Part 2: What a Girl Wants…Maybe

I recently posted about a new construction toy aimed towards girls 6-11 years old. The ad was attention-getting, with the catchy hook of a Beastie Boys track re-written from the girls’ point of view, eschewing domestic-themed play, and the visual intrigue of a Rube Goldberg machine. Fun stuff. Show it to a girl and ask her what it was trying to sell and she’ll most likely shrug. The toy it was promoting, GoldieBlox, was completely absent from the scenario. But hey, advertising. I get it. I work in it. To sell something, you have to sell people on the feeling you want them to associate with the product. And “You go, girl!” is what the take-away of the ad was, and what GoldieBlox’s hope will be from their toy.

My daughter just turned 6 and I’m not considering buying GoldieBlox for her. I think she’d rather build a Rube Goldberg apparatus with her little brother out of found materials in our apartment.

I am also not considering this as a holiday gift for Charlotte.

I’m not a “Hunger Games” fan, but even if I was, I don’t choose to buy pretend weapons for my kids. Not even now that they come in pink and purple, just for girls.

Nerf’s “Rebelle” line of combat-themed toys is a version of their usual artillery, feminized in pastels with descriptions such as “Take aim…and show the world the beauty of strength and power.”

Again with the beauty. You can’t be strong or powerful (or have decent hand-eye coordination, I guess) without it being contextualized in beauty if you’re female.

Say what?

My issue with this line of toys (apart from the screaming headline of perpetuating violent play) continues to be twofold:

1. Segregating by sex. Nerf products have existed forever for any child of a certain age, though they were almost exclusively marketed to boys. In fact, on the products homepage of the Nerf website (which makes NO mention of their new, girl-targeted Rebelle line), you have an option of searching by gender. The choices? “Boys” or “both.” Seems kind of odd to include “both” without including “Girls” on the menu. And also – why bother listing a gender search option anyway? Does genitalia have some kind of role in how the toys can be manipulated for optimum gameplay? Yikes! What kind of toy is that?!

2. The trend in toys is to market how girls are now included in what is typically male-oriented play, but not the other way around. So GoldieBlox is a construction toy, painted pink. Lego Friends are building sets, painted pink. And now Nerf crossbows are weapons, painted pink. The message intended is boys and girls can enjoy the same kind of play, but the message received is: play like a boy, look like a girl. This wouldn’t irk me if I saw some typical “girl” kind of toys painted blue. Or just put a boy toddler in a commercial marketing baby dolls. Or pretending to cook in the plastic kitchen. Or tending to its menagerie of doe-eyed foals in their baby animal hospital. Or just have girls and boys merge Lego sets and build a super-city together. You know, like how it is in real life.

It’s confusing for girls and boys; the more we push for equality, the more pop culture widens the chasm based on sex. Katniss Everdeen may be inspiring a generation of tweens to arm themselves with foam bows and arrows, but I don’t see any advertising inviting them to play with the boys.

The descriptions for two similarly designed and same-priced bows, one for girls and one for boys, are below. Guess which is which.

Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow Phoenix: Arm yourself for action and team up with friends to play together as you make the rules and define the style. With the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow, real bow action is at your fingertips! The Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow is decorated with pink and purple phoenix feathers for a fierce and feminine look that’s just right for glamorous Nerf Rebelle girls like you.

Nerf N-Strike Blazin’ Bow Blaster: Hit your mark with the real bow action of the Blazin’ Bow blaster! Pull it back and let fly with one of the 3 giant foam arrows at targets up to 40 feet away. The blaster’s 20-inch wingspan gives it big launching power, and you can reload quickly from the blaster’s arrow storage compartment! Take aim and sharpen your archery skills with the Blazin’ Bow blaster!

So if you’re a girl, it’s about how hot your gun is – you’re accessorizing with it. If you’re a boy, this toy will give you firepower and help to improve your sharpshooting.

I don’t like the direction we are going here – making our girls more “masculine” (misinterpreted as becoming empowered) while simultaneously feminizing them. And leaving the boys completely out of the conversation. They are left alone, to continue to be marketed to as they have been. They are not being asked to re-think the roles girls play during playtime. They are not being held accountable to include the girls. And the girls are not being encouraged to join the boys. To each his/her own…now easier with color-coding.

This is so odd to me. With stay-at-home parents including more and more men, and the statistics rising for men partaking more in domestic responsibilities, I don’t understand why this isn’t trickling down to inform toy developers and marketers. It’s like girls have to become more boy-like to feel more equal. And does boy-like REALLY have to mean trying to shoot stuff? Yet, equality eludes them because they are never expected to be interested in the mechanics of sharpshooting; they just have to look good doing it.

With the 3-year age difference between my daughter and son, there is a limited amount of activities they can enjoy together. Crafts, playground fun and imaginative play is what they gravitate towards when it’s just the two of them. That she is a girl and he is a boy is no matter. When they play with kids of the same gender, Charlotte and her friends usually enact school, play Barbies or fairies or princesses, and Campbell and his guy pals tend to find things with wheels and focus on how fast, how far or how high they can run, throw or build. It’s interesting to observe.

There are so many ways to separate ourselves. But I want to prepare my kids for life on a co-ed planet. My office is mostly guys; my husband’s department skews heavily female. We both work in a collaborative industry. We rely a lot teamwork. I would like my children to know that the best kind of team is one where the individuals trust one another’s abilities. How will boys and girls ever know they can work together if they’re not encouraged to play together?

What is your reaction to what I’m calling the “paint it pink” toy movement? Is it good for our girls, for our boys? 

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One response to “Part 2: What a Girl Wants…Maybe

  1. Pingback: Want To Get More Girls Into STEM? Get Them Into Tinker Bell. – A “tinker fairy” is just Disney for “mechanical engineer.” | 6News

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