This week it's been really exciting to see two pieces of work come in that show that some advertisers are starting to think about and talk about gender in less stereotypical ways. There's the I AM Vodka film from Butter in Sweden that follows the story of transgender model Sabel Gonzales, which is about being true to oneself. On the other hand, the Smyths toys ad is all about putting yourself in someone else's shoes - having an imagination. And there's one scene, a matter of seconds, which sees the main character (a boy) dressed as a princess. At a time when toy marketers are becoming ever more restrictive and gendered, the significance of the spot can't be overstated.
What's really nice is that, until now, the majority of the campaigns against gender stereotyping in toys have focused on girls. That's why Barbie has been focusing on aspirational careers and not princesses, why Lego has a female scientist set and GoldieBlox is determined to get girls playing with construction toys. But strict gender divides are equally damaging to boys - what if you're not into spaceships, guns and fast cars? And what kind of message are marketers passing onto boys that violence and engineering are their only options? Why can't they play with cute animal toys? Why can't they model and practice traits like empathy in their play?
At this point I have a confession to make. As a child, I once wrote to Lego asking why there was no pink Lego. So. I guess this makes me some kind of traitor to my kind. But I was seven or so and I just really liked pink. But I also like Nerf Guns and Super Soakers and Sonic the Hedgehog.
My mum was determined to avoid sexism as far as she could with the toys she bought us and so refused to get me a toy vacuum cleaner or ironing board. It’s a decision she rues to this day – I remember the penny drop moment when she realised it would have been just as right on to get that toy iron… and get one for my brother too. We might have been more domestically helpful as teenagers. Oh well Mum; you live and learn.
What I really love about the Smyths Toys ad is that it's not an all-or-nothing message. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes. We have so many facets to our personalities - and for children just trying to explore that personality it's even more important to be able to explore the different sides of themselves. A little boy might want to play about with a princess tiara one day and roll around as Han Solo the next. A little girl might want to play doctor in the morning and make Play-Doh cupcakes in the afternoon (just make sure she doesn’t try to eat them…). Playing is just that - playing. Mucking about. It doesn't have to take on some weighty significance, we grown ups just need to chill out. The spot doesn't linger or try to drive a message home. It just is. And that's great.