Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Children in a Toys World

May 20th, 2008
Dear Mommy and Daddy,
As you now, my 8th birthday is coming up, on June 15th , that’s in 26 days, and in case you have not gone to the toy store to buy my birthday presents, I am giving you a wish-list! All of these presents are from www.toysrus.com, where Grandma helped me search (and write this letter) for the presents that I want.
Imaginarium Glitter Suite Dollhouse (so my Barbie’s have a house to live in)
Barbie Fashion Fever Raquelle Doll (so I can dress her up!!)
8 ft. Trampoline (so me and my friends have a fun activity to do this summer!)
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (the first one was my favorite bedtime story)
Hannah Montana TV Soundtrack (she is so cool!)
I hope my list is useful, and I can’t wait to turn 8 years old! My pool party birthday is going to be so much fun! I love you forever and ever!!!!!!!!!!
Love Always,
Lila (your favorite daughter)

The toy market for young boys and girls has exponentially grown over the past years. Yet, toys continue to become increasingly polarized in terms of genders and this ultimately has a very significant effect on how children are socialized within specific gender roles structured by society. Toys act as one of the first cues children learn about our culture. While boys are given toys that promote logic, building, and competition, girls are introduced to toys that inspire creativity, imagination, care-taking/nurturing, beauty, and emotion. From birth children are introduced to these toys and they are sub-consciously imbedded into the maturity stages of children’s lives, and this effects how the child will grow and what values and ideologies he or she will accept.
Taking a look at specific toys, one can see how gendered these toys are integrated into a child’s life. Children are socialized into a specific gender role based on cues that come from their social structure such as the environment, how adults interact with the environment, and their toys. “Lila”, a soon to be 8 year old girl, has been gendered into the “female” role. The toys she asks for are inherently female focused such as a Barbie Doll and a Glitter Suite Barbie House. Ultimately, when parents consciously, or for that matter sub-consciously, feed their children gendered toys, they will continue to influence the way that their children interact in the world.
When discussing girl’s toys, the subject of Barbie is inevitable. The idea of Barbie has shaped the lives of past generations. I was given my first Barbie at the tender age of 4 by my mother who passed on her first Barbie that she received. After girls are introduced to their first Barbie it is unavoidable that she will collect copious amounts of Barbie Dolls and Barbie accessories including clothing, shoes, houses, cars, boyfriends (Ken), sisters (Skipper) and so forth. Ultimately, Barbie becomes a girl’s best manufactured friend. Mary F. Rogers states in her article “Hetero Barbie” that “Barbie illustrates what feminists and culture critics have been saying for some years. In no uncertain terms Barbie demonstrates that femininity is a manufactured reality. It entails a lot of artifice, a lot of clothes, a lot of props such as cuddly poodles and shopping bags, and a lot of effort, however satisfying at times” (Rogers 95). Barbie is the ultimate icon for little girls, and Barbie gives a step by step plan-o-gram of how girls should socialize and interact in her society.
Through toys, girls are taught how to dress and accessorize, care take and nurture, about their bodies, and how to beautify. At the same time boys are given building blocks, both figuratively and literally with toys such as K’Nex and Legos to foster their logic, battle skills, and competition. “Girl” toys foster an aesthetic type of creativity and force girls to play indoors, or in the private sphere, while “boy” toys promote outdoorsy play in the public sphere. These ideas then translate as the children grow. Girls are taught that there place is in the house, caring and nurturing for their family in a safe environment, while boys are taught to go out and seize the competition, and be strong warriors. Girls are taught emotion, while boys are taught to be emotionally vacant. With the help of the mass media, the ideologies represented in the toys are constantly being digested by children. As James Lull in his article “Hegemony” states: “The mass media help create an impression that even society’s roughest edges ultimately must conform to the conventional contours of dominant ideologies” (Lull 64). When children are introduced to gendered toys, it is no wonder that when they become adults, these ideas translate into their lives.
When shopping online for toys, you as a consumer can target specific demographics and psychographics for your particular child. Toysrus.com prompts you through various categories to choose from. You can start with an age bracket, then choose your child’s gender, what price range you are looking for, what category or toy you want, and then if you want a character or theme for the toy. After you have sorted out these descriptors, you are given numerous pages of toys to choose from. For “Lila” I started with the age bracket 8-11 and then narrowed down my search to girls. From there I knew I wanted a broader range of toys, so I searched in the category “Books, Movies, and Music”, “Dolls and Stuffed Animals” and “Outdoor Play”. I felt that these categories covered both ends of the gender spectrum.
Through my research for “Lila” I learned just how gendered even the Toys R Us website is. From the start you are able to choose which aisle to shop on. Although first you must indicate your age group, you are then asked to narrow down your search to girls or boys. Ultimately this is choosing the pink sparkly aisle, or the masculine red/blue aisle. Gender neutral toys are few and far between, but can be found in areas such as books, movies, outdoor activities, and arts and crafts. When choosing the category “Action Figures and Collectibles” there is a red and yellow band across the top with a little boy playing with the Red Power Ranger. Then when choosing “Dolls and Stuffed Animals” the band is pink and turquoise with a little girl playing with a Barbie doll. Although these are two categories that are socially gender opposites, categories such as “Science and Discovery” feature a blue band with a boy looking through a magnifying glass. The gender neutral virtual aisles refrain from using a colored band across the top. Ultimately by simple cues such as color, gender is plastered all over the page.
Products are forced into the minds of every consumer, even starting at ages younger then “Lila”. A child sitting in her 1st grade classroom sees his/her best friend playing with the newest toy and that child desires that toy as well. At its primitive stages, young children show the earliest forms of Viral Marketing. Corporations and toy manufacturers understand this process and latch onto its earliest consumers. As children grow with this primitive knowledge they are trained consumers and loyal customers.
As for “Lila”, she will most likely be given the toys that she has asked for in her letter to her parents. As she continues to grow and mature, the lessons she learned form playing with Barbie and her other gendered toys will follow her through her teenage years and into adulthood. The ideologies that she learned from childhood toys will play a large role in how she will conduct her home and her family. In a society where children are able to access any toy with a simple please and thank you to their parents, the toys they receive have lasting effects on their interaction and place in society.

Lull, James. “Hegemony” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text Reader 2: 61-66

Rogers, Mary F. "Hetero Barbie?" Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text Reader 2: 94-97

Toys R Us. 2008. 16 May 2008 www.toysrus.com.

Toys R Us. 2008. 16 May 2008 www.toysrus.com.


Jessiebg said...

Nice job with your first post! I love the wish-list-letter that begins your piece bc it does a very effective job setting the context for a relatable scenario.
Overall you did a great analysis and used the materials from the course quite well. One area that would have benefited from quotes was the paragraph where you outline the gendered codes and norms for toys. Citing Newman would help to define the terms and put the gendered toy construct into a clearer (and backed by academic scholarship) framework.
Aside from that, great job !

Raike said...
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