Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Have a (gender neutral) Christmas!

This holiday season many of us will be purchasing toys for children.  Boys like blue and girls like pink, right? GI Joes or Barbies? Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber? Wait, both of those cater to pre-teen girls.  Gift cards it is.

I am what some may consider a "girly" girl.  I like pink; I wear heels and dresses.  As a child I played "Pretty Pretty Princesses" and had an EZ Bake Oven.  I loved shopping and Barbies, especially shopping for Barbies.  Though my mother swears I always exhibited a clear, unequivocal preference for girly things, while my sister was much more of a tomboy, it is frustrating to think of the potential that was stifled because of the societal pressure to behave, dress, or play in a certain way.

Some gender stereotypes and perceptions have been embedded within American culture for decades. The continuation of these stereotypes and perceptions can be attributed to the media and pop culture, which utilize stereotypes for commercial purposes. As mentioned in a previous blogpost, genderizing products allows companies to charge more for one or the other (usually women's products), even though they are nearly identical.

One of the ways gender stereotypes have been implemented and maintained is through children's television commercials, in which advertisers develop marketing techniques that appeal to stereotypes of boys and girls in order to sell a product. Through the analysis of text and observation of linguistic features in Barbie Commercials and G.I. Joe commercials from several decades, it is evident that children's television commercials utilize gendered language and that these commercials have an effect on children's perceptions of gendered appropriateness.

All of this confusion could be avoided by gender neutral toys.  The pitfalls of sexism should not be ingrained and reinforced in childhood.  Gender neutral toys give every child the opportunity to explore their interests without the fear of being stigmatized or ostracized.  The culture perpetuated by gender neutral toys will be more apt to embrace a modern, more fluid perspective on gender roles.

The gender of other children in toy commercials has an impact on children's perceptions of what gender should play with the toy. Nontraditional images were more likely to allow children to perceive that the presented toys are for both boys and girls, a significant conclusion when considering the limited exposure children have to these nontraditional images.  The conclusion permeates to adults as well; non-traditional portrayals help foster less traditional and stereotypical gender role perceptions.

In Sweden the debate on gender neutral toys has gotten so strong that toy store chains have actually had to take notice (all you invisible hand nay-saying liberals cannot deny consumers are a guiding force in the economy).  The Toys 'R' Us catalog in Sweden is unlike the other catalogs circulating in Europe.   A comparison between this year's catalog in Sweden and Denmark, a boy wielding a toy machine gun in the Danish edition had been replaced by a girl in Sweden.  Elsewhere a girl is photoshopped out of the Hello Kitty page.  The chain is quoted as saying, "With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It's not a boy or a girl thing, it's a toy for children."  This will give children the freedom to play with what they want, rather than being limited by gender.  This is bound to foster creativity, tolerance, and over-all as they mature, well-adjusted adolescents who are not threatened by non-traditional gender roles.

Beyond the genderization of toys, even gender neutral toys can be sexist.  Recently a six year old wrote a letter to Hasbro regarding the game "Guess Who?" The text of which can be found here.  She complains there are only 5 female characters versus the 19 male characters in the game.  She feels the game fails to recognize that girls are just as important as boys.  I am sure this is not the only game this is true for.

Between this post and my last I am forced to say American feminism is bleak and depressing.  Countries around the world are making leaps and bounds towards gender neutrality.  I fail to recognize what specific to American culture is so resistant to change.

1 comment:

Sara said...

I agree that the emergence of gender neutral toys is an important step in fighting sexism in the toy industry. Toys can have psychological effects on children, and only giving children gendered, stereotypical toys can be deeply damaging. For example, young girls might see Barbie dolls, and build expectations that their own bodies should also have the unrealistic proportions that Barbie has. Gender neutral toys are intended to foster creativity, rather than perpetuate stereotypes.