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.

toys at 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.

girls toys v. boy toysSomething 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?

Author

Gretchen is a mom of two little boys trying to raise them to be good men. She enjoys analyzing stereotypes and gender roles and working toward gender equality and fighting oppression in all its forms. You can find Gretchen's musings over on her personal blog GrrrlwithBoys.com and on Twitter @GrrrlWithBoys.

29 Comments

  1. Sonia Shah Reply

    Tiffany,

    WOW, what a brilliant and insightful post! I couldn’t agree more! Well written!

    -Sonia

  2. I too agree. I think there should be a healthy mix of both. Whatever the individual child wants to play with should be fine.

  3. I noticed they separate girls and boys! I have mixed feelings about it! I don’t agree 100% and I don’t disagree!!! I have a boy and a girl : they love playing the same board games but my daughter grew up playing with dolls and my boy with cars:

  4. We’ve always talked with my son very clearly and openly about things like, are they saying that is just for boys or girls by packaging/promoting it that way? And does that make sense to you? He came up with one of our best household mottos: “Everyone gets to like what they like.” It’s not wrong for boys to play with cars and girls to play with dolls, but we have to start making much more space for our kids to gravitate towards their own interests.

  5. My 19 month old son’s favorite things at home besides his love of cars and trucks (which is funny to watch) is the pink vacuum cleaner and the huge Little Tikes kitchen with all the playfood in it. I don’t mind one bit. I don’t discourage him at all. Since he has a big sister, he will play with “girls” toys more than other boys I guess but that’s okay with me.

    My six year old girl now loves the NERF and LEGO Friends so in a way I am glad they have marketed to girls. She has already learned that “girls should like pink stuff” – I mean it is almost impossible not to. So she has her collection of those things too… Gender ideas are definitely based on society though.

    Great post, Tiffany. I love these discussions!

  6. I agree 100%! Having two boys and one girls has really brought this out in my life and in my awareness.. I try my hardest to get toys for BOTH genders, like baby dolls and strollers or play kitchens. I just try to get those neutral toys in neutral colors so it doesn’t push towards a specify sex. My daughter certainly has some pink toys and frilly baby dolls but I enjoy seeing my boys pushing the stroller around or playing chefs in the play kitchen. It makes my heart happy when I can stand against ‘girl toys’ vs. ‘boy toys’. I tell my kids (always have, always will) that they can play with whatever they want to! And so they do. 🙂

  7. Pingback: What I'm Obsessing Over Lately - Fabulous Mom Blog

  8. I agree with your point Gretchen. We should teach our boys about housekeeping and cleaning so that they can look after themselves. It is a very old saying old saying that pink is for girls and blue is for boys!

  9. Pingback: #RaisingBoys: Football, Gender Roles and Violence Against Women | Soapbox Inc.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.