Sweden's Dreaming of a Gender-Neutral Christmas

By Patrick Goodenough | November 26, 2012 | 4:30 AM EST

In Sweden, pages from the Toys “R” Us Christmas 2012 catalogue, shown on the left of this composite image, feature a boy with a doll and a girl with a toy gun. The equivalent catalogue in neighboring Norway, seen on the right, shows a girl with the doll and a boy with the gun. (Images: toysrus.se, toysrus.no)

(CNSNews.com) – Guns for girls and dolls for boys: Prodded by the country’s advertising standards watchdog, the Swedish franchisee for retail giant Toys “R” Us has adapted its Christmas catalogue to avoid accusations of gender stereotyping.

“With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or a girl thing, it’s a toy for children,” Jan Nyberg of Top Toy was quoted as telling the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra.

Top Toy, the franchise holder for both Toys “R” Us and BR Toys in northern Europe and Scandinavia, was scolded by Sweden’s advertising regulatory body in 2008 for gender stereotyping in its Christmas catalogues that year.

This year’s Toys “R” Us Swedish catalogue features a girl toting a toy gun and a little boy cuddling a doll. In neighboring Norway, however, the store’s equivalent catalogue shows a boy with the gun and a girl with the doll.

Similarly, BR Toys’ Christmas catalogue in Sweden shows a boy playing at hairdressing, while the same product is promoted in the equivalent catalogues in Denmark and Germany with a picture of a girl.

BR Toys’ Chrismas catalogue in Sweden, top, shows a little boy playing at hairdressing, while the Danish version of the catalogue, below, has a girl in a similar pose. (Images: br-leksaker.se, br.dk)

In other differences between the Swedish and nearby countries’ catalogues, a girl’s t-shirt was changed from pink to blue.

Nyberg said the company had received “training and guidance” from the ad watchdog about gender stereotypes.

Earlier this year Sweden stoked debate by adding to its official lexicon a new, gender-neutral pronoun, in a bid to bring language into line with progressive norms being promoted as early as preschool level.

The Swedish term for “he” is “han” and for “she” is “hon.” The newly-coined “hen” can be used to refer to a person without signifying gender.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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