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Stereotypes are alive and well in your toy store

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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stereotypes are alive and well in your toy store

Girls can do anything

Girls are powerful.

Girls can get dirty, play sports, wrestle and tumble and burp and make noise.


Let's pretend you are from another planet and came upon Target's Spring 2009 "Kids" catalog. Look at the cover and you'd see a little girl actively bouncing on a pogo stick:


Cute, eh?

But, then, inside, you come to the section titled "Twirly Girls". Now, as a total stranger to Earth, how would you describe these creatures known as "girls"?


frilly, dainty, princess-like?


obsessed with branding, fashion, pink?


forever daydreaming about becoming a princess or a bikini bimbo?


nurturing, motherly, sweet?


happy homemakers-to-be?

And, what about the boys? Here is what you'll see in the circular under "Wonder Boys". How you describe these strange creatures, oh Visitor From Another World?


active, fast, noisy?


competitive, sports-loving?


gadget and action-loving?

As Ilina wrote on Deep South Moms, "if you wander the toy section (of Target) you will see a clear gender delineation. The kitchen stuff is all pink and ruffly. Even presumably unisex things such as instruments and hand held games scream with cotton candy pink and rugged camouflage. The toys geared toward boys are so jacked up with testosterone that I find myself puffing out my chest in a show of manliness."

And here I thought we'd come a long way, baby. I thought boys could be nurturing, dream-filled chefs. Wasn't there a song on Free to Be You and Me about William and his doll? And, what happened to girls playing sports, being strong and wanting to grow up to be more than Barbie?

Whose fault is this? Is it us for buying into these gender stereotypes?

I'd like to say no but I clearly recall a mom I know quaking in fear that her young son had asked for a toy kitchen. A kitchen! She was worried because this was a "girl toy".

And, I recall a neighbor seeing my son with red painted toenails last summer. I had painted them when I painted the girls' toes figuring, "heck, it's just paint and he's three"---not exactly a prime peer-pressure age. This neighbor (a man) said to my son, "you'd better not let your daddy see those toes!".

Give me a break.

I have nothing against girls wanting to play with Barbies, but realize that my son plays with them too, albeit differently than his sisters (he likes to drive them around in a Barbie-mobile). They all play with Legos, toy cars, dress-up clothes, stuffed animals, arts and crafts, even the "girlie" play kitchen. They all use their newly obtained magic wands as weapons.

But, more than 35 years after Free to Be You and Me, we are still being told that girls are "sugar and spice" and boys are "snips and snails and puppy dog tails".

And we're buying it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post, FOM.

I've had playdates at my house where little girls ask, "Where are the pink toys?" It's sad -- and it's not their fault. We've got them trapped in a mindset of pink=girl=correct.

Now they sell pink Lego. WHY? WHY? It's Lego! A girl who plays with primary coloured Legos isn't gonna be a bull dyke in 20 years.

My son has a cradle in his bedrooms for his babies. I took some flack for this -- mostly from my mother-in-law.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Just Vegas said...

This is why it makes me so stupid happy that my four year old daughter still says her favorite color is black!

10:43 PM  
Blogger Issa said...

I fight this one every day. I find it so offensive that after all this time, girls and boys are supposed to live up to some idea of what the media believes they should be.

But, but...I have one of each. One very girly girl who literally primps in front of the mirror every morning and she's only seven. Then I have one who saw the computer open a second ago, pointed to that orange and black scooter and said, Mama I want that.

I paint the toenails of my best friends son. He's four. I think the only thing we can do, as parents is try to let our kids be who they are. And hope the media catches up one day.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh so true. Toys are nearly all divided into 'boy' and 'girl' categories. Even the bikes are gender-specific - pink with a princess motif or black with a sports motif.

I try to fight it with my own kids, but I'm not sure if I'm winning the battle or not. I take some solace in the fact that I was a very girly girl and today I'm an engineer. Hopefully my example will be stronger than Barbie's in the end.

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


being the operative word.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a very astute observation. AND I am disgusted by the display my favorite store has just made.

I am not sure how I'll feel if my son wants to put on fairy princess clothes but I certainly won't tell him no. I have a nephew who loves to come over and get all the little plastic princesses together and play with them, a daughter who prefers to shop in the "boy" section of the toy store, and another daughter who will play with anything and everything.

But I am guilty. Guilty of ODing my girls on pink and stuffing blue down my sons throat. The latter I blame on all the overbuying of all things pink.

BUT BOO TO YOU TARGET, that is a horrible message you are sending our kids. Just horrible.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

Yeah. I hate it. I really do.

We've never forced girl/boy toys on our kids. It is amazing how they do gravitate -- I think thanks to friends and television influences.

And I still sit here and correct my daughter when we go down the aisles and she says "these are boy toys."


9:22 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

For Christmas, my daughter got a dump truck, a doll and a set of tools. She promptly put the doll in the truck, dumped it out, ran it over and then ignored it as she went about "fixing" the dump truck. And my boy had dolls....oh the horror!

9:26 AM  
Blogger Melani said...

yeah way sterotypical, hate it! I have 2 girls and 2 boys. The boys have always been allowed to play with the dolls/barbies (as long as they were playing nice, not taking their heads off) and my daughters have been allowed to play with the cars and tools, all one big happy family! I get upset at the mom's who are weirded out if thier son plays with something God Forbid Pink! Come on they are kids, shouldn't they be allowed to play with any toy they want? regardless of the color?

3:55 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

You know what I hate? I hate that the girl clothes are so flimsy and delicate while the boys get sturdy, warm stuff. I'm not even talking about the horrible sexy stuff that makes blood come out of my eyes when I look at it being marketed to 7 year olds, just the plain fact that a girl's turtleneck is like tissue paper and a boys is thick and cozy. Same with coats, boots, jeans - and it's not just target. I've written a letter to Land's End about it.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Melissa Belmonte said...

I'm totally with you. Even though we make a concerted effort to not restrict our boys based on gender, and even though we have no tv and hang out with friends who do things the same way, my son Atticus still has the idea that pink is a "girl's color".

In the same Target ads that you posted, I'm sure you'd find the men grilling and fixing things and the women in the kitchen or cleaning. It still blows me away how clear the messages are and how much they get away with it.

great post.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Melissa Belmonte said...

Recently, I bought a toy coffee pot and toaster set for my son's kitchen. Of course, it was 2 girls on the front making toast and coffee. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a boy on the side of the box playing with the coffee pot. But then I was disappointed to notice that the girl was pouring him "coffee". She was serving him, as girls should do (um...I'm being sarcastic, in case you didn't notice)!

6:11 PM  
Blogger Melissa Belmonte said...

You might be interested in the work by photographer Lauren Greenfield. I recently saw an exhibit of hers at Smith College, where she exposes girls and girl culture in our society. Her message is quite strong.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Amelia Sprout said...


I hate the clothes problems. Girls clothes are too flimsy, and too restrictive (skinny fit jeans have no place on kids)

I always had tools growing up, and I had dolls. I'm trying to give my daughter the same choices.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Farrah Aldjufrie said...

Fairly Odd Mother,

I appreciate your thoroughly dedicated post concerning the twisted marketing strategies that even young children are the targets of today. As our culture has become more freethinking and tolerant, we have been reassured that girls are just as good as boys and that they too can do anything. However, the very sociocultural message that we pride ourselves on in the name of equality is not so much a truth in our marketing campaigns and super-stores—not even our own homes. As you make clear in the images in your post, advertisements narrow-mindedly depict girls as dainty, fashion-obsessed, and mothers-to-be, while boys are portrayed as competitive, sports-loving, and noisy. At home, parents only serve to either push their children into more “appropriate” gender-play roles, or the opposite, such as the mother “quaking in fear that her young son had asked for a toy kitchen.” I agree with you that parents are partly to blame, for they are the ones that continue to buy their daughters dollhouses and their sons toy guns. And, since you so candidly point out Target’s Spring 2009 catalog in your blog, you too realize the role that marketing strategists play in this ongoing battle. Just recently, Viacom bought the rights to “Dora The Explorer,” and decided to morph her science-loving character into a girly-girl. Doctors Lyn Mikel-Brown and Sharon Lamb (Packaging Girlhood) mourn this decision, saying that now “a bunch of greedy corporate execs own [Dora] and can use her image, re-MAKE her image, in any way they see fit to make money. But we know the truth. If the original Dora grew up… She’d develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go.”

According to an article titled Playing Fair by Dorothy Lepkowska of The Guardian, “there has never been greater gender stereotyping in the production and marketing of toys than now.” Intriguingly though, the author introduces a third contender in the who’s-to-blame game, and that is biology. “The levels of male and female hormones in an expectant mother may result in children being born predisposed to certain play preferences,” says psychologist professor Melissa Hines. In my personal opinion, I think these various hypotheses are all valid to some degree. Children may be born with an inclined desire for gender specific toys, but with big corporations so adamant on catering separately towards boys and girls, and parents topping the cake by buying these gender delineated toys, we are trapped in a cycle. My question to you is, how do we break free from this cycle? And, what do you think is the most influential of the factors to blame?

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Cindy said...

Love this. Just discovered your blog and will be checking it more. I'm ready to scream about the gendered toys, clothes, etc. My 6 1/2 year old daughter has been teased and bullied all year for not conforming to society's rigid (read: sexist) definitions about girls and boys. So glad to connect with you via your blog. Thanks for this post.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Miranda Lollis said...


Regarding your thoughts on the article that suggested toys are marketed in certain ways because of biological differences in girls and boys, there's just one teeny little problem.

There's no way to prove that these differences are biological. Except, of course, to stop the marketing and media onslaught that tells them from day one what they are "supposed" to be.

I've found that generally speaking, it's the evagelical and/or conservative groups who press the hardest to keep the status quo as it is, and that they are the ones who also insist the loudest that gender differences are inherent. Yet they were also, strangly enough, the ones who yelled the loudest at the recent Gap ad(was it Gap? I can't remember offhand) that showed the mother painging her son's toenails a lovely shade of pink. The fact that they are so outraged over such things tells me loud and clear that they know what many of us also intuitively know; that boys and girls act out "gender behavior" precisely because it's what is taught to them.

11:25 AM  

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