Blogging the Big Toy Book: Gender Roles

Toys have long reinforced gender roles. The line between "boys toys" and "girls toys" is stark and there is pressure on kids to not cross into the toys for the other gender. That's not really news. A few small gains have happened. Educational toys aren't as gender dominating. Neither are music toys. To their credit, Toys "R" Us also doesn't define a boys category or girls category on their website, even if there is a really clear division in their stores.

Still, its important to examine what we take for granted. A lot of the gender defined toys reinforce beauty ideals and expectations. For instances, sports equipment was exclusively advertised with boy models. We're not talking about footballs here. Bikes, scooters, moon shoes, even air hockey and ping pong. Boys are supposed to be athletic, but we wouldn't want girls to go sweating or anything.

I guess I'm being a little unfair. See, there are some physical activity toys for girls, but they weren't sports related. They were branded dance games. Put on a blonde wig and dance your way into looking like Hannah Montana! (Edit: Fine, so the blonde wig is from the show, too) If they are younger, though, they can get their princess training video and mat. Not sure why princess training needs a mat, but that's what this Barbie branded toy has. It brags that it "teaches girls how to act, dress and dance like a princess".

The Barbie section also offers a styling head and a vanity, in case we weren't sure that being a princess meant being "beautiful." Disney agrees, too, as they also offer a vanity. Theirs has more mirrors than the Barbie, one, too. Count on Disney to get to business. Even Dora gets in on the act, though her vanity isn't princess themed. Does come with a creepy half-body styling head seemingly trapped in the table, though.

We're not all about hair, though. Gotta tell girls they need to wear make-up, too. The "Girl Gear" section offers a make-up vanity and a "Glitz & Glam" Cosmetic case. It also offered the Monopoly Pink Boutique Edition. Don't want girls thinking they can be real estate moguls. No, pink Monopoly has a "fabulous mall makeover". No make-up, but the game case does double as jewelry box. Honestly, the product description reads like a parody of gender belittling toys. Its all revamped with shopping sprees and cell phone bills and text messaging.

Since some people cannot figure this out for themselves, I'm not saying you can't like pink, or you can't wear make-up, or enjoy fashion. The issue here is how dominating these things are in the options for girls, and likewise in the sports toys and construction training toys for boys. I mean, would it be so hard to advertise roll play toys together? Play kitchens with play tool sets? I've known boys who liked playing kitchen and girls who liked playing for toy power tolls. But in the book, those two things are very clearly stratified as being for boys or girls.

With the beauty toys, this doesn't simply reinforce professional gender roles for kids, but reinforces beauty ideals. Girls are supposed to be pretty princesses. They are supposed to be made-up, with flowing blonde hair. And you don't see fat princesses. Maybe if you did, these toys wouldn't be as stifling, as oppressive with regards to identity and objectification. Maybe they would. But we know that the ideal of beauty being reinforced doesn't allow room for fat children. Its not like you'll see any playing with the toys in catalogs or commercials, after all.

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