In our American culture, we like to tell children from an early age what is right and wrong as applied to their gender. In searching for children’s toys, it was expected to find that “girl” toys would be feminine and domesticated, and that “boy” toys would be masculine and nature oriented. The first place to look in my mind was Babies “R” Us and its partner Toys “R” Us. In searching these websites, I was hoping to find what toys were clearly aimed for girls and what was aimed for boys and what these toys implied to the children and their views of gender in the future.
At the Babies “R” Us website, it was highly apparent that children were being targeted right out of the womb. In the Birth- 12 Months category, the Boppy® Tummy Play™ Play Pad was available in two versions, blue and pink. The pink version features a green base pad shaped like a leaf, and is covered in flowers. The stomach pad that comes with it is a light pink with white flower pattern, and has three attachments for the female baby to play with. The attachments are all plastic flowers and in the colors of pinks, purples, and oranges. The blue version features a green base pad shaped like a lily pad, with a giant frog on it. The stomach pad is a dark blue with white dragon flies, also with three attachments. These attachments feature bugs and are in the colors of greens, blues, and yellows. It is clear which sex each is aimed for. At such an early age, it is already implied that boys are supposed to love animals, bugs, and anything outdoorsy, while girls are supposed to love the more dainty aspects of life, such as flowers and anything pink. Upon searching more in depth, I came to find that the toys that were in the boy’s category featured construction, fishing, animals, nature, cars, and farms: things typically associated with being a masculine in today’s society. Searching for the girls, I found that toys centered on fairies, snuggling, flowers, playing house, being a princess, and the color pink. It almost seems to imply that from such a young age, Birth- 12 months, the men in society should be the providers, doing the work, earning the money, and that girls should be slaving away in the kitchens, cleaning the house, fantasizing about being a princess and finding their own fairytales.
At the Toys “R” Us website, it was even more apparent that there were definite stereotypes between the genders, and that by the time they reach the category of 8-11 years of age, there should be only interest in the male toys for boys, and only an interest in female toys for girls. For Boys of this category, the focus now was more on pirates, action heroes, and sports such as pro-wrestling, baseball, basketball, and football. It also had a slight emphasis on more violent games and activities, such as the Incredible Hulk Smash hands, which encourage children to hit each other, swords, Nerf guns, and an Indiana Jones inspired whip, which is practically guaranteed to make some small child cry. Girl’s toys were the epitome of training future “Suzie Homemakers.” The Barbie 3 Story dream house, the Dream Dazzler’s Dress-Up Trunk, the Butterfly Pavilion, baby dolls and baby doll accessories, and the pink and yellow wooden stove, refrigerator and oven set all seem to send the idea that the girls are being trained to become the future homemakers and housewives of America.
The only toy that seemed to transcend the genders was the actual console for any video game, even though the games themselves were definitely targeted towards certain genders as well. For the boys, games were focused on racing, exploring, shooting, and skiing, while the girl’s games were aimed at raising animals, dressing up, designing clothing, Disney Princesses, and even a pink game console.
From an early age, even between birth and 12 months, parents and relatives are already influencing what their child’s future influences will be. In Identities and Inequalities chapter 4, David Newman says “Because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them.” They buy toys that associate girls and pink or boys and blue. The toys that are these colors also represent what interests the children will have in the upcoming toddler, preteen, and teen years. These toys are aimed to appeal to the children’s sense of what is right for their genders. Newman also says, “Decades of research indicate that ‘girls toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion and motherhood and ‘boy toys’ emphasize action and adventure.” It seems that with toys and such, American society is trying to instill the differences between the sexes. “It’s about the valuing of masculinity and maleness and the devaluing of femininity and femaleness… It’s about the social acceptability of anger, rage, and toughness in men but not in women, and of caring, tenderness, and vulnerability in women, but not in men.” This is found in Allan Johnson’s Patriarchy, the System: An it, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. This statement easily reflects the ideals of the male toys versus the female toys; the outdoorsy, somewhat violent, ideals of male toys, versus the domestic, feminine, and docile ideals of female toys.
In searching for these toys, I thought my findings would actually be less stereotypical in this politically correct world we live in. But in actuality, I found that it was still as gender oriented as ever. Girls will perpetually have pink toys and boys will perpetually be associated with blue toys. It will be hard to break the norm of buying boys a racecar and girls a kitchen set because of what has been ingrained in the parents as “normal” toys for boys and girls. Breaking these norms in our society will be difficult, but maybe we could associate children in general with the color green or yellow, which are seemingly more gender neutral, rather than the pink and the blue.
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, not a He, a Them, or an Us.” From The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997.
Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.