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Toy Story: Do Today’s Toy Stores Harm Our Kids?

toy store

On my 8th birthday I finally got the gift I’d waited half a year for.

Every Saturday morning, during cartoons (because of course in the dark ages that’s the only time they came on) I would salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs listening to the announcer talk about this toy in his dulcet tones. The fact that, in the comfort of your own bedroom, using nothing but a 60-watt light bulb you could bake a cake in a mini metal tin was fascinating to me. I would not rest until I had my own Easy Bake Oven.

It was light blue and pretty. I used it everyday for about a week before the novelty wore off. Now, forty years later, I can safely say, I hate cooking. I hate baking. I hate even passing through the kitchen on my way to another room. But it doesn’t stop there. I hate every single, friggin’ thing there is about domesticity. I derive no pleasure from ironing and it would be impossible for me to care any less about laundry that piles up or dishes in the sink. Poor Buff.

I was always a tomboy, more comfortable in jeans and, save a few gender specific toys like the aforementioned Easy Bake Oven, I was generally running around our “hood with the boys and baseball mitts. Occasionally I would don the long dresses and hats my mom would pick up from the Salvation Army and role play with the other kids but it was far more exciting scraping the metal tips of my vintage heels on the pavement and watching the sparks fly, praying you wouldn’t trip on your too long evening gown or have an errant spark set it on fire. Yep, even then, I was bucking convention and needless to say, my parents were never really big on enforcing gender stereotypes.

I had it pretty good with parents who let me be free to be me and this was back in the 1970’s remember.

One would think things would be even better 40 years later, but over the weekend I read a terrific post on the blog site, 7Wonderlicious, talking about the horror show that is the modern toy store. Oh boy!

The writer headed to Harrods, the iconic London toy store in order to do research for her own product and was repeatedly hit over the head by gender roles and society specifications. The store targets the under eight crowd and as such, everything for girls is pink, shiny and sparkly. There is nail polish, jewelry, make-up and the like as well as some frighteningly sexualized dolls. The boys sign however is blue and the floor is devoid of things like a stove and other “woman’s work” tools. It takes until nearly the end the writer’s trip before she finds a doctor’s outfit in the girls’ section.

Okay I would like to think that had I gone into a store like that with my precious little girl in her stroller lined with a plush, flowery printed pattern, most likely pinks and purples but possibly pales greens and yellows, I would be outraged; appalled enough to turn my buggy right around and head on out the door. But I’m slightly ashamed to admit I probably would not have done that.

Now before you castigate me, know it was probably not ALL my fault. I gave birth to an adorable baby girl; even when she was a few days old, my own mother said to me, “It’s like having a living, breathing baby doll, isn’t it?” And she was right. Casey reminded me of my Betsy Wetsy, only her pee was yellow and didn’t smell like water. She had the most delicate fingers (and still does) and curly hair that was made for bows.  When Cole came along a few years later, there was just an inherent difference between the babies. When I held them, he seemed thicker, sturdier more rough and tumble compared to Casey’s more delicate bone structure. And no that was not my imagination. Casey naturally gravitated to sparkly, frilly, shiny things the way Cole did, dirt.  As soon as Casey could articulate it, she made sure I knew everything had to have lace on it.

Where am I going with this? I guess I’m trying to say that I’m not entirely sure that some of Casey’s attraction for all things girly came from expectations that her father and I may have unwittingly placed on her. I do just think she was hard-wired to like more girly things. But I do not believe her love of the frill and her wanting to be, say a doctor, are mutually exclusive.

Do I think that Harrods, and all of those who traffic in the narrowly defined areas of gender need to cool it? Without question; I can think of no good reason girls need to be walloped with the make-up, beads and nail polish as they walk in the door of ANY store, the implicit message being to value external beauty instead of internal smarts.  But by the same token, I don’t think boys should have to go out of their way to find things like a play stove. They’re gonna want to eat as they get older, aren’t they?

I guess this is one of those issues for which there is no clear and easy answer. As I said I’d love to think I’d be so offended I’d turn and hustle out of the store. But more than likely I’d help Casey pick out a polish and hair bow that looked best on her. I’d make sure it was durable though, so as to keep the curls out of her face while she was performing life-saving surgery. If that’s what she chose to do.

But what about you? Are you offended by the obvious gender breakdown of the typical toy store? What toys alarm you most? And how would you change of redesign today’s playthings if you could?

3 Comments

  1. Amanda

    May 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I actually wrote a paper on toys and gender in high school (and edited it and resubmitted it for a class in college). I even did some of my own research watching TV commercials on Nickelodeon for an hour and taking notes. The Barbie and stuffed animal commercials showed all girls. The car and truck commercials showed all boys. But most depressingly, when you walk past the board game section of my local Toys R Us, you come upon two large signs. One is hot pink, has a crown on it, and says “girls.” The other is blue, has a truck on it, and says “boys.” To me, this is not necessary. Name the doll section “dolls” and the truck section “trucks” just like the games section is labeled “games” and the bikes are labeled “bikes.” In case you’re wondering, the only car you’ll find in the “girls” section is a pink convertible for Barbie. Girls don’t drive trucks apparently.

    PS it drives me equally crazy when they ask at McDonald’s if you want a girl toy or a boy toy. Can’t you just say do you want a unicorn or a Transformer? I always want the Transformer… the unicorn toy doesn’t even do anything.

  2. m.e. Johnson

    May 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Displays are set up for the majority of shoppers. If a study showed them that trucks were being purchased for more girls, those displays would change. Grocery stores, drug stores, big box stores, etc. all do it.

    In my town, when more people started asking where is the generic-label foodstuff or asking a clerk to retrieve it from the bottom shelf, the store moved it to a more visible/accessible shelf. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

  3. Kathy

    May 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    This is a bit sexist. I have not ever seen a toystore with aisles defined by gender unless it was for clothing. Granted, I haven’t been in a large toy store for many years, but I recall trucks being in the “truck aisle” not the boy aisle and dolls being in the “doll aisle” and not the girl aisle. Glad they at least had the doctor costume in the girls’ aisle!

    In terms on Happy Meal toys, I always went with the better one, never bought into the boy/girl nonsense-

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