Fisher-Price: It’s Never Too Early for Gender Stereotyping!

When I think back on my own childhood, I find that my memories are sepia-toned, by which I do not mean that I am especially nostalgic, but, rather, that I grew up in the 1970s, and brown was hot. Yellow, too. Those two colors comprised the entire palette of the complete Little Tikes line and many other elements of my visual universe. Everything else was red, green, or blue. All little kids had pageboy haircuts, and boys and girls wore the same Garanimals and played with the same Legos. I know that times have changed. I know that we are, as a culture, obsessed with assigning our children to one of two exhaustively defined, color-coded genders even before they emerge from the womb. I know the agony of trying to find, say, rain boots or a toddler's toothbrush without being forced to choose between flowers and desert camouflage. But, still, every once and awhile I am taken aback.

I was flipping through Target's Sunday circula when I was confronted with the Laugh & Learn™ My Pretty Purse by Fisher-Price™. There are a lot of things I don't like about this toy. I don't like, for example, that it talks and sings. I don't want my 20-month-old daughter to learn how to talk and socialize from anthropomorphic pieces of plastic with prerecorded voices. (For weeks, I tried to figure out why she says "Hello" with a British accent before I realized that she was mimicking a made-in-China toy my grandma got her, and which she only gets to play with during roadtrips when a backseat meltdown is imminent.) But what I really don't like is the chubby little toddlerized lipstick. And the pocket mirror. And the pink-and-purpleness of the whole thing.

I know that pretending is not only an essential component of toddler entertainment but also a powerful tool for child development. I know that my daughter is fascinated by grow-up artifacts and activities. I know that she wants to put on lip balm whenever I put on lip balm, and she loves nothing more than to look at herself. But I don't like the idea of giving my daughter—or anyone's daughter—a toy designed on the premises that girls shop and study their reflection and put on makeup. It's enough to make me go on eBay, click over to the "Vintage, Antique Toys" category, and do a search for "brown".

by Jessica Jernigan
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Jessica Jernigan is a writer, editor, and tarot reader. She’s been contributing to Bitch since 2004.

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13 Comments Have Been Posted

Holy F%ck!

OK, so my 4 1/2 old daughter has a slight British/Brooklyn accent, now I'm wondering if it's from a toy instead of her past life. I'm serious. She says things with such an accent (butta vs butter, mudder vs mother) that we swear that she must had been a lil old British woman and maybe lived in Brooklyn too. Or Boston. She flip flops.

My insane theory aside, I too hate the color coding of childhood. It is insane and brings about all those girl-boy things far too early in their lives.

Veronica I. Arreola
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I think it's bull shit that toy companies and marketers assume children have preset preferences as to what they play with. Little girls like purses because people give them purses to play with, but they will play with pretty much anything. I have two older brothers and for the first 4-5 years of my life everything I had was a hand-me-down, from the tonka trucks to the blue dinosaur t-shirts and rolled up blue jeans.

I still enjoyed things like the Little Mermaid and my mother's blush, but I was allowed to make choices, and I think that's something we don't give children now-a-days: a choice as to who they want to be.

I used to love playing with

I used to love playing with Tonka trucks when I was a kid (especially the big yellow dump truck with the working dumper), but I'm not so impressed with them anymore. Apparently, they've changed the design, because they're now "built for boyhood". Bleh.


I always bought books as gifts for children (I have none of my own) so when I had to go to Name Brand Toy Store for something last year, I was stunned.

Whole aisles of very clearly Girl Stuff. All of it pink and/or spangly. Most of it having to do with housekeeping and Being a Pretty Princess.

Whole sections of very clearly Boy Stuff. All of it in camouflage.

I was furious for days...and grateful that I'm not raising children.

(Not so) Mellow Julia

pottern barn kids

<p>This company catalog never ceases to get me riled in some way.</p><p>I checked out <a href="">their website</a> and it's an interesting excersize to company the GIRLS page with the BOYS page.  First of all, why are they separated anyway?  Oh, because the girl version of the kitchen stove, refrigerator etc... are pink and the boys versions are red. I guess, well, at least they have a &quot;boys&quot; version.  </p><p>In any case, the boys page features a cash register toy and items with with police, fire station and space themes - the girls page features none of those items.  Instead, there are plenty of baby related items - dolls and mini strollers and lots of jewelry boxes. Oddly enough, both pages have vaccuum cleaners.  And the girls page does include the digital basketball hoop and comics.  Both include educational and art stuff.</p><p>Note:  I had to go get my son a pink ball because he was upset I got him a yellow one yesterday.</p>

Pink and Blue

In our post-feminist society, is it any wonder that toys have not changed? We live in a society that has gone backwards - as though we are giving up and agreeing that gender should remain a strict dividing line, with men on top and girls on the bottom. Girls are assigned toys that do nothing to develop their minds, and teach them to make babies and be constantly worried about how they look. Beauty, fashion, cooking, cleaning, and children - that's a girl's world. Leave the thinking and independence to men. The men have the control and the authority, and that's the way they want to keep it.

I recently read an extremely sexist comment in a local news article by a guy who I thought I knew (he was being interviewed for his band):

"The woman is society, and God is the man. God is the one who has the control. It is up to society to give up control to God."

And he blatantly uses religion as an excuse! It makes me sick. But he is also having problems with his wife, who left him to pursue school. Good for her! Apparently, she did not give up her life for him.

Gender specific toys

I am frustrated but not surprised by this issue and the increasingly gender-specific toys our children are being force-fed. I grew up in America in the 70's and am raising a 19mo daughter in Ireland. I refuse to dress my child in 100% pink or purple and for this I receive a variety of comments ranging from "what an interesting outfit" to "you should dress your child in prettier clothes".

As young as she is, I haven't had to wage any major battles (yet) on the gender-specific toy front but I'm sure they're coming. When I bring my daughter over to our friends to play with their kids (boys) I am usually asked "Does she like playing with/is it okay if she plays with trains/cars?"

But the absolute scariest issue I've encountered so far comes in the form of Irish mamas. Over half of the mamas (of boys) I meet at some point in the conversation will inform me that I can't possibly understand how precious it is to be the mother of a boy. I am consistently so shocked that I lose the capacity for speech. What surprises me most is not only that this sentiment still exists in 2008 but that it comes out of the mouths of women who consider themselves progressive. For some reason that disturbs me even more.

And while I'm at it - it also frustrates me when people ask me if my daughter has any little boyfriends. I inform them that she likes to kiss both boys and girls indiscriminately which results in stunned looks and radio silence.

Damn glad to see this blog (with comments!) opened on this site.

Back to Basics Toys

I friend recently forwarded me a link of toys that were popular when I was a child growing up in the late 70's and early 80's. Less plastic, more quiet and not so bright.

looking for an alternative.

so does anyone know of a baby clothing outlet that caters to the gender-neutral set? my partner and i are on the verge of making a baby and i'm hoping for a boy only so i don't have to fight with her over the girl clothes. (i'm half thinking of starting a clothing line for babies devoted to bringing attention to everyone's incessant need to label a newborn.) does anyone know of a place like that?

gender neutral clothes

<p>All you have to do it just focus on getting plain looking clothes.  if you have a girl, this will probably mean shopping in the boys section.  but there are generally a good supply of plain t shirts and shorts at places like old navy and, to a lesser extent, target.  if you're hoping to avoid chain stores, there are many resale baby stores in metro areas and there's always ebay and craig's list.  it was also important to me not to have characters on the clothing from tv shows...i don't like kids being walking advertisements (unfortunately, they have characters on alot of diapers).</p>

Me too

My own son is well past the age of playing with toys (unless you consider an X-box or a Wii a toy, which I actually do), but I'm the proud auntie of a couple of smart, active little girls. It is a form of torture to me when I need to buy them a gift. All the toy stores have this "gender-nazi" design and I am determined never to buy a kid a gender-nazi toy. But it's nearly impossible. I've had to settle for stuffed animals - which the kids love - but I really want to buy a trike that isn't "pink-for-girls" or "extreme-for-boys" or a dumptruck with a woman or even a person of indeterminate gender in the driver's seat, or a handyperson toolkit that doesn't scream "boy!" all over it. Damn, when is an enterprising toy company going to read this and see there's a real need out there that isn't being fulfilled?

young adult looking back

I grew up in the early to mid-nineties, and I remember that I liked a mix of toys: I enjoyed my plastic hair salon but even more my toy planes, bugs, and dinosaurs. I hated dolls up until age 8 when I discovered the American Girl line, and even then I let the dolls catch dust while I devoured the books. I got an idea of feminism early on (thanks to my mom buying me lots of issues of New Moon magazine) and I remember being angered at the fact that McDonalds Happy Meals required me to choose between a "boy toy" and a "girl toy," or that my more distant relatives, the ones who knew only my age and gender, would automatically assume a baby doll or play make-up was the best Christmas/birthday gift.
Now from what I understand, it's even worse. You have little girls, as young as six even, wearing halter tops with glittery logos like "Baby" and "Phat" on them. The media targets girls younger and younger with the message that they need to look pretty and focus on getting guys all the time. I'm worried that by the time I have children, the gender stereotypes will be so pervasive in media that they will have no choice but to conform to strict gender roles.

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