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Beware the pink aisle
December 16, 2008 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Do girls toys and boys toys lead to a gender gap?
posted by Artw (134 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
All the girls in my family grew up with lego. They seem fine.
posted by rokusan at 3:46 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The first slide shows the "Regal Tea Cafe" under "Boys." I know it's the UK, but .... that doesn't seem particularly gendered.
posted by desjardins at 3:50 PM on December 16, 2008


You mean the male-dominated world of Lego?

I'd also question that girls are seldom introduced to the delights of Thomas the Tank Engine and his chuffing friends, since my daughter is obsessed with it and has regular fights with other children (boys and girls) at the Thomas Table at the local Barnes and Noble.

Of course she's two - no doubt when she's her cousins age (five) she too will become obsessed with pricessy crap. I'll try to enjoy the intervening years.
posted by Artw at 3:50 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Instructions for use were often technical, requiring boys to draw on their literacy skills, and provided knowledge and activities around construction and technology.

Oh come on, like a 4 year old boy is going to read the damned instructions.
posted by desjardins at 3:52 PM on December 16, 2008


What's a "gender gap" .. last I checked (and I admit, it's been a while) there is a difference between genders.
posted by stbalbach at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2008


Girls are seldom introduced to the delights of Thomas the Tank Engine and his chuffing friends.

You know what? I'm fine with that.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had a lot of Star Wars toys and Transformers as a child, and I will admit that I never let my younger sister play with them. I'm ashamed to say that I may be directly responsible for the fact that she didn't grow up to be a Jedi or a robot that turns into a dinosaur.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2008 [21 favorites]


Have you seen the Ouija Board for girls? It's practically Chess for Girls
posted by jfrancis at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


As the father of a six-year-old, I'm convinced that boys are attracted to different kinds of toys than are girls. My sisters played with Lego, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:58 PM on December 16, 2008


Since women are clearly succeeding more frequently then men throughout our education system shouldn't this post be titled "Beware the Blue Aisle"?
posted by Jezztek at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2008


Thank god my parents never bought into gender-based marketing baloney. The first Christmas I really remember (I was three) I got a Hot Wheels Big O Race Track. The only girl stuff my sister and I ever had were hand-me down Barbies that we never played with because they were way too tall for Captain Kirk and Spock or the Tonka Ambulance.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2008


Though come to think of it, I did always want an Easy-Bake oven. My Mom would just tell me "you can just use the real oven!", which was not nearly as cool as the thought of baking cakes in my bedroom.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:06 PM on December 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


We have avoided all "girly" toys with the exception of a few dolls for my daughter. Her ambition in life is to "invent cars" and become a physicist. Their thesis may be correct.
posted by GuyZero at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2008


Since women are clearly succeeding more frequently then men throughout our education system shouldn't this post be titled "Beware the Blue Aisle"?

That's a fair point, though there isn't really a male equivalent of the radioactively glowing barbie aisle.
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2008


I went to a talk by Sally Ride when she first launched this company. Part of the purpose of the company is to capitalize on girls' interest in science (including sciency toys).

Someone asked if the company would be non-profit. She said that she was always a little bothered when people asked that; is it really impossible that a company could make *money* off of selling science to girls?

This was 6 or 7 years ago. Company's still around so I'm going to guess it's at least a little profitable.

Yes, stlbalbach, clearly there is a difference between genders. But in this case, one can question how much of that difference is innate, vs. learned, and here, it might be somewhat learned by what toys each gender plays with.

Anyone ever gives a daughter of mine a doll, and I'm teaching them to play french revolution, just like my mother did with me. (Damn Barbies' heads keep falling off. What else were we to do?) Legos all the way -- my sister and I may have played house with our legos, but I still learned about construction and ratios and etc.
posted by nat at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.
posted by Hargrimm at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


My parents wouldn't let me have toy guns, but they did eventually give in and let my sister have a Barbie. Turns out that if you bend Barbie's legs just right, she assumes the shape of a gun. That's right, Barbie was the first Transformer (More than meets the eye shoots your eye out)!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


See, I'm going the opposite way. When I have a son, I'm going to get him nothing but girls' toys and then see what happens.

I plan to hate my son, you see...
posted by Navelgazer at 4:16 PM on December 16, 2008


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.

My 2.5 year-old son has a baby doll, with a pink diaper, that he likes to push around in his old pram.

He is also completely obsessed with racing cars, robots, dinosaurs and sharks, though.

We'll wait and see how things develop.
posted by Jimbob at 4:16 PM on December 16, 2008


I have to admit I’ve lucked out there, since I can pretend to be all political correct AND get her the toys I think are coolest.

A friends two year old boy plays with a cookery set a lot, but I think that;s steadily becoming less gendered.
posted by Artw at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2008


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.

Clearly, you've never seen the atrocities that little girls are capable of visiting upon brothers who touch their possessions.

Even if I was interested in playing with my sister's dolls, it wasn't worth my life.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:21 PM on December 16, 2008


Anyone ever gives a daughter of mine a doll, and I'm teaching them to play french revolution

What's wrong with playing with dolls? Yeah, I know about Barbies and all that and dearly hope nobody gives my kids Disney princess crap for Christmas, but dolls in general? I'm fine with them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:21 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the one "girly" toy I enjoyed playing with when I was younger were plastic models of food and little cans of cola etc
posted by KokuRyu at 4:21 PM on December 16, 2008


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.

My son, for all his love of lego, basically treats minifigs like dolls. Building spaceships for Commander Cody is not really that far off from playing dress-up.

He sleeps with a big stuffed Totoro. The daughter sleeps with a stuffed globe. I have no idea what this means in terms of gender bias.

My son bawled at the end of "The Iron Giant". In fairness, so did I.

actually I'm getting choked up right now just thinking about it...
posted by GuyZero at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2008


Hargrimm: "Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse."

I have an excellent photo of my son dressing up in my daughter's pirate girl costume.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2008


I'm afraid that I was a fairly stereotypical girly girl in some ways despite my mother's best efforts. I begged her to get me Barbies but she never would, though I still had a few since people gave them to me on birthdays. I had a paper doll set that I loved with a carefully maintained set of clothes that I stuck on using silly putty.
I also had an Erector set that I don't remember using very seriously but I did love my chemistry set. I also spent a ton of time on my computer playing games -- usually "educational" ones. I also loved cooking and started doing little experiments with cooking and baking pretty early on.
In the end though I did major in sciencey stuff and am now doing a PhD that requires a lot of programming, so I don't know if you can correlate liking dolls and "girly" things with a lack of interest in math or science. I feel that parents should just communicate that nothing is out of bounds and that there is no such thing as a girl toy or a boy toy. Of course, they might have to compensate with gifts of toys that are traditionally considered appropriate to the other gender since the kid will receive lots of gendered toys of course.
posted by peacheater at 4:24 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.
My little cousin, who's four years younger than me, liked nothing more than to be dressed up in girl toys, with makeup and jewellery and nail polish. He looked really cute too.
posted by peacheater at 4:25 PM on December 16, 2008


So... because boys are falling behind in school now, this will be addressed in ways that acknowledge the role patterns of early play may have in putting girls ahead, right?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:25 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting - so far, 6 accounts of girls playing with 'boy' toys, but none of the reverse.

I lusted after Barbie's car, RV and house so my Six Million Ddollar Man dolls action figures could use them. The Easy Bake Oven was cool, 'cause you could make food with it. Otherwise girl toys were boring.*

I think this outlook is due to genetics and society. For most of western civilization the sexes have had strict roles due to the physical differences (man stronger, go hunt/build, women cook/clean). It's only in the last 20-40 years that these roles have really changed and challenged.

* Barbie did get interesting once I realized what sex was. Who knew her, ken and her girlfriends were so freaky?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 PM on December 16, 2008


I'm kind of curious as to how the Easy Bake Oven isn't considered a massive fire hazard.
posted by Artw at 4:35 PM on December 16, 2008


Damn, you know I am just astounded to be wrong on that point. Astounded, I say.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:37 PM on December 16, 2008


JeongMee Yoon's Pink and Blue Project.
posted by piratebowling at 4:42 PM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist, I'll find your snark valid when men's salaries don't outpace women's (of course subtracting for outside factors such as time off for kids).

(Although c. job data from this Ask question)
posted by nat at 4:55 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think sometimes it's taken for granted that gendered toy preference is entirely socially determined. I had thought this was always the case as well, up until taking a course in Behavioral Endocrinology. One interesting study: Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates
Sex differences in children’s toy preferences are thought by many to arise from gender socialization. However, evidence from patients with endocrine disorders suggests that biological factors during early development (e.g., levels of androgens) are influential. In this study, we found that vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children. The percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by boys (a car and a ball) was greater in male vervets (n = 33) than in female vervets (n = 30) ( P < .05), whereas the percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by girls (a doll and a pot) was greater in female vervets than in male vervets ( P < .01). In contrast, contact time with toys preferred equally by boys and girls (a picture book and a stuffed dog) was comparable in male and female vervets. The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.
posted by Frankieist at 4:57 PM on December 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


Artw: the easy bake oven is not a fire hazard because it's just a 100 watt light bulb in a box.
posted by aubilenon at 4:57 PM on December 16, 2008


I'll find your snark valid when men's salaries don't outpace women's (of course subtracting for outside factors such as time off for kids).

Because early childhood learning is more likely causative of salary than say, prejudice than early childhood learning to school performance? Real winning argument there. Glad you're in this for the kids.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2008


Wha - ?
posted by Artw at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2008


See, I'm going the opposite way. When I have a son, I'm going to get him nothing but girls' toys and then see what happens.

I plan to hate my son, you see...


Better to for your son to hate you.
posted by dersins at 5:02 PM on December 16, 2008


Ah forget it. I'm not looking for a fight. But the prediction did come before reading the article.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:03 PM on December 16, 2008


Artw: the easy bake oven is not a fire hazard because it's just a 100 watt light bulb in a box.

On the other hand...

...she had a burn.
posted by dersins at 5:04 PM on December 16, 2008


No.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:05 PM on December 16, 2008


Durn- Sorry, I'm slightly confused by your sentence. Would you mind restating it so I can respond?

(I'm also not quite sure where you got the comment that I'm in this for the kids- I never said so, and the sarcastic reply is pretty unnecessary.)

Frankieist-- interesting article! thanks for sharing. I'm not sure that says we should assume all gender prefs in toys are society-independent though.
posted by nat at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2008


Durn Bronzefist - Well, you do kind of raise some interesting issues, albiet in a footstomping sulky way. But I don't buy that better school performance automatically overides gender roles learned in early childhood when considering the question of why girls can fall behind later in life.
posted by Artw at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2008


Male-dominated World of Lego? If anything, that's the androgynous-dominated World of Lego. Most of the mini-figs do not have distinguishing characteristics of gender. Why is it assumed that the standard mini-fig, with the dot-eyes and simple smile, is a man?

They're also really stretching by including Warhammer, which is a hobby, not a toy, and is generally for teens up through adults. I've known plenty of women who played Warhammer. Not as many as the guys, of course, but it's not as exclusively boys-only as toys like Barbie.
posted by explosion at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2008


I went into Toys R Us last week for the first time in years and years as part of a giving tree thing for work, and I swear it seems way more gendered than I remembered. The "pink" aisle especially hurts my eyes; WTF is up with that?

(Growing up in the late 70s/early 80s, I made Lego cities with my sisters, had a soap-opera narrative for the occupants of a dollhouse built by my grandfather, and created epic adventures for my (Ken-less) Barbies and their model horses.)
posted by epersonae at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2008


That's clearly some kind of Tyrannid spawned bio-filth and not "toy soldiers", as well.
posted by Artw at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2008


Oh, and for the giving tree, I bought a little box of duplo (toddler lego) for a 3-year-old boy.

explosion: why is the standard minifig a guy? Boy hair. (We used to take off the hair entirely and pretend that the dot on the top of the head was a blond bun.) And it seems to me like the minifigs have gotten more explicitly gendered over the years, as they add facial detail and more elaborate hair.
posted by epersonae at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2008


"Lego produces a range for girls, called Belville, with sets containing themes such as "horse jumping" and "royal summer palace", as well as offering much to interest them in its unisex range"

Don't get me started about that Belville crap, either.
posted by epersonae at 5:21 PM on December 16, 2008


I think this was discussed previously on MeFi but I don't know where, so I'll relink: This article talks about gender gap specifically in math tests, as relates to a society's overall genderedness.

From the article: "On average, U.S. girls score almost 10 points lower than U.S. boys in mathematics, which is around the average for all countries analyzed in the study."

Even with as many gains as girls have made in educational prowess, their math scores in the U.S. (and other countries, see article for details) still don't equal those of boys.
posted by nat at 5:23 PM on December 16, 2008


"Boy hair"? Oh please. Some of them have longer hair, some of them have facial hair or stubble. The rest of them have ambiguous short hair or hats/helmets. Yeah, maybe the hair's a bit Blagojavich on a few of them, but that's not the majority. The majority of mini-figs have space helmets, knight's helms, pirate hats, or construction helmets. That's the world of Lego, a world where everyone's too busy being awesome and having an adventure to care what's in their non-removable pants.
posted by explosion at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


Oh, and of course Belville is crap, but just because they make Barbie-fied Legos doesn't mean that main-line Legos aren't gender-neutral.
posted by explosion at 5:29 PM on December 16, 2008


But the thing is, explosion, that we don't tend to associate space helmets and construction helmets and knights' helms and pirate hates with the epitome of female empowerment, either. The basic premise of our "assumption of male" is that girls don't really get to be anything cool, so when we see the world of awesome Lego people, they must be guys.
posted by Phire at 5:57 PM on December 16, 2008


Frankieist, the thing I've always wondered about that study is, how does a monkey know what a pot is, thus recognizing that it is a "female" thing to play with? I have a really hard time believing that there is anything about a pot that is inherently "sexually dimorphic" -- it's not all that different from other basic tools that you could easily say are "male" things to play with.
posted by olinerd at 6:04 PM on December 16, 2008


I was never into barbies -- it was Lego, toy cars, and toy soliders all the way, although my favorite toy was an 8-track "robot" called 2 XL.

Ah, all those '80's memories...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:13 PM on December 16, 2008


On average, from the moment of birth, girls are held more often than boys. The different genders are described and viewed differently by their parents immediately. These subtle, pervasive influences may have more powerful effects than the toys that a kid plays with.
posted by Jpfed at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lego isn't gendered - the space packages were black and blue (the "boy" colours), but the rest are very neutral (reds, yellows, greens, some blue, no pink).

Nor are Thomas the Tank Engine - I feel like those are gender neutral little kids' toys.
posted by jb at 6:49 PM on December 16, 2008


> As the father of a six-year-old, I'm convinced that boys are attracted to different kinds of toys than are girls. My sisters played with Lego, though.

No kids but we have nieces and a nephew.

As part of a grand social experiment, I bought my first niece a big-ass yellow Tonka dumptruck for Christmas when she was two. I wasn't there on Christmas day, but I'm told it was unwrapped and she looked at once and said "...That's a boys toy". Thus endeth the experiment.

(My niece is now an HR specialist at at a big oil company, so she wasn't horribly scarred by the experience)

Also, Lego is androgynous. As kids, our Lego stash was essentially communal and all of us (2 boyz and a grrl) would play with it, occasionally together even.

Damn, I wanna go play with something now...
posted by Artful Codger at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2008


I was also a Lego kid and often played with my brother building things. In a way the figures were like dolls - you would set them up to have conversations with eachother and do things.

My bro also was obsessed with Star Wars figurines for ages as well - and he had this odd doll called Johnny Strong (pic) which was all stretchy, but was just the right size for dropping in on Barbie and helping her feed the horses...

Actually now I think about it we just played together with whatever took our fancy at the time regardless of whether it was his toys or mine.
posted by gomichild at 6:58 PM on December 16, 2008


ellen spertus wrote her "why are there so few female computer scientists" paper back in 1991, but i do feel compelled to point out the section on toys which includes some interesting bits.
Jaron Lanier, head of VPL, gave a talk at UIST in 1989 about his experience productizing the data glove for Nintendo games....[H]e said that [the] toy manufacturer was very strictly divided from the very highest levels into the girl's toy division and the boy's toy division. He strongly resisted the glove from becoming either a girls' toy or a boys' toy, but he lost. He said that they immediately categorized it as a boys' toy and put all kinds of black Darth-Vader-ish, sports-car-like paraphernalia all over it to make it appeal to boys. He also said, had it been categorized as a girl's toy, it probably would have been pink and frilly. </blockquote
posted by rmd1023 at 7:14 PM on December 16, 2008


Oh man. Where to start.

jb: Thomas is a boy. The VAST majority of Thomas characters: boys! One or two "girl" engines (the Princess Leia/Wonder Woman/Token Woman approach strikes again). That pretty much codes it "boy stuff." No pink boy engines or even purple. The few human characters that have speaking roles? Overwhelmingly male.

Once you develop a separate "girl's area" by definition, you have marked everything else "boys." Otherwise, why separate them at all? Why not have, say, dolls and "action figures" (ie: dolls) on the same floor, arts and crafts with models and hobbies (what is beading or sewing or drawing if not a hobby?) etc. etc.? Why, in fact, this Taliban-like Zone of Exclusion approach to things like Big Wheels, which come in "regular" (boy) and "Girl"? Implying that Girl is "exception" "not normal" "not regular." The message ends up being "Girls: they're almost like regular human beings, but, you know, different!"

If girls only play with the "girl" stuff they are severely limited to mommy play, caretaking play, and grooming play (plus acceptable decorative sparkly arts stuff); sure, they can go beyond, but as a girl, I can tell you that you definitely be made to feel weird if you play with "boy toys." And girl versions of previously non gendered stuff like Big Wheels are not only pink, but also have feathers, sparkles, princesses, ponies or fairies on them, too, just in case you didn't get the message. Wheras most boy toys simply have strong primary colors, and that's enough to mark them ok for boys.

And worse, how many boys are fine with pink toys? Once they are around other boys who know their gender codes and will make fun of them? Nearly none. Because they know girl=other, and it's *bad* to play with girl toys. Because being a girl? Bad. Acting like a girl? Bad. Liking girl things? Also bad. Girls, by definition? Not something you'd want to be mistaken for!

The sexism in this setup could not be more obvious. Manufacturers, toy stores, and parents all point at each other; but I think it boils down to serious homophobia as much as simple sexism. Many parents are terrified they will turn their kid gay if they don't code everything at the start--ridiculously stereotyped toys soothe that fear. And also, reassure those who see your kid playing with them that you aren't "failing" by not instilling those roles properly.

It pervades the toy aisle, kid's clothes (which seldom come in "neutral" anymore), kids TV shows and movies, and pink segregation is creeping into the lives of grown women too, goddamn it; seen any chick lit book covers lately? It's disgusting.

Good article on the lack of female characters in most kids shows here: Where are All the Girl Ninjas?
posted by emjaybee at 7:18 PM on December 16, 2008 [27 favorites]


I was pretty damned non-gendered in my toy choices growing up. I played with Lego (some mildly girly, although the castle set was my fave) and matchbox cars but also Barbies and baby dolls. Weirdly, my favorite dolls were male--My Buddy and my Todd doll. I was obsessed with ninja turtles and knights.

But damned if I didn't blurt out to my friend's four year old daughter a few weeks ago that she might not be interested in my Ninja turtle figurines because they were "boys' toys." Of course, I quickly winced and back-pedaled, but that stuff is incredibly ingrained, even in the most feminist among us.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 PM on December 16, 2008


Oh, and for those of you who say the Lego world is one dominated by men, this is the minifig head that I used to represent me in my ten-year-old castle adventures. Little girls don't wear lipstick, and a generic human face is a perfectly acceptable avatar.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:26 PM on December 16, 2008


I totally believe this. Saturday my wife and I were at a friend's young daughter's birthday party at a pizza place. It was present after present of what can best be described as the "Disney princess crap" mentioned above.

My pet theory is in today's hyperprotective, stay-inside too-many-pervs-in-the-neighborhood society, kids are now leashed to the TV and DVD player on a scale that we never saw in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately for them, the marketing people behind the scenes have have their trade down to an exact science, and that's where the gender gaps are rooted. Heck, go into Toys-R-Us... huge chunks of the aisle are themed after movies and shows.
posted by crapmatic at 7:33 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this. It's amazing how much of these gender associations are wholly socially constructed. Legos were my favorite toy as a kid (I'm a female). Hell, they're still my favorite toy as an adult, I can't lie. I never liked the color pink as a kid. Never have. Still don't. I own nothing that is pink. (I'm partial to red, though). Yet, I loved my barbies and would spend hours playing with their hair. So much so, that I used a real curling iron to try to curl my barbie's hair (i don't know why, she'd just have one big mono-curl), and left the iron for a while. then i learned that barbie heads aren't like human heads, and they will become melty.

Anyway. There are a shitload of things I would change from the way my parents raised us, should I ever have a kids. But I'm very, very grateful that they didn't shove this gendered toy BS on us.

Transformers too. I loved transformers. The green ones that turned from trucks into robots? AWESOME. Not as awesome as legos though
posted by raztaj at 7:33 PM on December 16, 2008


I call all the Lego people "she" and "her" when I'm playing with my kids, except for the ones (Lego people, that is, not my children) who have stubble. I also call all the characters in Richard Scarry books "she" and "her" unless they're explicitly male. Oh, and dinosaurs, I say they're female too. I'm overcompensating, but I can live with that.

I don't wear makeup, often have short hair, usually wear pants, and am female. I'm fine claiming the ambiguous Lego characters.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:39 PM on December 16, 2008


I wasn't allowed to have Barbies. Long term effects - I have no idea how to accessorize, and I still want a fucking Barbie.

This was my son's favorite costume when he was 2 (he's the one in the pink). He begged for the dress at our local toy store, where I became known as "the mom who bought her son the pink dress" (said in admiration - that store kicks ass). He had a glittery star wand, just like Glinda, who was the inspiration for the dress. One day, he pointed it at me and said "Bang! I shooted you!" He didn't wear the dress so much after that (although he did later switch over to the dark side). So in our case, our inadvertent gender-neutral experiment only went so far before the "anything can be a gun" impulse kicked in.
posted by bibliowench at 7:43 PM on December 16, 2008


Where are All the Girl Ninjas?

I don't know where the girl ninjas are, but for what it's worth, there's a series of games where all the characters are magically-embued badass fighters, dozens of them from players to bosses, and every single one is female.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:45 PM on December 16, 2008


jb: Thomas is a boy. The VAST majority of Thomas characters: boys! One or two "girl" engines (the Princess Leia/Wonder Woman/Token Woman approach strikes again).

The intense shitness of the girl engines is a matter of constant annoyance to my wife. There's Daisy, who's got makeup and won't pull anything. Then there's Rosie, who is too weak to pull anything except, as we are shown in one of those little educational segments made up of clips, trucks full of inflated balloons. Helium balloons it looks like - so she can only push cargos that weigh less than then air they displace.

Emily is cool I guess. And Mavis.

Oh, and the carriages...
posted by Artw at 7:45 PM on December 16, 2008


crapmatic: "My pet theory is in today's hyperprotective, stay-inside too-many-pervs-in-the-neighborhood society, kids are now leashed to the TV and DVD player on a scale that we never saw in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately for them, the marketing people behind the scenes have have their trade down to an exact science, and that's where the gender gaps are rooted."

It's not just overprotective parents and pervs-etc. Ronald Reagan allowed deregulation of advertising during children's TV shows, and today's kids are marketed to much more than we were when we relaxed with Lidsville and a Goober sandwich.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:46 PM on December 16, 2008


On the lack of female programmers, there seems to be some law that the male to female ratio of design, QA and project managers is always the inverse of the male to female developers. What that says about anything I can't say.
posted by Artw at 7:50 PM on December 16, 2008


I always thought I grew up fairly non-gendered, at least at home. My parents were/are very progressive, and I was encouraged to express my gender how I pleased for the most part. I have all these vivid memories of playing with legos, playmobile, sticks, trains, etc.

Then this past Thanksgiving, my younger brother told me he was writing a paper about gender socialization for a class and wanted to talk about memories from childhood. We always played with "boy" toys together, I told him. "No", he said, "I always let you play with my legos, my video games, my trains. You were into them and we played together, but those toys were always mine." That never even occurred to me until about a month ago.

I still feel like I missed a huge chunk of socialization by never being actively encouraged to try most "boy" things. And now, when I hang out with lots of dudes, there are a lot of things I don't even try to participate in because I feel like I can't keep up, like I'm so far behind that it would be embarrassing to try to make up lost time now.
posted by lunit at 7:57 PM on December 16, 2008


That's clearly some kind of Tyrannid spawned bio-filth and not "toy soldiers", as well.

Looking closer I see little swords and some kind of medieval bazzoka thing, so I'm clearly wrong on that.

Tyranids are awesome though.
posted by Artw at 8:19 PM on December 16, 2008


Thomas and the other engines weren't boys - they were (middle-aged British) trains. You don't ever imagine yourself as a train, or maybe growing up to be a train. They are like a kind of animal or a robot - not human, so not gendered in the same way.

I've complained a lot in my life about a lack of or sucky female characters - Star Trek: the Next Generation being the biggest disapointment. But seriously, the trains aren't gendered - certainly not when you are playing with them. They are trains. Just like I kind of minded that Mowgli was a boy, but didn't care about the bear or the panther, I wouldn't have cared about the trains.
posted by jb at 8:30 PM on December 16, 2008


Well, Thomas is from the 1950s, so it;s allowed to be a bit stuffy and out of touch. FWIW it very much is a boy propertie as far as the makers of the toys and merchandise are concerned: It's all boys clothes, and in the catelogue the kids are all boys.

Not that my daughter gives a shit, because she's two. I do wonder if she'll be pushed out of liking Thomas when she's older by peer pressure and marketing, but right now she's blissfully unaware of all of that.
posted by Artw at 8:46 PM on December 16, 2008


Oh, and on girl trains again, WTF is Lady supposed to be? In calling all engines she seems to be some kind of supernatural lady-of-thelake type figure, and then in one of the books (I forget it's name, but it was irredemably stupid) she was the source of the magic gold dust that gave the train conductor his magic powers. I mean, seriously, what the fuck?
posted by Artw at 8:49 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just like I kind of minded that Mowgli was a boy, but didn't care about the bear or the panther, I wouldn't have cared about the trains.
That's funny, I thought of Baloo as male, Sher Khan as male and Bagheera as female. Probably because of the names -- they're pretty close to some Indian names that are gendered in my head (I'm India). Also my poor parents -- they put up this huge wallpaper in my room but I was the worst scaredy cat ever -- refused to have the book read to me or watch the movie. I was fine with sleeping with all those animals around me though.
posted by peacheater at 8:51 PM on December 16, 2008


I mentioned in a previous thread discussion about this how my sons loved 'helping' Doris the Explorer and her monkey Boots solve her problems...until...we walked into a Toys R'Us, and all the Doris the Explorer stuff was in the very pink section.

They got the message loud and clear.

It is even worse now. They pink section was definitely the girls section, but the boys section wasn't really colored. Now they have a big sign that says "Boys". Not the least subtlety.

At least the Legos are off in their own non-descript Legos and other blocks section.

And Hargrimm you are right. There's definitely a taboo, even among Mefites, for talking about boys playing with 'girls' toys.
posted by eye of newt at 8:54 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lady, most awful Thomas character ever
posted by Artw at 8:55 PM on December 16, 2008


My toddler boy plays with big sis' cooking set. He basically just uses it to make noise, though, so we'll see how that pans (hah!) out.

We've bought all the non-pink clothes we could find for his big sister; did not make a dent in her now largely pink-and-red wardrobe.
posted by Harald74 at 9:53 PM on December 16, 2008


I was working at Lego when Clikits (apparently now defunct) appeared on the scene for girls. This was when Bionicle was pretty popular among young boys, but girls got Clikits.

Trust me, parents were not too happy. These were parents who, like many Mefites, grew up using Lego bricks without gender, and for them to see very gendered products emerge in the 21st century, they often said it felt like something of a setback. Or, they simply asked to see Belville instead and looked annoyed when there weren't more new things for Belville (and Belville itself is pretty gendered).

It'll be interesting to see what direction Lego takes its new product lines, but more stuff directed at girls? A definite possibility, I would guess (note: I am no longer affiliated with them in any way).
posted by librarylis at 10:03 PM on December 16, 2008


Count me as one of the boys who wanted an easy bake oven. However, it was mostly so I could control my own source of candy, the economic foundation of the 6-12 demographic.
posted by tehloki at 10:04 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This was when Bionicle was pretty popular among young boys, but girls got Clikits.

Wow. Those are fucking horrible.

Bionicles are an abomination, of course.
posted by Artw at 10:28 PM on December 16, 2008


Merh. I feel pretty impassioned about childhood gendering and consumerism, but for now, merh. Here's a picture from my local drug store. There is no other aisle with toys.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:41 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did I really say Doris the Explorer? One Daddy Demerit for me!
posted by eye of newt at 11:41 PM on December 16, 2008


as a girl, I can tell you that you definitely be made to feel weird if you play with "boy toys."

I used to take the camo jumpsuits off of my brother's GI Joes ( the cool 'ol big ones) and put them on my Barbies - I would then take them out to the sandbox where I had concrete bricks set up as houses and pretended that they belonged to the PLO. (so sue me, it was the 70s)

I never liked Legos, because anything you built with them looked like they were built with little plastic bricks - I hated the colors and the little blocky "people." Give me Lincoln logs or, my personal favorite, Tinkertoys any day. We only used our Erector set (boys and girl) to make throwing stars that we used to destroy the fiberboard paneling in our bedrooms.

Girls do whatever they want - it's the parents/significant adults that put the kibosh on their play. I got so much shit for liking Tonkas that, if they weren't so damn cool, I would have given them up. Luckily for me, I never had that much respect for authority, and always loved that awesome Tonka yellow.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:31 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've come to the conclusion that parents and schools should not try to regulate children's choices of toy. either towards or away from traditional patterns. The kids should ideally be given access to the widest possible choice and left to sort it out for themselves without anyone worrying unduly about the result.

I'd go slightly further and say that no-one can actually determine what value or significance a particular toy may have for a particular child. Barbies and guns are powerful symbols, but not simple or unambiguous ones.

So long as they're physically safe, the only bad toys are dull ones.
posted by Phanx at 2:19 AM on December 17, 2008


No.
posted by surlycat at 3:44 AM on December 17, 2008


My son, for all his love of lego, basically treats minifigs like dolls.

Yeah it sucked at first but I realised I look pretty good in a dress so it's all good.
posted by minifigs at 4:15 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I had older brother and sister, so inherited toys. My favourites were Lego, the electronics sets and a short-wave radio. I didn't like Barbies - they were blonde and boring and for girls that brushed each other's hair in assembly, but Polly Pocket and Sylvanian Families were OK. My nephew, on the other hand, had a baby doll called Baldy Baby which went everywhere with him.

As an adult, though,t he weird thing is I like Blythes. I have them mainly for photography, but perhaps they appeal because dolls were quite boring when I was small and these are a bit quirky and sulky and weird-looking - maybe this is why they dropped out of production.
posted by mippy at 5:42 AM on December 17, 2008


I actually had an EZ Bake Oven of some sort. My parents treated me like a child rather than the ethos today of treating children like complete morons requiring protection from everything, though, so by the time I was 6 or 7 I moved up to a Real Oven.

I was also allowed to go outside, ranging indeed for miles, with naught for protection but simple instructions to GTFO, then scream, then fight, if a wild pedobear appeared, which of course never happened.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:39 AM on December 17, 2008


"Do girls toys and boys toys lead to a gender gap?"

Pretty sure you got that backwards.

I was my office's Toys for Tots shopper one year awhile back, and I was almost completely unable to find gender neutral toys. I didn't think playing cards or board games would be appropriate (no idea who the toy was going to and how many siblings or whatnot they'd have). I finally settled on some very basic Lego sets. I hope whoever got them didn't end up with the gay because of me, heaven forbid!
posted by Eideteker at 6:42 AM on December 17, 2008


Thomas and the other engines weren't boys - they were (middle-aged British) trains.

With male names. Dude. They're boys. So is Donald Duck, even though he bears no other "male" characteristics. In toys and cartoons, gender is pretty much designated by name, because you can't put human gender characteristics on a train or a duck without it looking really wrong. Anthropomorphization is weird like that.
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Emily is cool I guess. And Mavis.

Emily isn't just cool. She's the coolest train on the line, based on a really cool steam train.

Considering that most of the original Thomas stories were written between the 50s and 80s, it's actually kind of surprising how many female characters there are. Though at first, the trains started out mainly as male with the named cars being female.

The Thomas stories (to me at least) are interesting too, in that often the moral of the stories are along the lines of "You're not a unique snow flake," "Quit whining", "Sometimes you've got to do shit you don't want to do, so suck it up." (In the classic Suck it up, Percy)...

The absolute whimpiest trains, in terms of size and ability would be the small gauge trains of the Arlesdale line, which only has one female engine.
posted by drezdn at 7:21 AM on December 17, 2008


I always felt like there were girls' toys (my Barbies, ponies, dolls, make-up, and pink junk), boys' toys (my older brother's G.I. Joe's, comic book heroes, He-Man, and Star Wars stuff) and our toys (blocks, legos, cars, games, and science-y stuff). I hated my brother's stuff and never wanted to play with it, unless there was a chick I could "be." I don't think my parents set that dynamic though. I think I was just defining myself in relation to my brother. When I discovered that my Jem doll's pink high heels fit on the feet of some weird off-brand G.I. Joe knock-off he owned, I teased JP mercilessly with the cross-dressing soldier.

My mother claims that when my brother was 2 (in 1980), she was determined to get him gender-neutral toys and bought him a kitchen set. Within moments, the knives were swords, the plates were flying saucers, and the pots and pans shot bullets. He didn't watch a lot of TV and hung out primarily with little girls. Who knows when it starts or where it comes from?

I think it's important to be aware of it, but I'm not sure it's so important that we can't let our little girls play with Barbies if they want to. In fact, that would be a great time to start talking about how Barbie is just a doll and not an example of an actual human being.
posted by juliplease at 7:24 AM on December 17, 2008


I teach in girl central-- figure skating. I am continually amazed at how young little girls are when they "get" that frilly is good. It's kind of stomach turning. They look cute, but frankly ridiculous in all those frills. No way this is not learned behavior. On the other side, in years past it has been murderously hard to get the little boys into anything that might remotely be described as a costume. No matter how plain it is, they have also learned that "dress up" is a girl thing. However, lately I have noticed that the little boys, and even some of the older ones, are starting to approve of the idea of dressing up, and they have completely stopped resisting the sparkly bits we routinely add for ice shows. Back to the girls? By 11, they're resisting the frills again. They'll show up for practice in an aggressively unisex look. Meanwhile, the boys of that age are in spandex.

Conclusion? This new generation of parents seem to be freeing the boys of the need to define their childhood masculinity narrowly, while not disparaging the girls' native or learned taste for the "girly" stuff. So all you 25 to 40 yr old parents out there? Yay you. You're getting this one right.
posted by nax at 7:29 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


girls don't really get to be anything cool

No. We have defined the things that girls do-- mothering, teaching, nursing, householding, arts, all the caring and creative professions-- as not cool, boring, ignorable, worthless (monetarily). While there seem to be inklings upthread of parents who get that they need to let the kids decide, for the most part I see lots of talk disparaging girls who choose the girly stuff. This is just part of the problem. There's nothing wrong with the pink aisle (aside from the eye damage). The problem is limiting it to the girls, and the girls to it.
posted by nax at 7:38 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


It looks like Emily might not actually have been in the original Thomas stories (the ones in "The Complete Collection").

There does seem to be more attention to not having kids characters follow gender stereotypes as closely in kids shows now a days though. For example, on Wubzy, the mechanically skilled character is a girl (though one who is a huge fan of pink).

Shows also seem to have a more mixed cast than in the past (Say "Yo Gabba Gabba" with 3 "boys" and 2 "girls"-- not counting DJ Lance Rock).

In the 80s, female figures for "boys" lines wouldn't sell as well, so they made less of them (In GI Joe, that would be The Baroness, Scarlett, etc.). Oddly enough, those figures tend to be worth more now than their dude counterparts.
posted by drezdn at 7:43 AM on December 17, 2008


My daughter likes to put her dolls onto her cars and then ram them into things. Sometimes she hits them in the head with the hammer from her tool kit. Other times she hugs them, rocks them, sings to them, and nurtures them. Am I raising a lesbian or a bi-polar?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:54 AM on December 17, 2008


While I can't find it on their website, I read an article in the New Yorker a few years ago about the Disney Princess phenomenon. The author was a mother of a young daughter and found it nearly impossible to avoid the ubiquitous marketing of the Princess line, which extended even to themed parties. It was frightening then.

Now that I have a 9 month old daughter, it seems even more scary. No matter how hard we try--and we're going to try hard--I feel like it will be impossible to prevent these gender roles from being imprinted on our little girl. But then I also feel like forcing her away from "girl" toys would be a mistake too. Just one more way that parenting always feels like chosing the lesser of two evils!

I keep telling my wife that the only toy little Josie should have is a stick. . . . It is in the toy hall of fame, after all.
posted by dellsolace at 7:55 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


As one of those parents who desperately tried for unisex toys and toy equality among her two kids, I have to sadly report that my daughter wrapped her Tonka trucks in blankets and put them to bed and my son immediately turned his dolls into guns. Of course, he also had a collection of stuffed pandas he treasured and a pirate's treasure chest of mardi gras beads and other junk jewelry that he lugged around which made him the envy of the first grade. Meanwhile, his sister, interviewed at age six on the radio about the Ninja Turtles movie, reported that it was too "fighty" and it made her mad that there weren't any girl ninja turtles. (I have kept that tape; I am so proud of it.) So they were okay. But even though my youngest is only 17, the toy stores have drastically changed in the last ten years and not for the better. Everything is scarily gendered now and I don't like it. I can't stand watching all this gender segregation and yeah, I do feel like we've gone backwards.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:12 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember figuring out at a young age that playing with the wrong gendered toys was an invitation to some pretty significant embarrassment and abuse. So the dolls stayed safely at home.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:38 AM on December 17, 2008


And now, when I hang out with lots of dudes, there are a lot of things I don't even try to participate in because I feel like I can't keep up, like I'm so far behind that it would be embarrassing to try to make up lost time now.

Don't worry, I'm a dude raised on Legos and Tonkas, and I feel this way about lots of guy-bonding stuff (football, cars - it's all Greek to me.)

One interesting thing I've noted is that my parents always discouraged the war stuff like G.I. Joes. And I'm a real peacenik now. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't. G.I. Joes - single-handedly fueling our military industrial complex.
posted by naju at 8:40 AM on December 17, 2008


Bionicles are an abomination, of course.
posted by Artw


WHAT? YOU DARE INSULT THE MIGHTY BIONICLES????

*sigh* I live in a Bionicle world right now. My 8 and 13 year old boys eat, sleep and breathe Bionicles. In fact, my youngest is NOT doing his school work right now because he is setting up Bionicles next to the Nativity set, like biomechanical wise men.

The interesting thing about them is that although they are marketed to boys, there are a bunch of female characters, who are pretty much indistinguishable from the males. In Bionicle, behavior is more determined by your element type than your gender. So they get points in my book.
posted by Biblio at 8:56 AM on December 17, 2008


While I can't find it on their website, I read an article in the New Yorker a few years ago about the Disney Princess phenomenon. The author was a mother of a young daughter and found it nearly impossible to avoid the ubiquitous marketing of the Princess line, which extended even to themed parties. It was frightening then.

slightly different, as High School Musical was a franchise from the outset and not based on ancient folk tales (I'm unwilling to read that much into it)...but I work for a company where we have to test products that will be advertised on TV, and the amount of merchandise for these films is phenomenal. Even down to kitchen roll.

I would prefer Barbie to Bratz, though - Barbie always had careers, and while there's nothing wrong with a 'women's job' of course some of them were pretty high-flying (and I bet Ken wasn't much of an alpha male either.) Bratz, on the other hand, only seem to like shopping.
posted by mippy at 10:03 AM on December 17, 2008


WHAT? YOU DARE INSULT THE MIGHTY BIONICLES????

THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER AN OVERLY LARGE NON-GENERIC PEICE TO LIVE!
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


While I can't find it on their website, I read an article in the New Yorker a few years ago about the Disney Princess phenomenon. The author was a mother of a young daughter and found it nearly impossible to avoid the ubiquitous marketing of the Princess line, which extended even to themed parties. It was frightening then.

It was NYT, not the New Yorker: What's Wrong with Cinderella? Not a bad article, either.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2008


I bet Ken wasn't much of an alpha male either.

Is that a euphamism for "Ken was a bottom?" 'Cause I really don't think Ken has ever been all that interested in getting out of the friend zone with Barbie, if you know what I'm saying.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2008


It was NYT, not the New Yorker: What's Wrong with Cinderella? Not a bad article, either.

That looks very similar, though I could have sworn it was the New Yorker. Whatever. The sentiment is certainly the same.
posted by dellsolace at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2008


For you parents, this is what I offer as consolation. I had 42 barbies and all they did was make me a total drag queen.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:23 AM on December 17, 2008


One of my best friends just revealed to me that he is soon to be a father. This pleases me to no end as I finally get an outlet for all the desires to educate I've got bottled up inside of me. If he has a girl, I will make sure that by kindergarten, she is making explosives at at least a 5th grade level, and if it's a boy, he will get a really excellent education in doll-making.

Voodoo dolls.

I plan on redefining the roll of "crazy uncle".
posted by quin at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


The sentiment is certainly the same.

Yeah, the Princess Parties creep a lot of people out. Why not throw your nine-year-old a Fear Factor birthday party instead?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2008


Forgot to quote my favorite part of the Fear Factor sleepover party for the nine-year-old son and his friends"
I bought minnows from a local bait shop and put them in a fish bowl on the kitchen counter where all the kids could see them. We have a two level counter between the kitchen and breakfast area so the kids could not see what was happening on the other side of the counter. Each child rolled a die and what ever number they rolled was the number of minnows they had to eat. My husband (behind the counter) removed the rolled number of minnows from the bowl and procided to "dehead gut and fillet" the fish. We then gave the child a small cup with what they thought were minnows to eat and show a clean tongue. A point was awarded to each who completed the task. The kids were actually given sardines instead of minnows to eat. (Tip: Cover the fish bowl or lower the water level. They kept jumping out of the bowl.) One kid threw up. Funny!!
To be fair to the parents, the kid might not have thrown up because he thought he ate a freshly killed raw minnow. Some people just don't like sardines.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pollomacho: My daughter likes to put her dolls onto her cars and then ram them into things. Sometimes she hits them in the head with the hammer from her tool kit. Other times she hugs them, rocks them, sings to them, and nurtures them. Am I raising a lesbian or a bi-polar?

You're raising a human.
posted by nax at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2008


There's nothing inherently wrong with gender-specificity; it's gender bias we want to breed out of our kids. Innit?
posted by Restless Day at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2008


Specificity is bias. Prescriptive binary roles are a bias against anyone who doesn't fit them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:34 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


our inadvertent gender-neutral experiment only went so far before the "anything can be a gun" impulse kicked in.

my son immediately turned his dolls into guns.

Turns out that if you bend Barbie's legs just right, she assumes the shape of a gun.


How do 2 or 3 year old boys know what a gun is?
posted by desjardins at 12:03 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're raising a human.

From the looks of her diapers, I'm not so sure about that!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:06 PM on December 17, 2008


Regarding Thomas and trains in general I would like to share with you the opinions of my three year old daughter:

Edward is a girl. On this point there can be no debate, masculine pronouns referring to him are simply irrelevant.

Henry is the father of her favorite stuffed animal, a pink teddy bear named Cookie, who is her baby. She has concluded that this means that Henry is her husband.

All Metra engines are girls, especially The City of Aurora, Braeside, and Metra 308 at the Illinois Railway Museum, also the Nebraska Zephyr, who is Metra 308's cousin.

Plus, Ponies and all things equine are awesome.
posted by Reverend John at 1:22 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm not defending the practice of marketing toys to children along gender lines; children should grow up being comfortable in their own skins--male, female, and all points in between. I don't hear anyone in this thread saying "prescriptive binary roles" have had any effect on them, or on their children. Again, I don't see anything wrong with anyone self-identifying as a specific gender; my gender identity doesn't (shouldn't, mustn't) automatically indicate bias against any other. Specificity isn't bias, bias is bias.
posted by Restless Day at 1:33 PM on December 17, 2008


I don't hear anyone in this thread saying "prescriptive binary roles" have had any effect on them, or on their children

I am saying prescriptive binary roles had an effect on me.

They resulted in a lack of exposure to opportunities, specifically, in the sciences, by marking that arena as "male" from an early age. Sorry, I wasn't a punkass genderqueer kid. I was very interested in being just the way I was supposed to be.

Building toys, machine-oriented toys, experiment toys and even products and media about space, all of these are coded male. This disparity is a problem broader than toy marketing, or even acculturation of children, but it is one of the clearer cases of institutionalized gender bias. The products marketed for girls overwhelmingly promote artistic creativity, domesticity, cooperation and social intellgence, but do not promote a sense of mastery or agency over concrete objects or an interest in scientific or philosophic inquiry.

In my opinion, it remains to be seen which groups of qualities are more important to this culture a the end of the day, and that question is polyvalent and completely immense, but the economic breakdown which is reflected in the adoption of these binarized roles and skills begines with child's play, and is preferential to men.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:43 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


what about the Oozinator
posted by celerystick at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2008


In my opinion, it remains to be seen which groups of qualities are more important to this culture at the end of the day, and that question is polyvalent and completely immense, but the economic breakdown which is reflected in the adoption of these binarized roles and skills begins with child's play, and is preferential to men.


I agree unequiv--completely.
posted by Restless Day at 2:58 PM on December 17, 2008


IIRC, the creator of Summerhill wouldn't let the kids have guns as toys, but they still found ways to make pretend toy guns. Eventually he just gave in.
posted by drezdn at 7:05 PM on December 17, 2008


When I was a little girl in the 50s and early 60s, I was taught, by fairly progressive parents, to adhere to gender roles, or at least my acceptance of "norms" was not discouraged. For instance, I believed, nearly into my adulthood, that there was some physiological impediment to girls pumping gas, because girls were not allowed to pump gas. Really. However, discovering that this was not so did not make me despair, or doubt my gender role, it made me really really mad. The entire fucking society had LIED to me. They lied! Everyone lied about what I could do! It made me wonder else did they had lied about. (Everything, it turns out.) Teaching kids these gender specifics is lying to them. And let me tell you, you can't lie to kids. They always figure it out.
posted by nax at 7:20 PM on December 17, 2008


There does seem to be more attention to not having kids characters follow gender stereotypes as closely in kids shows now a days though. For example, on Wubzy, the mechanically skilled character is a girl (though one who is a huge fan of pink).

Shows also seem to have a more mixed cast than in the past (Say "Yo Gabba Gabba" with 3 "boys" and 2 "girls"-- not counting DJ Lance Rock).

In the 80s, female figures for "boys" lines wouldn't sell as well, so they made less of them (In GI Joe, that would be The Baroness, Scarlett, etc.). Oddly enough, those figures tend to be worth more now than their dude counterparts.
posted by drezdn at 7:43 AM on December 17


While I don't know if there is actually sales data to back this up today, the Conventional Wisdom among toy manufacturers is still "girls don't play with action figures and boys won't play with action figures of female characters...so lets not make any figures of female characters" much to the frustration of many kids. Consider the case of the popular cartoon Avatar: the Last Airbender, where fans actually had to petition Mattel to release a figure of the main female character. Keep in mind we're talking about a character who was in the show from the very first episode, and had been in almost every single subsequent episode, yet you could buy figures of minor characters, and even unnamed mooks, before a figure of the second lead, because the character was female. Of course, it's been a year since the time period of release promised in the scanned letter, so it looks like Mattel decided not to make the figure anyway. (As an aside, when I was googling for that post I found a lot of links to comments and forum posts of parents trying track down figures of this character for their kids, both little boys and girls. Plus, in my experience, boys are more likely to be frustrated that they cant play with the whole main cast and have to resort to substituting dolls and stuffed animals, instead of shunning girl figures)

What's especially sad is that, from what I can tell, Avatar belongs to that class of kid shows that drezdn mentioned, where the creators have made sure to include multiple large roles that avoid stereotypes for female characters (of main group of heroes, the split is two male and two female, and in the second season the main villain is a girl, as are her hench[wo]men). But you wouldn't know it from looking at its area in the toy store.

It's funny, because when I was a kid I loved action figures so much more so than my dolls, because in general they had more joints and were far more pose-able than Barbies and the like. And I always wanted to get more girl action figures, even to the point where I would spend my allowance on figures from games and shows that I had never even seen, just because they were of girl characters, and therefore stood out from the plastic sausagefest of the action figure aisles. And I think I was lucky, because this was during the nineties and one my favorite shows was the X-men cartoon, so manufacturers weren't just making toys for kids but for a large group of adult comics fans as well and as a result the range of figures available was wider overall. Of course I still had drag my mom to damn near every toy store in town to find a figure of my favorite character, only to be denied buying the only one we could find because some jerk had ripped open the packaging and stolen the trading card. Never did get a Rogue figure...

Also, when I was little I was convinced that Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine was a girl, and you couldn't convince me otherwise.
posted by kosher_jenny at 9:53 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I should also add that as a kid I was never discouraged by my parents from playing with particular groups of toys due to my gender. In fact the only explicit "girls can't do this" moment that I can remember from my childhood was my mom not letting me learn how to play the trumpet because I would look "unladylike" with my cheeks puffed out while playing it. She thought the flute would be far more suitable, but we compromised on the clarinet. Which I only stuck with for less than six months, because whatever Mom, the clarinet fucking sucks.

I do think that it's certainly gotten far worse in recent years, especially with the rise of the Disney Princess marketing juggernaut, and I don't envy parents who are trying to raise their kids without letting them fall into those rigidly defined gender roles.
posted by kosher_jenny at 10:08 PM on December 17, 2008


If I ever have a daughter, I would like her to have a kosher_jenny action figure.
posted by Eideteker at 12:48 AM on December 18, 2008


Would it come with a tiny trumpet?
posted by kosher_jenny at 5:15 AM on December 18, 2008


Would it be allowed to pump gas?
posted by nax at 5:18 AM on December 18, 2008


Would it be allowed to pump gas?

Ooh, you could use the old GI Joe "kung-fu grip" technology to squeeze a tiny gas pump!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:33 AM on December 18, 2008


in mind we're talking about a character who was in the show from the very first episode, and had been in almost every single subsequent episode, yet you could buy figures of minor characters, and even unnamed mooks, before a figure of the second lead, because the character was female.

I find this so bizarre. Was there once some market-research that said little boys will not touch girl figures? When I was a kid, I loved Captain Planet - a show where five teens had to 'call' the superhero with special rings - but only the male characters had action figures. How were people supposed to get the Planeteers together if three of them were missing? I would have thought we'dve moved on since then.
posted by mippy at 6:23 AM on December 18, 2008


kosher_jenny: "Also, when I was little I was convinced that Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine was a girl, and you couldn't convince me otherwise."

My son is now carrying on this idea for you. He's always said Percy was a girl train.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:32 AM on December 18, 2008


kosher_jenny, way, way back when I was in school, I played the trumpet. There was a girl in our otherwise all-male trumpet section--long very blonde hair, very pretty face. It made her all that much cooler that people (usually parents, not the kids) thought she was out of place. Heaven help anyone who tried the 'girls don't play trumpet' gender bs in our presence.
posted by eye of newt at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2008


My son is now carrying on this idea for you. He's always said Percy was a girl train.

Just tried this:

"India, is Percy a boy train or a girl train?"
"a boy train"

Well, it was worth a shot.
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2008


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