet in gendered toy advertising. By 1995, gendered toys were headed back to where they were in the 1950s, but with a twist:
However, late-century marketing relied less on explicit sexism and more on implicit gender cues, such as color, and new fantasy-based gender roles like the beautiful princess or the muscle-bound action hero. These roles were still built upon regressive gender stereotypes—they portrayed a powerful, skill-oriented masculinity and a passive, relational femininity—that were obscured with bright new packaging. In essence, the "little homemaker" of the 1950s had become the "little princess" we see today.
I highly recommend reading Sweet's entire article, which pulls apart the shifts in toys and marketing over the years and also examines the demand for gendered toys among modern consumers. It's interesting to consider, even as some people defend the proliferation of gendered toys that there haven't always been quite so many of them.