Monday, January 17, 2011

Marketing Is Destroying Our Personalities

I've had enough!  This is just so darn dumb!  When will people get it through their heads that the kinds of toys a child likes to play with does not mean they aren't masculine or feminine enough to mature into a heterosexual adult?  Quite frankly, I'm sick to death of the need to make every little girl feel like they must be beauty queens in tiaras and little boys must be muscle bound sports star action heroes!

Do you realize in other countries boys wear pink?  Girls wear blue!  And they grow up perfectly normal!!!  So why is it here, in America we tease ridicule and repress kids who dare to cross some arbitrary contrived gender boundary that really is nothing more than some marketing line at the local Walmart?  Is it really going to collapse our society if a girl likes Toy Story (namely Woody or Buzz), Cars, Star Wars, or even just playing with action figures?  Will all our men be forever twisted if they enjoy playing with a Barbie doll, dollies, or Disney princesses?

I'm not even going to talk about girls and Star Wars, we've already talked about that.  My daughter is on board, and so are some of her girlfriends in kindergarten.  They don't get teased about it either, thankfully!  However, as we were preparing for some birthday party shopping (my 6 year old had two parties to shop for over the weekend) we had a long discussion about what to get and I learned a few things.

I love to give my kids the chance to choose gifts for their friends, and my oldest daughter has always done an excellent job intuitively (she's a gift giver).  Lately, however; I've noticed her saying things like, "I want this, I'll get it for my friend."  So, instead of having her just get something she wanted I wanted to make sure it was something her friend was really into.  One of the girls having a birthday is in her class so I suggested she talk with her friend about the sort of things she likes.  After all, there is nothing kids enjoy talking about more than their birthday parties!

She came home absolutely set on getting her friend a Barbie.  This is not a bad idea, although my middle child got the oldest a Barbie for Christmas, my oldest isn't that crazy about the dolls.  So obviously, this is a suggestion from the birthday girl herself.  We started talking about Barbie dolls and it lead to her revealing that a boy in her class who has an older sister really really likes playing Barbies.  I asked my daughter her thoughts on this, and I don't know if she was fully honest, because she knows that I adamantly feel that there is no such thing as boys toys and girls toys, but she told me that she was cool with him playing with them, and even some of the other girls were okay with it, but the other boys really picked on him about this.  I don't know to what extent this social ostracism occurs, but the fact that it occurs at all should be a wake up! What are we teaching our children if they think that liking something different than you means you can't hang out together, even if sometimes that rule doesn't apply, like my daughter not caring for Barbie dolls?

My husband admits to playing with Barbie dolls.  He played with them with his little sister.  Admittedly, the first time it probably wasn't his idea, but he does have fond memories of it.  Sure, he may not be the best example, as he's not a "Man's Man", but I think the world would be immensely better if more men were like him, completely devoted to his family, willing to do whatever chores need doing, caring for his kids without it being a chore.

I just don't get it.  I mean who cares if a boy plays with "domestic" toys?  I still remember boys having cabbage patch dolls, and if you lived through the 80's you surely still have the jingle for the My Buddy doll stuck in your head!  With no persuading from me, it was my husband who gave our son one of his sister's old dolls (with permission from the girls of course).  Granted we had talked about how babies seek out the faces of other babies and it is much more pleasurable to have the soon-to-be toddler point out eyes on a doll than your face, but I've seen other dads completely lose it when the boy with a dolly issue is discussed.

Gender biasing marketing may not be the whole cause of all these problems, but it definitely isn't helping and has clearly gotten out of hand.  My daughter tries to ignore it, and just this weekend bought some clearance toys (with her Christmas money) that were marketed to boys, but sometimes it just can't be overcome!  I distinctly remember the adventure of picking out her backpack for kindergarten.  There were boy styles and girl styles and even though they were the same manufacturer at the same store with mix and match lunch boxes, the boy lunch boxes couldn't connect to the girl backpacks and vice versa.  The connection mechanisms were different.  I mean what gives with that!?!  Why can't I pick the super cool blue boy style box and put it with a girl backpack?  I mean it makes no sense!

Can someone explain to me what's up with LEGO?  I mean since when did plastic bricks gain a gender?  NEVER!  So why are all the blocks "boy toys"?  Why did the Harry Potter Burrow HOUSE have an action catapult with flame throwing action and action scenes all over the box?  I mean isn't it just as cool with the house and mini-figs?  I mean you don't even get Ron so that there is room for Fenrir!  It's not the only one.  There are very few girl mini-figs and less in action jobs!  I mean where are the girl astronauts, and the girl pirates?  Next time you are at a store with toys, go check the LEGOs outside of the City LEGOs everything is an action set directly aimed at boys in the marketing.

I want to close this out with one reflection of hope.  While I was in the cafeteria last week we had lots of chatting time, especially with the overabundance of rain.  One afternoon a group of girls was complaining about the quality of female characters portrayed on TV and in movies and books.  After some discussion amongst themselves, one of the girls asked me what could be done about it.  So I asked them, "When you write the books and make the movies, what kinds of things are you going to have women doing?"  This spurred further discussion.  At the very end of lunch one of the girls came up to me and said she was going to draw a comic about a woman hero, but she wanted to know what the woman could be.  I asked her what she was best at and told her to draw that!  Sure, we have smart women, and strong women, and women who act like men in media, but I think it's far more important to for her to see the hero as someone like her, and that is something that seems to be lost in our need to coral genders into marketing stereotypes.


  1. Very well said! I hate the looks C gets when she plays with trucks or something other than her dolls. She likes her fair share of super heroes and her princesses.

  2. Just don't forget that boys and girls ARE different, from conception on, their brains are wired differently, their hormones are different. It isn't strange that girls instinctively nurture and boys like guns and hunting and things of that nature. A lot of that stuff is not because of t.v., etc., but just how God made them.
    Relative in SC

  3. Yes, boys and girls are fundamentally different and they play differently, even with the same toys. However, I believe kids should be free to look down the toy aisle and be free to chose the toy that interests them the most, the toys they gravitate to, without it being based on packaging. By the time a boy is in preschool he has learned that culturally things absolutely soaked in pink packaging are not meant for him to even look at. He doesn't know why, but he doesn't get the chance! Same with girls. They've learned that toys in dark colors are not "supposed" to be liked by them.

    I see this even with my own kids. I have to push my girls to look at toys in boys packaging, even when it's something she'd love like the LEGO's. It's getting better now because my children don't watch television and I have a greater influence in enforcing there is no such thing as boys toys and girls toys.

    As for the girls nurture and boys hunt - you know me better than that! This is artificial!!!!! Yes, they are different, but this is not how! In some cultures it was the woman's job to hunt. According to this article by Jonathan Liu over 150,000 dads in America alone are the full time care providers for their children. I refuse to believe it's because they are forced to be! In fact Mr. Liu admits in this article that he chose to stay home with his daughters even before they were born. I personally feel that my husband is as nurturing, if not more so than me. Yes, he played soldier, he was even in JROTC, but he loves to cook and care for all of his children.

    Personally as a child I made my own weapons. I played cowgirl and indians along with many other "cops and robbers", good guy/bad guy games. Only a few of which included the neighbor boys.

    If we look around to other cultures, and even at our own past, it is obvious that marketing is corrupting our observations of life and our children and changing how we think and what we observe without our noticing. You can't make someone girlie or boyish, they will be that way because they choose to be, but our problems clearly lie in what it means to be either of those things! Just because a girl likes robots and building things, does not make her boyish, neither does practicing domestic skills in a play setting make a boy girlish. Boys should have access to dressing dolls and playing house like with a Barbie or a doll house. They should be able to play with cleaning toys and play kitchens and play food. Boys are a vital component in playing house - and they should not just be relegated to sitting on the bench away at work, but a vital important interactive member of the house unit.(sorry couldn't find the link for that article it was a few years ago). Girls should be able to explore their interests outside of domestic and diva life as well. Personally, I feel we are doing our daughters a HUGE disservice with our obsession that they pretend to be princesses and have to be beautiful. It is a weekly fight with my second daughter to convince her that even when her hair is not made up and she is not in a dress that she is still beautiful! She's only 3!!! She needs to learn not to expect a fairy tale, there is not perfect prince. After you find a prince in training, you have to train him! Just as he trains you. Sure it's fine to pretend, but the play needs variation or there grows an obsession to make it reality that just can't happen.

  4. Shawnee - Please tell C that my dad and I played Hot Wheels ALL THE TIME!! It was one of my favorite things. He's really into cars and we played cars a lot AND then when I was around her age he started teaching me how to build model cars. (another industry that could stand to learn a lesson, but not as badly needed as LEGO).

    One of the aspects I left out of this, that I originally intended to include was my mother's fall into this marketing in that if she bought my sister and I action figures (namely Masters of the Universe) we wouldn't be girlie enough. Kinda funny for a girl who fought to be in the farmyard as opposed to regulated to the house, herself.

  5. Obviously since I have a daughter who loves L.McQ. and Spiderman and a son who wore the princess crown from your last birthday party for weeks, I don't buy into the gender marketing either! I grew up loving LEGOs and hot wheels just as much as I loved my Cabbage Patch Kid and amazingly enough I turned into quite a good wife and mother, unscarred by my days of longing to be a boy scout so I could build fires and go camping rather than sell cookies. One reason I love the show Covert Affairs is that it stars a smart, competent woman who is also feminine.

    I have to admit I have bowed a little to society's norms when I wouldn't paint my son's fingernails any more after he turned four... I gave him a marker tattoo instead. And when my mother gave me pink cowboy boots for my baby I told her that Hubby wouldn't like them (true). Sigh. If only one could stay truly tied to one's convictions.

  6. Erin - I fall too. I don't buy imported pink boys outfits (yes they make them - they are very cute!) and my son doesn't wear pink outside of the house (other than his snowsuit). My daughter's have amassed quite the collection of princess-y things as well.

    If you want, they make some wonderful "manly" fingernail colors. Hot Topic currently has many on clearance.

  7. Okay, I agree that girls and boys should be able to play with whatever toys they want to, and I actually think it would be an improvement to society if boys were playing house a little more and less with guns, etc. However, when you go into men being the primary caregiver, you start challenging social norms that have always been presented to me as being Biblical. The woman should stay home and clean the house and raise the kids, the man should go to work, provide for the family, be the spiritual leader, etc. So, my question is, is this Biblical/the way God has set up the family and His perfect plan or is this just a social norm (perhaps outdated now) that I have always accepted because it is what I've been taught since childhood???
    Relative in SC


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