New Christmas Toys, Old Gender Conditioning

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There are only 67 days until Christmas!!!

So, last night, I’m watching Brothers & Sisters like a good gay, and all of a sudden I see a commercial for a new toy aimed at 2-4 year-old’s. This is the long-form of the commercial:

Yes, Pop On Pals.

First, let me say that even though I’m a good 21 years older than anyone probably interested in these toys, the “pop” sound is strangely appealing. If you visit the Pop On Pals website, you’ll see what I mean. I think it’s totally a Freudian thing.

This toy has the potential to really help young people be creative and inspired, and yet how it has been marketed does anything but. The gender policing in the video and in the way these sets are sold is remarkably archaic. What troubles me more isn’t just the gender limitations afforded to the toddlers by how the sets are sold, but also the way the marketing encourages parents to reinforce gender norms. The sad part is: by age two or three, the kids already have all the messages.

The video makes it pretty evident which characters are geared toward which gender, but the way they’re sold really clears things up.

Boys get to be a policeman/baseball player, a handyman/fireman, and a farmer/doctor. They also get to drive the garbage truck and dump truck.

Girls get to be a ballerina/musician, a princess/chef, and a pet doctor/gardener. They also get to drive the ice cream truck and ambulance.

I have a couple of friends who got their BAs in princesshood and are doing quite well these days. However, I don’t know any women who are real doctors, only nurses and vets pet doctors. (For the record, vets are brilliant, hard-working people of both genders; my point here is that girls only get to be a doctor when there’s something cuddly.)

It’s a shame that these messages persist in this way. The commercial also reminds us that dogs are for boys, and cats are for girls. (Actually, the dogs and cats come in both genders, but all the animals look pretty gender neutral anyway.)

Now, the video does point out the potential for “creativity.” The “funnest” combo is a bird doctor, the “silliest” is a dog pilot, and the “most imaginative” is the fireman ballerina.

I think the reason I was most struck by this commercial is because I think the way the 30-second version was edited, “silliest” was paired with “fireman ballerina.” This, to me, was a very negative message about crossing gender lines, when it should in fact be very empowering. If a parent is rich enough to buy all the sets, then the kids could be free to explore lots of realistic and interesting combinations that don’t have to be “imaginative” or “silly.”

Also, there are a few Pop On Pals of color, but most are white, and there’s no guarantee which you’ll get in your set. (It looks like the Latino boy is paired with the handyman, which is also a bit disconcerting.)

I’m sure as we get closer to the holidays, the frequency of toy commercials will increase dramatically. Just remember: Blue is for boys (who get real jobs), pink is for girls (who get to wear tutus, garden, and bake), and most kids who play with new toys are white.

(Also, another note from when I was researching for this post: There are a lot of bloggers and youtubers out there who review toys. Unsurprisingly, they are almost all Moms. Who else would take the time to make sure a toy is safe, enjoyable, and worth purchasing?)

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There are 1 Comments to "New Christmas Toys, Old Gender Conditioning"

  • Alan E. says:

    I work in Product Development, and I get the product recall emails every day. I look forward to the ways developers overlook their products (ie don’t get them tested at all) to see who can come out on top. Already today’s email puts this product in the running:

    Bathtub Toys Recalled by Munchkin Due to Risk of Injury

    Name of Product: Bathtub Subs

    Units: About 34,000 units

    Importer: Munchkin Inc, of North Hills, Calif.

    Hazard: The intake valve on the bottom of the submarine toy can suck up loose skin, posing laceration hazard to children.

    Incidents/Injuries: CPSC and the company are aware of 19 incidents of lacerations to boys’ genital area. One of the incidents required medical attention.

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