To verify that corporations are doing such, I went out on a toy shopping spree with a $126 budget. My objective was to find toys for my 10 year old cousin Zahra from Poland. Upon entering the store I quickly was able to recognize the bifurcate of girls and boys toys, and Newman’s point that “decades of research indicate that ‘girls' toys’ still revolve around theme of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys' toys’ emphasize action and adventure (Renzetti & Curran, 2003)” (Newman 112) proved to be correct. It was helpful for me to know that Zahra had a keen interest in sporting equipment, stuffed animals, and watching movies as I shopped around.
The store had a very large selection of sporting equipment, offering all kinds of products kids would enjoy. One item I focused on was roller skates. There were several brands however I noticed a distinct difference between male and female skates. Male skates were advertised with rigorous terrains as well as vibrant and flashy colors; whereas the female skates were flashier and overwhelmingly pink. Messner states that “organized sports are a ‘gendered institution’” and everything associated with sports “reflect dominant conceptions of masculinity and femininity.” (Messner 134) The product selection illustrated this point very well because it seemed as if the female skates had to be more materialized and lacked the true essence of the sport. There was one such product that depicted TV show star Hannah Montana. Realistically speaking Hannah Montana has seldom to do with skating, yet she is being used to advertise a skating product. Corporations are using a popular female figure amongst young female children to sell this product.
In addition to roller skating, Zahra enjoys playing softball. I was quickly able to distinguish in the sporting section the different between baseball and softball. Since this sport has already been differentiated based on gender, I was presuming to find more gender neutral items. However, it was to my surprise that the softball section offered basically the same items as the baseball section but also in pink. I came across a pink baseball glove and was puzzled. Is there really a need to “feminize” sporting equipment for a women’s sport? By our social standards of feminine appeal, girls are being pressured into buying more “girly” items, even in the sports world.
I decided to do the stuffed animal shopping online at toyrus.com. I simply selected the category for stuffed animals/dolls and was redirected to the stuff animal/dolls home page. To the left there were several sub-categories specifying the type of stuffed animals/dolls, prices, and to my delight age and gender. Our society places the notion of playing with stuffed animals/dolls to girls, so I thought it would be interesting to first see the selection for boys. Out of over 2,000 items only 300 were male specific. Furthermore, as I selected different age categories I saw the number of items diminishing as the age grew. It became evident here that corporations design less toys of the stuffed animal categories for older males. “By the age of five or so, most children have developed a fairly extensive repertoire of gender stereotypes (often incorrect) that they then apply to themselves (Martin & Ruble, 2004). They also use these stereotypes to form impressions of others and to guide their own perceptions and activities.” (Newman 113) This quote by Newman has been recognized by the toy corporations. The corporations realize that the market for stuffed animals for boys five and up is not too strong, that is why there are substantially less stuffed animal products available to boys than girls.
I still had to find a stuffed animal Zahra would enjoy, so I looked through the girls section. The girl’s sub-category provided different results. There were over 2,000 items available and these items were predominantly female or had feminine features. Some of the best sellers were baby stuffed animals which came with several accessories. This type of item allows for little girls to act like mothers, where they can put the baby to sleep, feed it, and do other such motherly acts. Most baby stuffed animals/dolls products were targeted to little girls by advertising little girls playing with the product. The corporations can thus use these types of toys to instill in female minds that motherly behavior is a normative feminine behavior.
Lastly, the final item I had to get Zahra was a movie. I again used toyrus.com to narrow my search. Zahra had always been a Disney fan so I hoped to find a Disney movie as a top seller. There were several but I selected Sleeping Beauty. Zahra as a ten year old Polish girl can relate to Sleeping Beauty in many ways. Perhaps the most prominent relation would be in physical looks. The predominant top sellers in the girls sections were mostly romance movies, and Hannah Montana. An interesting top seller I came across was a movie entitled Laugh and learns about Childbirth. This DVD goes through the different aspects of child labor and has been recommended for ages 10 and up. Finding such film in the girls section was quite astonishing and the fact that it is a best seller demonstrates the interest among young girls in motherhood. This aspect of motherhood has become a profitable area for corporate toy makers.
After this toy shopping spree, I came about some startling results. Toys play a large part in gender socialization as the differences between male and female toys demonstrate. Most boy toys showed a more aggressive nature, especially in sports. Girl toys were more sensitive and predominantly pink, as well as many toys relating to motherhood. The social agent attached to our gender identities is evident in the toys I bought for Zahra. In our society, it is very difficult to raise a child in a gender neutral environment, as traces of gender realization lies in almost all aspects of popular culture.
Messner, Michael A. “Boyhood, Organized Sports and the Construction of Masculinities.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, 1990. 120-137.
Newman, David M. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. NY: McGraw Hill, 2007. 106-145.
Hannah Montana Adjustable Quad Skates - Size 1-4
Youth Girls' Softball Glove (11") Black/Pink - Player Series - PL1109P
Fur Real Friends Newborn Kneading Kitten (Marmalade)
Sleeping Beauty 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD