Thanks Gretchen for guest posting today.
Have you ever noticed the separation of toys marketed to girls versus boys? We’ve all been told that “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys”, but have you really paid attention to what that means? This weekend, my husband and I took our two boys (Jackson 4 ½ and Myles 18 months) to Target. Whenever we go somewhere with a toy section, Jackson asks to check out what they have. No matter what store you go in to, social cues that you’ve learned from day one tell you that you shop for boys in the blue section and girls in the pink section.
The “boys section” usually contains toys that promote exploration, action, machismo and sometimes violence. The “girls section” usually contains toys that promote beauty, domesticity, childcare, and shopping. Check out this picture I took during our trip to Target.
This is the middle isle where the “girl’s section” collides with the “boys toys” section. Notice anything?
The “girls toys” on this aisle have Legos, a toy that is usually marketed to boys (at least since the late 80’s) that have been rebranded to “appeal to girls”. What do these marketers think appeals to girls…purple and pink, friends, vacations, and Disney princesses. If you check out the Legos marketed to boys, you’ll see pirate ships, construction equipment, and super heroes. You could draw many conclusions about this, one being that girls should be passive and caring and boys should be active and save the day.
On this same aisle on the “girl side” I found pink vacuums, brooms and dustpans, tea sets and a cash register. You will not find those things in the “boys” section. Jackson showed a lot of interest in our vacuum whenever we would bring it out to clean. He was so interested that one Christmas we bought him his own toy version. We found one online that was multicolored and talks. He loved it and now Myles does too. They bring it out and pretend to vacuum right along side my husband. There is no reason why we shouldn’t teach our boys house cleaning skills. This is 2014. Besides, don’t we want them to be able to take care of themselves when they grow up? Not teaching them to cook and clean assumes that as soon as they leave home they’ll find someone else to take care of these things for them, like a girl who has been socialized to cook, clean and care for children.
Something else that I encourage you to pay attention to when perusing the toy aisles with (or without) your kids, is the language that is used by marketers. “Boys toys” have names like “Hot Wheels”, “Monster Trucks”, “Stomp Rocket”, “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em” etc. “Girls toys” have names like “Hello Kitty”, “Friends”, “Princess”, “My Little Pony”, “Care Bears”, “Little Mommy” etc. Notice any differences? “Boy toys” are rough and tough, and “girls toys” are soft and caring. I could go on and on about this but I invite you to see for yourself. Just a quick search on Amazon of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” is very eye opening.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic you could watch the films MissRepresentation and Tough Guise. Both talk about how boys and girls are socialized from birth according to prescribed gender roles. Still not convinced? Consider that the color “for”/marketed to boys used to be pink because it was “stronger” and blue used to be “for”/marketed to girls because it was thought to be more “dainty” (Read more on this here by Maglaty. This was back in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until about 1940 that marketers changed the rules to “pink for girls, blue for boys”. Did I just blow your mind?
What that shows you is how these “rules” are socially constructed and at the whim of marketers. Yet, we raise our kids strictly based on those rules and chastise them (and each other) if they venture beyond those walls. I don’t, but many parents do. I think it’s mostly because they want their kids to fit in and not be made fun of. I get that, and to try to combat that I work to instill a sense of self-confidence and empathy in my children. I’d rather my children feel free to be who they are, and like whatever they like. That means I don’t limit the toys they can play with (except for those toys which promote violence; those don’t fly in my house.). I introduce them to a variety of toys and colors and let them choose for themselves what they prefer.
So, next time you’re shopping for toys, consider the messages you’re sending to them about who they can and should be. In a world where girls are valued less and given less opportunities than boys, we need to consider all of the messages we’re sending them if they’re ever going to be empowered. And this isn’t just about letting girls play with “boy toys”, we also need to teach our sons to be caring and empathetic and our daughters to explore the world around them. In a perfect world, the toy aisles would be separated by type of toy not color or gender roles, that way all children could pick whatever toy interests them and not worry about what the rest of the world might say about it.
Have you ever noticed the different messages marketed to girls as opposed to messages for boys?