Friday, July 16, 2010

the weirdness of kids, toys and gender

After blogging/kvetching about the gendering of kids and how utterly insane it makes me, a friend emailed me asking for 'Boy-o approved' less stereotypically "boy" birthday presents for her son's upcoming birthday.  I wrote up a big list of the 'girly' (being tongue-in-cheeky here) toys Boy-o loves, and it got me to thinking about the utter silliness of gendered toys and how they are marketed and sold to us.

1.  Transportation toys. 
Planes, trains, boats and automobiles are purely marketed to boys.  For example, a Tonka ad campaign a fwe years ago was "Tonka: We have the blueprint for boys." (With the noted exeption of the line of pink Barbie transportion.  You know, the pink Corvette, the pink Jeep, whathaveyou).  Of course we only want to market these toys to boy children, as girls will not ever grow up to drive (or fix) cars, engineer (or build) trains, captain (or sail) ships or pilot (or engineer) airplanes.  Don't be ridiculous.

2.  Dolls
Marketed only to girls.  Meant to teach girls important life skills, like empathy, caring for others, nurturing, which may even someday help them become loving parents.  These are not skills we want to teach boys.  Oh hell no.  What would the neighbours say if my son one day grew up to be a highly capable, empathetic, caring, nurturing father?  I'm quite certain that I would never, ever live it down.

3.  Cooking toys
Marketed mainly to girls.  Girls who will one day grow up to warm the hearth of their home using their grown-up pots, pans, tea sets, electric mixers and groceries in their real, Barbie-eque dream kitchen.  We don't need to encourage boys to play with these sorts of toys, as everyone know that men do not eat, cook, make tea or frequent the kitchen.  They certainly never grow up to be highly accomplished bakers or chefs (naked or otherwise ;-) or anything of that sort. 

4.   Cleaning toys
Again, marketed mainly to girls.  Why would we want boys emulate such emasculating work?  Nuff said.

5.  Sports toys.  Although I am sure that you can probably purchase a pink ball and bat set somewhere, sports toys are mainly still advertised to boys.  We recently purchased the Little Tikes basketball net for our kiddos, and it has not one, not two, but three little boys on the box.  And no girls.  Zero.  Zip.

The above toys are really quite overtly still directed to one gender or the other.  But then you get toys that both boys AND girls can supposedly play with, which are marketed to each gender differently.  This presents a whole 'nother can of stinky worms. 

You've got your pink princess/Barbie/fairy queen/Dora lunchboxes for the sole consumption of girls and your primary coloured car/truck/action figure/Diego/dinosaur lunchboxes for the sole consumption of boys.  (Because a girl couldn't possibly like primary colours.  Or dinosaurs.)   Lego seems innocuous enough, but it too comes in pink for girls and  primary coloured for boys.  Should you buy the regular looking doctor kit or pink doctor kit - because the little 'lady doctor' in your life might really need a pink thermometer.  C'mon -You know that she does.   Little People markets an airplane that actually sort of looks like an airplane and a pink one (though to be perfectly fair, I have flown on a pink airplane.  The airline is now out of business.  It was a really pretty plane though, as far as planes go).  A toy cellphone that actually looks like a phone, or a pink one with sparkles?  Bicycles - pink for girls, with sparkles and/or ribbon-y things on the handle bars.  Red, yellow or blue for boys - and flames instead of ribbon-y things. 

Sensing a theme here?  There are toys for boys and toys for girls.  And even the toys that we're supposedly 'okay' with both genders playing with must be gender separated by colour and subject matter.  Because apparently boys like things that are bright, primary colours and more realistic looking.  And girls need toys and playrooms and bicycles that look like somebody vomited Peptol Bismal all over everything. 

It's a curious state of affairs.  Especially in this day and age, where we like to pretend like feminism is dead and the genders have achieved parity in the home and the workforce.  

Apparently not in the world of play.

(And yes, I know I'm beating a dead horse here.  But I'm posting it anyways.  Poor horsey.  Apparently July in the kids and gender installment of my blog.)


  1. I have two autistic kids, as you know. So my kids have ZERO interest in toys that involve imaginative play. They're both focused on function. So lego= good, dolls= who cares? So Imogen, the princess-loving girl, has absolutely no interest in a lot of the 'girl' toys. Cooking and cleaning toys are all about taking on roles. Gendered division of household labour aside, she doesn't do role play. Dolls and their accessories mean playing at being a mommy; she doesn't do that. So my princess plays cars, builds, and tells stories. In horrifically frilly dresses. And her favourite princesses ever are drag queens. Aside from her obsession with all things Disney, I'd have it no other way!
    (In short, I share your disgust with the marketing of toys as gender specific.)

  2. And what about the stupid white tires on the "girly" bikes? How dumb is that are going to ride on DIRT are WHITE?? WTF??? I did buy my daughter a purple bike for her first bike but I decreed no damn white tires. :)

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