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Holiday Shopping Season Brings Sexist Stereotypes To The Toy Aisle

by Elissa Heller, Membership Specialist

My glowing memories of childhood playtime are filled with Playmobil villages strewn across my basement floor and of pretending to be space explorers with friends, flying my swingset to distant galaxies. My dream job has always been to work at the toy and game store near my house -- I wanted to get lost in the aisles of brightly colored boxes inviting me become an expert jewelry-maker or fight a pirate battle. So when The Washington Post published a holiday gift guide in the Kidspost a few weeks ago, I snuck a peek ["Best toys for the holiday season, as picked by local kids," November 17]. To my utter disappointment, two of the sections stated in bold print: JUST FOR BOYS and JUST FOR GIRLS. I might expect this kind of gender essentialism from toy corporations like Wal-Mart or Toys R Us, but my beloved Washington Post? How could they do such a thing?

Apparently, making clay beads and pipe cleaner animals is "just for girls," and playing with marble ramps and fancy tops is "just for boys." The Post redeemed themselves minutely in my eyes by publishing a letter to the editor with the same views as myself. Still, I have questions for this journalist. Did she decide which toys were appropriate for which gender, or did the children pick them? Were the testers forbidden from trying out the toys assigned to the other gender? It's unfair that the Beyblades Triple Battle Set, which one (male) tester called "the best toy ever," is considered a boys only toy.

I decided to investigate Wal-Mart's marketing of toys to girls and boys this holiday season to see how the country's largest toy seller handles this issue. Interestingly, Wal-Mart breaks some stereotypical gender divides. Most of the toys in their 100 Hottest Gifts for Girls list are arts and crafts, baby dolls, and other pink items, but included as well are Nerf guns shaped like real firearms and rugged bikes in shades of bright green and red, like the Huffy Green Machine 20X (although the full description of this item calls it a "20 inch boys' extreme machine"). The Hottest Gifts for Boys list includes kitchen play sets, jewelry making kits, and a dollhouse.

Don't think I'm jumping up and down for Wal-Mart, however. Shortly after the Supreme Court responded to proof of systematic sex discrimination against women associates in pay and promotion with an opinion declaring the retailer "too big to sue" using class-action status, Wal-Mart unveiled a Global Women's Economic Empowerment Initiative that is an insulting façade of progress toward equality for women. I'm curious to know whether the Nerf guns for girls and dollhouses for boys is part of this "look, now we're so women-friendly" tactic.

I'd like to see toy companies and reviewers let kids and parents decide for themselves which toys they prefer, rather than dividing them into "just for girls" and "just for boys." It's acceptable for someone to point out that one gender tended to prefer a particular toy, but no one should limit a child's options by saying that a toy is absolutely not for them. Being a kid was fun because we could play however we wanted and make anything we imagined become real, so let's stop limiting the next generation's choices and imaginations.

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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
I've seen many stores & catalogs with girls & boys toy sections but never any that said just for boys/girls-Wow!
12/13/11 @ 18:31
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
Thank You for this article,I am so sick of the stereotypes,I'm a boy & i for one loved playing house when i was little.
12/13/11 @ 18:33
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Comment from: cabaret voltaire [Visitor]
I understand feminists want to homogenize the genders but is this really a big deal? What do you expect, a society where men and women are indistinguishable from one another? I see it this way, if you want to live your life that way fine, but you can't expect to socially engineer everyone else to do the same. Its a form of social communism.
12/14/11 @ 13:34
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
@ cabaret: I think the point is that it seems to shame kids if they want to play with toys that don't match up to society's standards,& that this particular one said "Just for boys & Just for girls",-Rather than simply having toys anyone can use or even simply stating boys or girls-That's why but i see what you're going at.
12/14/11 @ 17:20
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Comment from: dawnm [Member] Email
Oddly, a few years ago I contacted NOW about this exact problem. I was shopping at a Toys R Us for my niece and saw boys and girls toys and couldn't believe some of the stereotypes. One of the baby dolls said on the box "be just like mommy and take care of your baby". Then there is the Rose Petal Cottage which takes gender stereotypes to extremes. I want to be a mother but also want to work full time, and most women I know do, yet the toys companies still think this is the 1950's.
12/19/11 @ 17:41
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Comment from: amy.sunono [Member] Email
It seems at least some members of the next generation agree with you and aren't willing to let their imaginations be limited without a fight: http://jezebel.com/5871009/video-of-little-girl-getting-pissed-off-at-gender+specific-toy-colors-will-make-your-heart-swell
12/26/11 @ 19:53
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
HAHA amy i saw that to!-You go girl!
12/26/11 @ 23:46
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Comment from: mellodee [Member] Email
I was very much a little girl growing up. I loved barbies, reading fairy tales and playing house. However, I also loved big trucks, hot wheels, climbing trees, racing crawdads in the creek and catching snakes.I was allowed to play with both any way I chose. Today I am the same, I love being a woman, but I love fast cars, and nature too. I am not saying everyone should be the same as one suggested but I do get thoroughly disgusted with the toy isles. All through Christmas shopping for our Organization, as well as my own family members I noticed all of the vacuum cleaners, stoves, microwaves, broom sets, strollers, shopping carts, and yes all the pink on everything. It makes me sad. The boys however, had erector sets, explore toys, building blocks, cars, bikes(of almost every color), and their own dolls, ie "action figures" Excluding video games, the toy department is highly stereotypical. No wonder our girls do not understand math and science as well. From birth boys are presented with toys and objects to help build their thinking, exploration and creative skills..Girls are presented with how to clean, cook and prepare for baby. It is wrong and until it changes our girls will still be at a disadvantage. When my daughter was little, 15 years ago, she used to beg for a red girls bike. NEVER found one and although she is 19, I still catch myself looking. Maybe, when parents stop buying into the stereotypes as well the retailers will wake up. Until then...This is what we have.
01/12/12 @ 17:18
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Comment from: maxxum [Visitor]
Billions of dollars are spent by company's to learn who likes what and what sells to whom. Study after study has shown that certain things attract/hold the attention of each sex. Saying that it's sexist is going a little far when the vast majority of kids voluntarily choose what's in 'their' aisle. That said, I keep hearing people say, "When I was a kid I choose (enter opposite gender) toys." Well, it's the same today. Some kids still choose what they want and most parents let them. There will always be the fringe elements, but few if any are being discriminatory. I've yet to see an ad that said, "Boy's only" or "Girl's Only". They simply consolidate according to marketing. The mighty dollar and scientific study have created these categories, not bigotry.
01/16/12 @ 18:11
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
maxxum: I see what you're saying but this catalog in the article actually did say "Just for boys" & "Just for girls", & Miss Heller did say it's fine to point out that one gender tended to prefer a certain toy but that this catalog was limiting what a child could & couldn't play by using social pressure. So your criticism of this article is unfounded.
01/17/12 @ 18:37
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Comment from: maxxum [Visitor]
Like I've said, I've never seen the wording "Just for boys" or "Just for girls" ad's, at least in toy sections. So, there should be no products aimed at either gender/sex? There are biological products aimed at the different sexes (that would prove to be little or no use to the other). Therefore, logically, there would be social differences too, right? Social mechanics play a great role in every culture and they usually occur over decades if not century's. From birth, boys and girls view and interact with the world differently in may key ways. From color choices to social interaction, these things can and have been found to manifest from birth. Some are as simple as mechanisms that genetics has provided to ensure the survival of our species. Even the pitch of women's voices scientist say probably payed a role in the survival of some women over others.

It is one thing to say that these differences are genetic and a wholly different one to say you want to change them. You just may be fighting a loosing battle. Genetics do not give up nor do they play nice.
01/26/12 @ 15:08
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
This article wasn't actually about a toy aisle but a catalog, No one was saying you can't have toys or toy sections geared at a certain gender but rather that this catalog said "JUST FOR BOYS & JUST FOR GIRLS" -It wasn't saying anything about not gearing toys to a certain gender.
01/27/12 @ 15:24
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
I rarely agree with NOW but i do here.
03/18/12 @ 21:50
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
*I rarely agree with NOW or feminists but i do here.
04/01/12 @ 13:50
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