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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Friday, 17 January 2014

Toys, Toys, Toys: Gender Roles, Performance, and the Holidays (Girlcember Part 8)

Hello hello!

So, at the beginning of December, I was working at a company on a temp assignment (this is how I pay the bills when editing is slow) and I decided to help out a bit extra by wrapping presents for the company's Christmas party. They were all children's toys, from Toys'R'Us, and it was an interesting experience. When someone hands you a bag of toys and a couple rolls of Tinkerbell and Spiderman wrapping paper, gender is hard to ignore or set aside.

My childhood involved a lot of pretty gender-neutral ideas. Generally, playtime involved coming up with outre fashions for Barbie, making crafts, playing with Legos, and coming up with stories involving small rubber and plastic animal figurines. Oh, and watching a lot of educational programs, reading, and watching Disney cartoons while the rest of that was going on. So, my understanding of gender roles was slightly off-kilter from day one, and it fascinates me endlessly to reflect on the way they are shaped for kids now.

I started off writing the genders as well as the contents on Post-it notes, but then I realised that was stupid, and stopped writing the genders. Anyway, what about the toys themselves?

Source. Bracelets and makeup. Definitely what I wear when I'm about to physically exert myself and whoop some ass.

Here's what I noticed:

1) Toys for very young kids are mostly either not-gendered, as with animal toys and blocks, or cement basic ideas of gender, such as with the pink and floral bathtime tea-party set designed for babies. I'm just going to mention that I never had tea parties with my dolls as a kid, and I only have them now as an adult.

2) Toys for older kids, about twelve and up, are generally boardgames and are somewhat less gendered, Toys involving science (a robot kit) were delivered in a deliberately gender-neutral way--the box was purple, as was the case for the Cranium games, but the fonts and visual design were somewhat masculine in style. This generally held true except for something I'll be noting in a minute.

3) Toys involving kids between about age 5 and age 12 were heavily gendered--trucks, alien Bratz dolls (no, they were actually aliens, the logical evolution of Barbie-type figures), and nerf guns.

4) Toys that are marketed to boys are somewhat more gender-neutral in appeal. They usually only have boys (and white ones, at that) on the box art, but there's a sort of silent acceptance of the idea of girls possibly owning them.

5) Toys marketed to girls, on the other hand, are explicitly and almost offensively feminine. Think sparkles, pink, purple, and girls on the front of the box art (whereas not all boy-oriented toys will have a boy on the front of the box). There is no suggestion that boys 'can' play with these toys, and the toys *for* boys would still have worked for girls in a lot of cases.

6) The Nerf 'Rebelle' gun has a chick in makeup and jewelry on its cover. I was pretty interested in a Nerf gun with feminine styling--it was actually cute--but my excitement faded when I read the back text. Summarized, it was basically, 'this gun is for girls! Really! We promise it won't turn them into a boy or make them do anything that's not cute and feminized! Please, redneck dads, don't be scared of buying this!"

7) Girl's toys are not designed for boys under any circumstances. I'm going to explore the way that divide is bad in my next column, but this still disturbs me. There's a silent penalty imposed on the masculinity of any boy playing with something sparkly. Remember, this is 2013 we're talking about, and gay rights and gender ideas are still stuck in very rooted traditions.

8) Toys are designed to give kids an idea of gender roles and 'what boys do' and 'what girls do' from day one of opening the box.

9) Just once, I would like to see people wrapping the Rebelle gun in Spiderman paper or the Scooby Doo Swamp Rover in Tinkerbell paper. Just once. If you immediately recoil at the thought of putting a 'boy toy' in 'girl paper', I'd like you to think about that for a minute.

What about the rest of you? Have you noticed anything disturbing or, conversely, positive about modern kids' toys these days?


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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