Toy industry scrambling as heroines for young girls morph
Published: March 24, 2014 11:01AM
Updated: March 22, 2014 05:00PM
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Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the second installment in the action franchise. Courtesy Lionsgate

Once upon a time, Grace Maher twirled around the house in Disney princess costumes, a vision of sequins, tiaras and pink.

She’s 8 now and done with all that. The only pink left is her new bow and arrow.

That would be her Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Exclusive Golden Edge Bow by Hasbro, a petunia-colored weapon with gold and white trim that shoots colorful foam darts. Forget Ariel, the beautiful mermaid princess. Grace’s new role model is Katniss Everdeen, the (also beautiful) huntress/survivor in the “Hunger Games” trilogy of books and movies.

Heroines for young girls are rapidly changing, and the toy industry - long adept at capitalizing on gender stereotypes - is scrambling to catch up.

Toymakers have begun marketing a more aggressive line of playthings and weaponry for girls - inspired by a succession of female warrior heroes like Katniss, the Black Widow of “The Avengers,” Merida of “Brave” and now, Tris of the book and new movie “Divergent” - even as the industry still clings to every shade of pink.

The result is a selection of toys that, oddly, both challenges antiquated notions and plays to them deeply.

The Rebelle line, introduced last year, comes in a swirl of pink, purple, white and gold plastic, and the weapons have names - like the Heartbreaker and the Pink Crush - that are enough to make an enlightened 21st century mother groan.

The premiere of the movie “Divergent” this weekend is only adding to the marketing frenzy around weapon-wielding girls. A Tris Barbie doll, complete with her signature three-raven tattoo, is already for sale on Amazon. All of this is enough to make parents’ - particularly mothers’ - heads spin, even as they’re reaching for their wallets.

While the segregation of girls’ and boys’ toys in aisles divided between pink and camouflage remains an irritant, some also now wonder whether their daughters should adopt the same war games that they tolerate rather uneasily among their sons.

Sharon Lamb, a child psychologist and play therapist who teaches counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says toys that stimulate aggression are healthy for children.

“I don’t see this as making girls more aggressive, but instead as letting girls know that their aggressive impulses are acceptable and they should be able to play them out,” she said.