This was an assignment I did for a gender/culture media class over the weekend.
This was the first time I’ve been to Toys R Us in well over ten years – I was shocked, and yet somehow not totally surprised about the amount of gendered toys and sections at the store. I will start by mentioning a couple of the more progressive types of toys that I found – Fisher Price did a good job; when I first noticed a doctor’s kit, I came close, expected to see a boy on the cover, and actually saw a girl. Little Tikes also put boys and girls on the covers of their sports toys.
The first small thing that shocked me was in the Lego’s department: all boyish Lego’s were of firetrucks, building things, and Star Wars. The girls’ Lego’s all features a house with flowers and them jumping rope outside. Now, a disclaimer for my blog reader(s), these images and activities are not inherently wrong – I’m not saying that girls SHOULD be doing boys activities and vice versa. That would be just as bad as ascribing them the passive, pink, motherly role. I’m saying that we should challenge these messages that are being advertised & let boys and girls be more than just the pink/blue, passive/active boxes.
Next, I also noticed the blatant difference between the atmosphere of the boys sections and the atmosphere of the girls. Boys had wrestling action figures, NERF guns (all of the models on these guns were boys, of course), and massive Tonka trucks. Girls had an explosion of pink tutus, makeup and princess toys. The biggest, most frustrating shocker for me was the “Cook/Clean” section – literally, all pink, and all girls. Toys included toy vacuums, kitchen sets, a “Deluxe Cleaning Set,” and various other accessories pertaining to domesticity. Across from that section were baby dolls that said “Mommy, Look I can swim” on the box.
I’ve had various conversations with friends and family since completing this analysis, and every time I discuss it I become even more passionate about this blatant gender-typing. Some people mention that maybe girls just naturally gravitate to pink and boys to trucks; I strongly disagree. These social constructs begin at birth or even earlier – kids are conditioned/socialized to want to play with these gender-specific toys through the toys that parents buy them as newborns, television commercials, and other kids’ toys. It’s frustrating that stores like Toys R Us won’t consider blending these toys, but rather segregates boys and girls. The messages of female domesticity vs. male worldliness and outside exploration were clear to me. In other words: girls, go clean, cook, and be mommies, and boys, go build, learn, work, and destroy. I remember I kept repeating “this is the twenty-first century” as I walked through the store – I couldn’t help but be reminded of the advertisements from the 1920s. I also kept thinking about how I would present toys to my future kids – I’d give them both boy and girl toys, without ascribing those titles of course. I’d give options, and let them play with whatever they wanted. I wouldn’t dress a girl solely in pink & then say that she simply “wants” to play with dolls. I wouldn’t tell a girl that she’s inherently a mother – and I wouldn’t deny it; but what about the boy – wouldn’t he inherently be a father? Shouldn’t he too be changing diapers and feeding these realistic dolls? Shouldn’t both girls and boys be in the kitchen or vacuuming? Shouldn’t there be more options and more discussion of this in the twenty-first century? I think the answer to all of these questions should be yes.