Gendering Toys is Good for Nobody

From Ms Magazine:

by Emily Rosenbaum

December 9, 2010

I wasn’t surprised when my son, Zachary, was teased for bringing My Little Pony in for first-grade show-and-tell. After all, I had been following the story of Katie, a first-grader in Evanston, Illinois, who had been mocked for choosing a Star Wars water bottle. Katie’s mother, Carrie Goldman, blogged about the incident, and her post quickly went viral, with over a thousand women Star Wars fans leaving Katie supportive comments. Having read Katie’s story, I had a sense of what might be coming when my son showed up in the kitchen holding Twilight Sparkle and announcing, “This is my show-and-tell.”

Frankly, anyone who has been inside a toy store lately has seen the extraordinary gender division. There are girls’ toys and there are boys’ toys, and there isn’t a whole lot in between. You’ll know when you are in the girls’ section by the bright pink glow and the predominance of kitchen-related items. That’s also where you’ll find My Little Pony, in all her sparkly, pastel magnificence. If, however, you’re looking for the boys’ section, just head for the dark toys featuring building supplies and weapons. That’s where the Star Wars merchandise is shelved.

Toy marketing has become increasingly gendered over the last decade and a half, according to Lyn Mikel Brown, co-author with Sharon Lamb of the books Packaging Girlhood and Packaging Boyhood. Although initially related to the anti-consumerist Riot Grrrl movement, girl power resonated with girls and so became fodder for the marketers. “Suddenly, we saw in the mid-nineties everything being called ‘girl power’,” says Brown. “Crafts, makeup, shopping–everything traditional ‘girl’ was given this new edge, but the message was the same.” That message? Girls need lots of pink, fluffy toys.

But kids can still play with whatever they like, right? It’s not that easy, unfortunately. “We rarely see girls and boys in the same commercials,” explains Brown, or in the same section of the toy store. “Toys are heavily marketed through stereotypes. It’s all about making it simple to sell products to little kids.”

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