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Gender Blender: From Toy Stores to Combat Ships

As styles develop and trends merge, our approach to the traditional segregation of gender is following suit. I have delved into some examples which go a little way to explain how and why this is happening in different ways around the globe, and how our approach to design has to bend and blend to accommodate it.

As baby name choices become less and less gender specific, famous examples here include Apple and Suri, the generally accepted pronouns of ‘he’ and ‘she’ are becoming less widely used. In April 2012 Sweden announced it’s gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’ and one year prior to this Sweden became the proud owners of the first gender neutral pre-school ‘Egalia’ where play and education are centered around open attitudes and wider choices; not limiting children to the social expectations based on gender. Toys are no longer segregated into Lego and action men for boys and baby dolls and kitchens for girls, the children are free to choose and mix as they please.

Image of Lego Friends Range via http://www.toyworldmag.co.uk

Lego itself has been responding to the global agenda and has released its ‘Friends’ range, as it steers away from battle ships and helicopters this colorful new building set range is the first aimed at girls. Many consider Lego as a gender-neutral toy already but as studies show that boys and girls ‘play differently’ Lego itself has fallen short previously in promoting creativity and analytical skills in girls. The new range has undergone much criticism in the time since it’s first release almost a year ago, stating that it widens the gender gap and is acknowledging it’s previous collections were aimed boys by now producing a ‘girls’ range. Set in ‘Heartlake City’ and sold in boxes printed to look like handbags, the ‘gesture’ is somewhat nauseating.

Toy store giants such as Hamley’s and Harrods however have followed Sweden’s lead – albeit some two years later. Interior Architecture practice Shed created the gender-neutral toy department at Harrod’s in London, where toys are grouped by theme rather than gender or color; The Big Top, The Enchanted forest, The Wonderland, The Odyssey and The Reading Room make up the dreamscapes.

Photo by Ed Reeve via http://www.webdesign-architecture.com

But it is not just toy stores taking responsibility for appreciating the benefits in gender equality and efficiency. The US Navy’s new class of carriers will be the first to be fitted without any urinals. This decision has been made to ensure the facilities do their best to accommodate female sailors and remove gender barriers. It also makes the ships more flexible, freeing up restrooms to be designated to males or females. As the majority of the current US combat ships were commissioned before the Navy began deploying women in 1994, this is a sign that the US Navy is acknowledging and promoting a change in the compositions of it’s crews.

This is a Navy illustration of the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the first of the Ford class of carriers. Image via: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news

So what effect will this have on the way we design our spaces, places, homes and/or lives? I guess that is for the next generation to decide. I for one hope we see a resurrection of the 90s clubbing scene trend for unisex bathrooms, reminiscent of the Tunnel in New York, think high-end Michael Alig rather than Ally McBeal.

Interesting link – Why is pink the colour of choice for girls – Really interesting interview on BBC Breakfast with Melissa Hines, a professor of psychology from Cambridge University and retail expert Clare Rayner.

Gem is an experienced designer, with a BArch and DipArch in Architecture. She is Creative Director of studioBartonBandy a young + progressive architecture practice based in Brighton + Manchester.

Gem has 6 years experience in lecturing in design, architecture, interior design and interior architecture in academic institutions across the country including; Manchester School of Art, Salford University, The Open University, Nottingham University and Brighton University.

Gem is a freelance architecture + design writer for publications such as Design exchange magazine, inhabitat.com, Mark Magazine,Blueprint, T-R-E-M-O-R-S Magazine and Design Bureau. Gem has also spoken at design events such as Clerkenwell Design Week.

Gem has curated exhibitions for Brighton Fringe, the RIBA, Tate Britain [Nov 2012] and Love Architecture Festival representing hundreds of artists from around the world to date.


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