Holiday consumerism has been in full swing since before Black Friday, but as the countdown to Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays nears its end, the stakes to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones have been raised.
Embracing the gift-giving fever, companies have also increased their advertising, bombarding baffled personal Santas with commercials and catalogs advertising their products. The recent Toys “R” Us catalog controversy in Sweden, though, proves that some companies are providing more than just discounts and markdowns this holiday season.
The Swedish version of the toy company’s annual Christmas catalog depicts a girl holding a Nerf gun and a young boy playing with a baby doll. The images are meant to reflect Sweden’s new crackdown on gender inequality and provide opportunity for both children and parents to engage openly with sexuality. The gender-neutral catalog is the first of its kind, both for Sweden and the toy conglomerate, and is already making progress in breaking gender stereotypes.
One catalog portraying gender-neutral images will not be sufficient to change antiquated notions about gender and sexuality. However, the small step made by TOP-TOY, the company that runs Toys “R” Us retail stores in Northern Europe, is groundbreaking in generating new perceptions about the messages children accept when they receive certain gifts.
Besides being the season of giving, Christmas also happens to be the season of indoctrination. Many parents and child advocates don’t realize that in purchasing toys that carry heavy connotations of gender and sexuality, such as doll houses or Hot Wheels sets, they are in fact perpetuating notions of gender which have been sanctioned by tradition, culture and even the government. By instilling such narrow views about sexuality and gender at such a young age, children are forced to condition themselves if they don’t fit into rigid gender categories, which can present harmful consequences as they mature.
The truth about gender is not as rigid and defined as our culture makes it appear. The lines between gender and sexuality are blurred, and the variations that exist within each should be enough to consider re-evaluating how companies and media that cater to children present notions of sexuality through their products.
Particularly in our “sex sells” culture, American retailers have a responsibility to respect their buyers and not place gender bias or emphasis on their products. This policy should not be targeted solely toward children who are discovering their sexual identities, but also to adults who have long established their sexualities and gender specificity.
Parents and other adults must also shoulder the responsibility of teaching young children that sexuality and gender are not compartmentalized strictly into male or female and heterosexual or homosexual. By teaching children to be more accepting about the nuances of sexuality, children will be better prepared not only to embrace their own sexuality, but others’ as well.
So this holiday season, as you search the aisles or the Internet wondering what to get your younger siblings or your next-door neighbor, don’t consider their gender. Consider their interests. Think about their personality. Most importantly, consider what you’re saying to them with what you give them.