Against my better judgement I ventured into a toy store recently. Toys aren’t what I love giving the kids in my world. I prefer the idea of books and clay and donkeys and paint a whole lot more. But I wondered if maybe I was missing out on something, so off I went on a toy hunt. My first reaction was to be stunned with the enormity of choice so I asked a sales clerk if they might be able to help, to offer some ideas for children of various ages. I started with a toddler.
Is it a boy or a girl? the clerk asked.
Does it matter? I said. They can barely walk.
I was assured that, yes, it does indeed matter and once I’d identified the recipient as a girl child, was whisked to the pink side of the room where the shelves were so shockingly bright I momentarily lost focus, barely heard what the clerk said. Something about unicorns. When I asked what she would recommend for a boy the same age she directed me to the opposite wall, said trains were popular.
I was fascinated yet disheartened by this girl/boy division and considered taking solace in the world’s softest snowy white owl—for myself—but the lines were too long. Instead, I decided to to undertake an informal survey of area toy stores, popping into various ones over the next few days, asking for gift ideas for different ages. Result of survey: whether it was a small independent shop, a medium-sized chain or a huge honking warehouse, in every single case but one, the first question, regardless of age, was: is it a boy or a girl?
When I said I’d rather not be limited by gender specific toys, and that I’d prefer if they could just go by age appropriateness instead, sales clerks were flummoxed. It was clearly so ingrained that this stuff is for boys and this stuff is for girls, that it actually took them a moment to consider what to give an individual “kid”.
I kept expecting the first question to be what interests the child had, but no one asked that, at least not until they determined how said child peed.
In one case I was asked if the girl was a girly girl or a tomboy… with a distinct negative tone on the word ‘tomboy’, as if offering condolences. Message received: girly girl = good; tomboy = possibly cute, but slightly off the mark.
In another instance, when I said I was shopping for both a girl and a boy, of approximately the same age, I was shown a fabulous MegaBlocks set complete with helicopter, police station, cars, bulldozer, roads, cruisers—more than 1700 pieces in all. I said that the girl would love this. The owner of the shop, a man, informed me it would be better for the boy and then, pointing to a small shelf behind me said, This is for girls… it’s pink. He actually said It’s pink. It was also MegaBlocks, but in a plastic storage bin. The label showed that inside were the ingredients to build a domestic scene: a small house, a cat, a bush, a few flowers and a tiny car. I said it looked a bit dull, not much to do here but drive up to the house and back out again, maybe water your tree. It hardly compared with the helicopter and police station possibilities for saving the world. The guy shrugged, said, yeah, but… it’s for girls…
I began to realize how limiting and subliminally ‘shaping’ is this world of toys. For example, if your boy child likes gardening, I hope you [and he] have the chops to deal with the fact that ‘gardening’ kits are pink and/or have a girl on the cover. Ditto foodie/cooking type stuff.
In one store the boy’s side had signs indicating “Science Books”, “Science & Discovery”, “Brio”, “Thomas Railway”, “LEGO & Duplo”, “K’Nex” and “Chugginton”.
The girl’s side signage listed: “Dress-Up”, “Fashion & Bling”, “Arts & Crafts” [all pink], “Doll Houses”, “Corolle Dolls” and “Calico”.
The boy’s side included toboggans, table hockey and all manner of balls and racquets and sports things as well as kites, cars, walkie-talkies, wagons, sci-fi material and science projects.
The girl’s side: tiaras, wings, pink and silver slippers, life-size doll heads for practicing hair styles [age 3+], Princess Castle, Sparkle Kittens, glitter art, Bling Bracelets, button making, finger-nail art, costumes, My Sweet Diary, dolls and a whole line of Project Runway merchandise including a makeup and hair design sketch portfolio [age 8+].
In another store, a whole section of pink was devoted to merchandise of an early motherhood training variety. Not that there’s anything wrong with dolls and dolly car seats and other domestic paraphernalia… it’s that it’s all pink.
One can go pink mad.
And I think I did.
Which is why I’ve given up on the toy shops. Am sticking to books and paint and things that allow kids to think, not to mention donkeys and bears…
9 thoughts on “pink toys R girls + blue R boys = *sigh*”
Wow, how discouraging! Thankfully, when my son was small, there was a fantastic store not too far away called Fun to Grow On, that never distinguished by gender, just by type of toy. Most of them were on the creative side: building sets and puzzles of all kinds, really cool science stuff, trains, paper, paints, and many, many books. Fabulous place. Master Mind was another great one. Rarely went to places like Toys R Us unless it was something I couldn’t find at the smaller stores. It is very sad to see all those pix you took of the PINK–I do believe in some ways we are going backwards. When you compare Lego ads for example from the 70s and 80s to what they are now, it’s unbelievable. Just have to keep on rebelling and educating wherever possible and continue to give books, paint, donkeys, bears, puzzles, wagons…
This is my hope — i.e. more of what you describe as the ‘Fun to Grow On’ model. [Unfortunately, one of the stores I refer to ‘was’ MasterMind… I was shocked because I remember them being one of the really good ones many years back. They’ve succumbed, it seems, to the general backwards movement of what — for a tiny blip of a moment — was a forwards movement. Baby steps, I guess. ;)
The WORST! It’s why I consider our family quite lucky to not be wealthy and therefore we rarely consider these things. We just don’t go into stores at all. Books, puzzles, crafts, second-hand stuff. We made an entire city out of empty food containers. Harriet has imagined a doctor’s kit out of a USB cord (stethescope, naturally!) and a bubble blower. It’s so much less depressing. I hate how our kids are being manipulated, how their selves are being warped. But it CAN be resisted!
Thanks for the great post! I’ve experienced the same thing while shopping recently for our son and friend’s children. Its ridiculous! What can we do to get retailers (and toy manufacturers) to change this? I feel like, as a new mom, I’m obligated to protest this gender profiling. I guess buying the gender neutral toys whenever possible is one way. And sticking to books like you’ve done!
I hadn’t noticed that…
Oh dear. Can only pray it was unintentional. (what’s the emoticon for vaguely nauseated?)
It stuns me that, as a society in general, we continue to overlook the power in advertising, especially as it relates to kids, how they’re being trained to grow up numb and just do as the marketing tells them. As were we of course, but it’s ever more pervasive. And increasingly dangerous, I think, in all kinds of seemingly ‘unrelated’ ways.
It’s all so enormous that fighting against it feels quite pointless… but I’m guessing that’s the smoke and mirrors effect they’re hoping for.
Ah well, awareness and discussion, slow but powerful. It can’t hurt. And what else is there? [aside from a few well placed rotten eggs against a few corporate windows?]