The indentity of a toy's intended target gender in today's culture is extremely clear. Anyone who might have forgotten just how obvious this is only needs to stroll through the toy section at any big box store to see the immediate difference between the boys and girls isles. Peggy Orenstein makes her point beginning with the outdated and sexist character stereotypes found in classic and popular Disney films. The roles of women as presented to girls still young and impressionable, are ones without goals beyond finding their prince, with their futures relying primarily, if not solely on their looks. Orenstein says; "Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married and be taken care of for the rest of their lives." Some mothers fear the message this presents to girls in a time when the fight for gender equality is still attempting to make strides.
Business strategists argue that gender specificity is wanted by children as reflected in toy sales. "In order to be gender-fair, today's executives insist, they have to be gender-specific (NY Times)." The growth in popularity of merchandising pink and blue exemplifies the segregation of gender-specific toys. Though this seems to have undertaken a gender reversal during the twentieth century, as Orenstein explains, pink is now undeniably female specific. The notion of the limiting of imaginative possibilies for girls is questioned. While identifying many popular girl's toys as being domestic oriented, boy's toys are geared toward action. It becomes blurry as to who may be more limited by popular expectations. "Boys as young as four said their daddies would think it was 'bad' if they played with 'girls' toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes." The consideration here is that while girls toys may be identified as promoting female stereotypes of materialism and beauty importance, girls may have greater freedom in expression and experimentation than the expectations of gender roles allow for boys. The positive significance of stereotypically feminine or "princess" themed toys is posed as a necessary preservation of innocence that society seems so quick to corrupt. The counter to this point is the consideration that the toy companies themselves may be the very first to be corruptors of young minds with the promotion of gender stereotypes, and particularly, what it means to be a girl or boy. The dispute of the necessity of gender specificity is difficult to compromise on completely.
While the extreme division between gender based merchandise is questioned, there is a natural and considerable difference between what is expected and accepted for one gender and another. The topic of Sesame Street characters in Orensteins piece helps to illuminate this point; "If Cookie Monster was a female character, she'd be accused of being anorexic or bulimic," and, "were he a girl, Elmo's 'whimsey' might be misread as 'ditziness'." These points, as unfortunate as they may be, are culturally valid. Girls, while seemingly corralled into stereotypical femininity, also appear to have avoided resulting adult limitations as women grow to become professionals in varying fields. This much can at least be said for many women of earlier generations. The effects of current consumer trends in toys which focus on materialism and appearance are yet to be seen.
Questions/Comments/Point To Share:
My own experience growing up made it clear which toys were specific to me, and which were specific to my sister. She had baby and Barbie dolls, My Little Pony, etc., while I had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles, action figures, toy guns, and so on. One exception I can still clearly remember was when I was probably around the age of 7 and my sister was 5. At the pleading of both my sister and I while at Toys R Us, our mother bought us each a mini broom. As odd as that may sound for a child, let alone a boy to want such a basic and unexciting cleaning tool, we were extremely excited at the fact that such a thing was made in a size specific to us. What made these even more appealing was, just as in the discussion of children's bats in the Orenstein piece, the brooms were available in both pink and blue. We were high on the fact that we each had clearly gender-dentifiable CLEANING UTENSILS. I can remember how funny one man which my mother was in conversation with found our content in such things. While my sister and I enjoyed the typical toys throughout childhood, and eventually pushed through teenage phases, niether of us have fallen into a trap of consequent suggestibility in adulthood. My sister, now a great mother, doesn't twirl around in a gown from day to day submissive to men, just as I don't chuck grenades at pedestrians and attack suspected criminals with nunchucks. I can see the importance of forming the right messages for children, but at some point I believe people may also be falling victim to their own paranoia. I'm sure I will experience this to some extent myself when I take on the responsibility of raising children. Never the less, it's important to recognize the necessity of letting children be children without overshadowing their early years with the heavy topics they will undoubtedly inherit naturally as they mature.