soldiers standing on a map

How a 7-year-old won the battle to make female toy soldiers

Already at just seven years old, Vivian Lord has had it with sexist toy making. She loves playing with toy soldiers, but all of the figurines were men. This Christmas, she asked for female toy soldiers, and one company made her wish come true. (1)

Advertisement

7-Year-Old Pushes Company to Make Female Toy Soldiers

In the summer of 2019, Vivian and her brother were playing with their brigade of toy soldiers. This is one of the pair’s favorite things to do together. Vivian, however, was feeling rather upset about the lack of representation of female soldiers. (1)

Advertisement

“I noticed that there was no girl army men. They don’t make ’em,” she said in an interview with CBS News. (1)

The young feminist decided to take action. She wrote letters to a variety of toy companies that manufacture the classic green army men asking them to please make army girls that look like women. (1)

Advertisement

Read more: Study Finds Moms Are Happier When Their Kids Have Early Bedtimes

Advertisement

One Company Comes Through

Jeff Imel of BMC Toys in Scranton, Pennsylvania was one of the letter recipients. Receiving a letter from a young girl like that surprised him. (1)

Advertisement

“I’ve never gotten a letter from a child like that before, but every now and then somebody asks, ‘Do you have any female toy soldiers?'” he said. (1)

He explained that they did have concept drawings already sketched out for female toy soldiers, however, actually manufacturing them wasn’t very high on their to-do list. Vivian’s letter changed everything for Jeff, and suddenly making female toy soldiers became the company’s top priority. (1)

Advertisement

That was a year ago – today, there are 22 female toy soldiers in BMC Toys’ circulation, just in time for the holidays. (1)

Advertisement

“that makes me super happy,” Vivian said. “I will play with them every day.” (1)

Sexism and Gender-Specific Toys

There is no doubt that toys and playtime have a major impact on children’s development. One of the greatest impacts is how toys teach children about gender norms: “Girls toys” that teach girls what they “should” like and how they “should” act. The same goes for boys’ toys. (2)

Advertisement

Pink Gives Girls Permission

Toys are more gendered now than ever before, and it is having a lasting psychological impact on our children and how they view themselves. (3)

Advertisement

Most girls have grown up in the Disney Princess era. For a long time, through movies, TV, and toys, girls were taught (2):

Advertisement
  • That being pretty is the most important things about a person
  • To wait to be rescued; they could not be the heroine of their own story

Today, even traditional gender-neutral toys like Play-doh and Lego come in pastel, “girl” versions. Items like Kinder Surprise eggs have pink versions with “girls’ toys” on the inside.

Girls are almost exclusively marketed toys that are all about being pretty, whereas boys are marketed toys that encourage them to become scientists, firefighters, and more. (3)

A 2013 study even showed that young undergraduate women who identified themselves as “princess girls” were more likely to (4):

  • Site being physically attractive as the highest priority in a partner
  • Not join the workforce and instead find a spouse to support them
  • Quit faster when given puzzles to solve than other students

In the same vein, boys have been instructed that they can’t play with dolls or sparkly things –  only cars, toy guns, and more “manly” toys. Even the first-ever action figure was mocked at first, with toy companies saying that boys would never play with a doll. That toy – Action Man – ended up becoming the toy of the year for the next decade. (3)

“We know that these stereotypes that are being shaped and reinforced can be linked to a lot of different things from educational and occupational goals to academic ability to social development,” says developmental psychologist doctor Laura Zimmermann. “It is really important to have children get this broad range of experiences.” (5)

It’s Not Just About Female Toy Soldiers, Gender Fluidity in Toys is Important

Of course, none of this means it’s bad if your little girl loves frilly pink dolls and your little boy loves playing with cars. What this does mean, however, is that from the very beginning children need to be introduced to a wide variety of toys. (6)

For example, playing with baby dolls teaches children empathy, how to be gentle, and prepares them for their potential futures as parents. These are skills that both girls and boys – who become mothers and fathers – need. (6)

Playing with action figures teaches kids to take charge and be the hero in their own story. Furthermore, the way children play with toys matters. If you have a child who likes playing with dolls, encourage them to create stories where the dolls go on adventures and save the day. (2)

If your child enjoys playing with guns and soldiers, it is also important to monitor that play. If it is highly aggressive, that may signal you to sit down and talk to your child about where this aggression is coming from. (2)

Read more: Women Are Sharing Body ‘Facts’ They Heard From Men, And We Don’t Know Whether To Laugh Or Cry

The Future of Toys

Strong female characters – like wonder women, female lego scientists, and female toy soldiers – become the norm, we can hopefully start changing the way children view women and girls. Girls and women are not weak things that need saving. They are strong, independent people who can achieve incredible things. (2)

Boys need conditioning, too, not just in how they view girls but in how they view themselves. Allowing boys to play with dolls and pretty things is just as important in raising a generation of more emotionally equipped, empathetic men. (2)

Dr. Zimmermann says that it’s not that parents should go the opposite extreme and not allow their little girls to play with dolls or boys to play with trucks. It’s about balance, providing options, and showing them that they can play with whatever they choose. (5)

“If they aren’t interested in engaging in non-stereotypic gender play that is O.K. too,” she said. “Children should be free to play with the toys they enjoy — toys should not be ‘assigned’ by gender.” (5)

The UK campaign Let Toys Be Toys calls upon the toy industry to stop marketing toys and books as one gender for the other. They believe that we should do away with the “girls” and “boys” toy sections altogether, allowing children to choose whatever toys they want.

Toy advertising should show both genders playing with all toys – girls with cars and boys with dolls.

Finally, representation, such as having female toy soldiers or male dolls or figurines taking on traditionally “female” roles will break down gender stereotypes and allow girls and boys to choose their own destiny.

Read next: Babywearing NICU Nurses Show Preemie Babies Extra Love While Their Families Are Away

References

  1. How a 7-year-old won the battle to make female toy soldiers.” CBS News. Steve Hartman. November 27, 2020.
  2. Sparkle Unicorns And Fart Ninjas: What Parents Can Do About Gendered Toys.” NPR. Anya Kamenetz, Cory Turner. March 26, 2019.
  3. Children’s toys ‘marketed at gender’ over the years.” BBC. Carys Betteley. August 27, 2017.
  4. Research Gate.
  5. Breaking Gender Stereotypes in the Toy Box.” NY Times. Perri Klass, MD. February 5, 2018.
  6. Are gendered toys harming childhood development?” The Guardian. Olga Oksman. May 28, 2016.

Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
Advertisement