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. Very interesting post. My son won’t even play tea party with my daughter and I never told him or mentioned to him anything about toys being for girls or boys. I don’t even buy toys anymore the kids are into electronics now last time I bought a toy was probably 2 yrs ago. My daughter asks for the occasional barbie but other than that nothing. Now she will play with trucks and I don’t stop her at all

    • My oldest son didn’t hear about “girl toys” and “boy toys” until he went to preschool and picked it up from the other kids. Also, once he started paying attention to me ordering his happy meal at McDonald’s, he heard them ask if it was “for a boy or girl”. I could write a whole other post just on that, but basically I politely reply with whichever toy he says he wants from the pictures. It’s very frustrating, but he does love their chicken nuggets.

  2. No kids here. (Soon, hopefully) My nephew loves his vacuum cleaner, broom and dustpan and we could care less what toy he choose to play with. Honestly, parents should be happy with any toy that keeps their child content – not forcing them to like a “boy” toy over a “girl” toy… Great post!

    • Thank you! And I totally agree! Letting my boys pick out what toys they want to play with from a variety of options seems to work the best.

  3. Much to my daughter’s dismay, my son plays with her My Little Ponies right along with her. I think these are only stereotypes if we buy into them. Why not buy your son a My Little Pony to fight evil with a Transformer? Why not buy your daughter a remote control truck?

    • I bought my son a Princess adventure stories and Cars stories book for Christmas. Ever since he saw that Shrek movie (I forget which one) where the princesses escape prison and invade the castle he has been obsessed. We talk about how not all girls are princesses and princesses can do all kinds of things because they’re very smart and strong just like other girls. Lately he’s had me read him a princess adventure story every night before he goes to bed. I try to give him a variety of options to chose from and not just buy him ones in the blue isle at Target. My mom did this for me too. I had a remote control truck and to this day I would love to have a big truck to drive around in (if only the gas mileage was better). 🙂

  4. Great post — my daughter has always dabbled over in the “boys side” bc she is such a daddy’s girl. She loves male superheroes and Star Wars but they will never really be her favorite. My son is just turning one so I’m not sure what he will like yet, though he does have a fondness for my daughter’s My Little Ponies! I think its the mane… I don’t get all wrapped up in labels.

    • Thank you! Whenever we go to the toy isles we walk down some blue and some pink and both boys reach for things they want me to hand them on all the isles. The most balanced way I can come up with is to introduce them to everything (except those dolls that are super thin/warped or ones that promote violence) and let them decide (within budget of course) what they want to play with. On a side note, I heard they have skinny-fied My Little Ponies (along with Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, etc..) since I played with them in the 80’s and that troubles me.

  5. I have! It’s a great struggle for me and the boychild. We usually stick to the boyside.. I think it’s more acceptable for the girls to play with boys then the other way around.

    • Yes, you’re right. It has become more acceptable for girls to like/play with “boy toys” or adopt “male” characteristics than the other way around. Doing something “like a girl” is still an insult because our culture doesn’t value girls. We need to change that.

    • You’re welcome! And yes, it is a constant struggle, but if we don’t keep on top of it then things won’t change. #HardOutHereForAParent

    • Yes, we need more active female characters in kids movies (and all movies for that matter) so that our daughters can see themselves and our sons will learn to value girls and women. Ever heard of the Bechdel Test? Check it out here: http://bechdeltest.com/ 1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man Your 4 year old might enjoy testing all the movies you watch with it.

  6. I notice it all that time! Of course, with only boys in the house I don’t have to buy boy AND girl toys. If we ever have a daughter, I suspect she’ll be happy playing with the Legos and Playmobil already in the house.

    • But maybe introducing “girl” toys here and there will teach your sons different skills and characteristics and to value girls more? I started with a baby doll when they were little that was dressed in yellow, white and black. So now it’s around and they play with it here and there. It teaches them about nurturing. You won’t get that from Legos.

  7. My kids both play with each of their toys together. Boy, girl, it honestly doesn’t matter. I think that if we, as parents, continue to allow our kids to choose whatever toys and interests they have they will be able to realize that even though it’s blue or pink, that won’t stop them from playing with it.

  8. I have noticed it, but fortunately my children (ages 8 and 5) don’t seem to notice it. My son plays Barbies and Polly Pockets with his sister as well as super heroes and vice versa. We try not to put gender to the toys they play with to avoid any conflict as well as to let their personalities flourish as they may!

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