Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Toy Socialization

Jillian Limone
October 1, 2007
Gender and Popular Culture
Blog Post 1
“Mamma I Want That Toy”

Toys, toys, toys! It can be so overwhelming sometimes. Toys are what every young child wants- Bratz, barbies, action heroes, building blocks, dress-up trunks, trading cards, arts and crafts, board games, legos, video games and the list could go on and on for pages. Toy stores are like the never ending Santa Christmas list. They seem to just have everything. You walk into today’s toy stores such as KB Toys and there are isles and isles of shelves, all full of toys. When you shop online the pages never seem to end when you click on the toy section. But why are the isles in stores color-coded; pinks and pastels for girls, blues for boys? And why are there categories online that designate “girl” and “boy” pages? Why do TV shows seem to “glitzify” girl’s toys and “masculinize” boy’s toys? And why are today’s toys growing up too fast for our children?

You always know when you hit the Barbie isle at the toy store. It is the bright pink pastel isle. I remember when I was young, right when I got into Toys R Us (my favorite store) I just looked for the pink isle because I knew that is were I would find all those beautiful dolls. I thought Barbies were what girls played with and trucks and building blocks are what boys played with. On TV you never ever see boys advertising Barbie dolls because god forbid if a boy owned a doll. Today; however, there isn’t just Barbies. There are Bratz, celebrity dolls and even nurturing dolls. According to Lull, more and more commercials are “normalizing” young girls to be the stay at home moms, the nurturers (Lull). For example, on the Toys R Us website there was a whole category under girls’ toys labeled nurturing dolls. The dolls were called “Lil mommy doctor” or “Lil Baby Check-up Center,” which included a complete doctor kit. When they displayed pictures of the set it always included a young girl taking care of the baby. Other dolls included the cabbage patch kids and each doll came with a bottle and kids book because it was the young girls “job” to feed and read to these baby dolls. Just like Barbies, the Bratz dolls have that perfect hourglass body shape, a delicate face with luscious lips and big blue eyes, long straight (usually blonde) hair, big boobs, a bootylicious rear and long slender legs. These Bratz dolls also had the stylist hip clothes and loads of glitter make-up. Even the celebrity dolls, such as the Hannah Montana doll, were designed in that “Barbie body” and not even close to what the actress really looked like. Girls see these “Malibu uberfigures” and try to mimic the look (Gilman 73). These young girls see the dolls wearing pounds of make-up and hip hugger jeans and therefore do that to themselves. When I was young, the dolls never came with make-up and we didn’t even think about blush until high school. Now all the Bratz dolls come with make-up and glitter so you can “be just like you’re my-size bratz doll.” Related toys included “My little Princess Dress Up” and “My first Purse.” I mean obviously girls are going to have purses when they are older so why not start them early. Girls as young as 10 are wearing belly-shirts and cover-up because that is what is “hip” in today’s society. These dolls are growing up fasting then the child which is causing young girls to think it is ok to skip a few years of their childhood. Society is classifying young girls as objects to look at through its toys and commercials.

In class we were given note cards which stated a child’s name or description and what he/she played with. I had an eight year old boy named Moe. Moe like to play with three things- action figures, sports cards and water guns. These are three things society again “normalizes” as boy toys. As I looked up action figures on the websites I found that just like barbies, action figures had a specific body structure. All the “good guy” action figures had gigantic, way out of proportioned muscles, stern faces and weapons of all kind. However, most of the “bad guy” figures were either extremely thin or extremely overweight, had distorted gross faces and as I heard a young boy once say, they “had the shitty bad weapons.” I even found a Homer Simpson action figure that had weapons as arms and again huge body muscles. Young boys see their movie or TV heroes, such as Spiderman, as action figures with large muscles and therefore believe a hero is someone with big muscles. The same time girls become interested in make-up, boys become interested in guns and having the perfect “action figure body.” Fat and ugliness is then distinguished as bad and evil. No young boy wants to look like the “bad guy.” I thought it was interesting that they did have a girl action figure. Finally a girl with power! However, that is not the case. This girl action figure was big boobed, wore a revealing bikini which somehow had weapons attached to it, had some muscle tone but again had the hour-glass body and was portrayed as the good guys “woman.” The action figures portrayed masculine hegemony. The women action figures were lower then the men and were extremely “sexified” so a young boy wouldn’t feel bad if he had a girl “doll” because hell look at the huge tits on it. Guns represent great power as well as maturity. Young boys like that power of a “gun” in their hand. My boyfriend goes clay shooting with his dad and older brother all the time and I remember asking why he liked it. He said he liked the power and that he felt like one of the older guys. With more and more violence pouring into our society through media, water guns and cork guns become more accepting and popular amongst young boys toys. Even though these toys can be dangerous and represent violence, parents seem to have no problem buying them for a gift. Boys are constantly judged by their ability and competitiveness in sports (Messner 122). Collecting sports cards is seen in society more “normal” amongst boys then girls. Just like young boys were told the key to acceptance is “winning” in sports, collecting cards was the same. It wasn’t about learning the players of each sport but instead about who had the best cards; the most expensive cards. According to Michael Messner’s article, boys want to live up and be better then their “role models” and hold all the school records and maybe even one day have their face on the front of an expensive trading card (126-127).

When I clicked on the toy websites I found a similarity run through them all. Each site had categories. You could tell which categories were “designated” for girls and which were for guys. The media has great authority over society, influencing views, ideas and even identities (Kellner). For example, Toys R Us website has pictures of only boys in the action figure category, building blocks, bikes and ride-ons, video games, trains, sporting goods and even science discovery. These are the categories that are thought to be for boys only. For girls, the categories included arts and crafts, dolls, pretend play and dress up, and music. These toys were for everybody’s “little princess.” What was strange was there was one category called “differently abled.” That was Toys R Us’s way of saying “toys for disabled children.” The toys are all very simple and to me kind of boring. As I was looking through the toys I saw there were no dolls or racecars or “complex toys.” I got the impression that they didn’t think disabled children could handle all the make-up that comes with dolls or put together a log cabin. Society seems to accept these categories in everyday life. Today it is considered weird if a guy likes playing with dolls or if a girl likes playing with racecars. But why? Why has our society allowed the media to hold so much control over our true identity as a unique individual?

Our culture, our society, our personality, our development, our identity are all manipulated and influenced by the never-ending media.


Gilman, Susan Jane. “Klaus Barbie, and Other Dolls I’d Like to See.”Learning Gender: chapter 2:72-75. 2000.

Kellner, Douglas. Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd edition. (2003): 9-19.

Lull, James. Hegemony.Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd edition. (2003):61-67

Messner, Michael A. “Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Constuction of Masculinities.” Journal Of Contemporary Ethnography.12 (1990): 120-137.

* all pictures were taken from the Toys R Us website http://www.toysrus.com/


Ron said...
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Ron said...

I thought that you did a very good job of analyzing how children’s toys have fallen victim to genderization in today’s society. Many of the points you mentioned I noticed as well while doing my research and it becomes sickening when you think about what society thinks children should be exposed to and play with. Take for example the hour-glass “busty”-girl action figure with a weapon clad bikini you mentioned in your blog. Now, it’s bad enough that toy manufacturers are marketing “stick thin” as the ideal body shape, but why would anybody possibly need a bikini fully loaded with weapons? Even scarier: the recommended age for toys such as this one continues to get younger and younger. Your use of quotes, particularly from Messner’s article, definitely strengthened your post.

I also especially liked when you talked about Toys “R” Us making a special section for disabled children. I agree with your analysis that they think disabled children cannot handle the “normal” toys. Personally, toys have always been objects to allow me to use my creativity and imagination, and there has never been a “correct” way to play with toys. Who is Toys “R” Us to say that the disabled do not have the mental capacity to play with the “normal” toys, and set aside a small, boring group of toys for disabled children? I completely missed this category of toys during my research, and wish I had noticed it, as it is appalling.

If you wanted to add to your blog, I would suggest talking about how supposed “gender neutral” toys are located near or behind the boys section in Toys “R” Us. Even though these toys are marketed as being for boys and girls, they tend to have some similar characteristics of boy toys, often as simple as their location in the store.

Overall, I thought you did a very good job with this assignment. Great work!

Jessie said...

Jill- Your post does a great job linking the encoded messages of toys (particularly with the references to color-coded cues), with both your experiences and the quotes you've cited from the course readings.

My main suggestion is to avoid the use of the second person "you," "we," "our," etc. This format for writing can quickly undermine the analytical potential of any writing. There is a tendency on the part of someone writing in the 2nd person format to keep the piece on a rather informal level (it's pretty tough to do analytical work informally :o). Therefore, try to use the authors to define masculine and feminine early in your paper (use them to do the work of defining so that you can write using the definitions you've already stated from the readings).

Also, try to use your intro for the purposes of creating a road map for your reader (it may help if you write your intro last after you know where your piece "went") so that it's explicitly mapping out the terrain the reader can expect you to cover.

These issues are definitely "fixable" ones (in a non-mountain moving sort of way). In brief, keep your writing from the perspective of first and/or third person. Additionally, focus on writing about society and individuals as interacting to create the paradoxical scenario you describe where gendering is super-obvious in toys, but almost completely invisible to the participants in the processes. Finally, try to avoid using the readings without direct quotes (i.e. Messner is one of them). You'll see a noticeable difference in your writing and your analysis (and you may even find it's a lot easier to write analytically when you've worked out some of these issues). Overall, you've done a nice job for your first assignment.

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