Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gendered Consumers/ Engendering Consumerism - Toy Shopping

Toys are cultural products that are marketed to innocent children in order to gender them. People are brought up on consumerism; it is all around each one of us and it is almost impossible to escape. If we are born biologically as males and females, then American toy companies make it their business to construct the “boy” and “girl” genders. Children are handed “scripts” to play out in order to become gendered. Television commercials consistently show boys and girls toys so that they can “correctly” perform his or her gender”
Gender is learned in many settings in a child’s life; the school, the home and the after school program, help in the gendering of children today. However, in order for the home and school to gender children, tools are necessary and that is where toys come in to play. For my shopping trip, I decided to visit www.toysrus.com and shop for an 8-year-old girl,
who without a doubt has been to a toy store at least once in her life. While shopping, I found the following items: A pink Nintendo DS and the “High School Musical 2” game to accompany the game system. I also found “Hasbro’s Designers World” game where girls can plug in the game to her TV and create clothes for characters to wear. An 8-year-old girl would also like “Bratz” dolls and the “Hannah Montana Concert Dress up Kit” where they can mimic Hannah Montana and sing along to their favorite songs. All of these toys were priced between $9.99 (Designer’s World game) and $129.99 (Nintendo DS).
When I first went on to the Toys ‘R’ Us website, I noticed that you could choose how you wanted to shop, by action figures, board games, indoor, outdoor and by gender. Since I am shopping for a girl, I chose “girl” and then narrowed it down by age range. Through the toys shown on the site and from the items that I chose, I found that the majority of the items marketed to girls promote creativity, beauty, and being indoors. While toys generally marketed to boys were more “logical” and promoted the ideas of violence and outdoors (exploring). According to David M. Newman, in chapter 4, he states, “As a consequence with differential treatment, both boys and girls learn to adopt gender as an organized principle for themselves and the social world in which they live.” (qtd. In Newman p. 113) . In Newman’s piece, he feels that gendered socialization is a process that primarily occurs at home and at school because that is where kids spend most of their time. Toys and toy stores are a kid’s gender inundation zone, where they learn what it means to “be a girl” and to “be a boy”.
Children are socialized into gender roles based on their sex. Therefore, toy stores take this idea and create toys around that in order for children to play out their “appropriate” gender role. Toy stores make it their job to help decide what rules will fulfill the gender roles handed to children before they are even born. When children are in toy stores, see commercials or play with someone else’s toys, they learn what is “normal” for his or her gender role and therefore continue to carry out those stereotypical roles that are built during childhood. The use of television “provided a relentless flow of information and persuasion that placed acts of consumption at the core of everyday life.” (Lipsitz, 43) Commercials on television show children images of what is appropriate for each gender role. These toy commercials are “scripts” for children to act out in their lives for how to “play a girl” and how to “play a boy”. Lipsitz believes that by the production of the television, the economy was allowed to grow and expand in ways never possible before. The television showed images of products that men, women, boys and girls did not necessarily need, but wanted. These products were and still are, carefully marketed to target audiences. Today toy commercials show boys and girls playing with toys that are carefully colored and crafted to be the “most appealing” to boys and girls.
Using this idea, the Toys R’ Us website told me that 8-year-old girls would only be interested in playing dress-up to be like Hannah Montana or to play with the “Bratz” dolls that only come with tight jeans and small tops and dresses. I was happy to choose the Nintendo DS system and the “High School Musical” game because that boy was marketed to both boys and girls. However, numerous other games were nothing like the “boy games” all about violence and being tough. The Nintendo DS game
system came in black, white and pink to accommodate boys and girls stereotypical colors. Other toys on my list, such as the “Designers World” game, the cover had a tall, skinny blonde girl wearing a pink shirt surrounded by “her cartoon friends” that also were tall, skinny and were wearing skimpy clothing. All this cover told young consumers was yes, you can learn to peruse a career of clothing design, but in order to be beautiful and successful, make those clothes small, tight and pink. Barbie’s in miniature clothing littered the web page telling girls what is beautiful. The “Hannah Montana Concert Dress up” kit does the same thing, by selling a box of clothes that an idealized character wears. According to Lipsitz, girls do not need this kit, but a commercial would tell girls that they could pretend to be just as rich and beautiful as Hannah Montana if they (or their parents) bought the dress up kit.
While shopping, I looked for toys that would appeal to girls around the age of eight. In the 8-11 years old, category, I found many games that kept girls indoors playing dress up, kitchen or video games. Since children are, according to Newman, socialized based on this or her sex, toy companies and children learn to use toys, colors and media to become a “girl” and a “boy”. Adjusting my search to girls 12-14 years old, I found the Toys ‘R’ Us website showing me more electronic games and less dress up games, but games and toys that still kept them indoors and beautiful. I found numerous pictures of video games about designing their own clothes, creating their own roller coasters, and “High School Musical” themed. This page showed pictures of Nintendo
Wii and games that accompanied the system. Girls are shown to play board games such as “Scrabble” and “Up Words”. Other items marketed towards girls between the ages of 12-14, are creating and designing their own jewelry, a computerized makeover, and learning how to play a {pink} guitar. Even the older groups of girls are told to be beautiful, wear fabulous clothes and to stay inside in order to not get dirty. This follows Newman’s idea of learning the difference between the genders through the media.
Walking through a toy store, girls are on one side of the store while the boys are on the other side browsing at “their” toys. I found the “High School Musical” themed item marketed to both boys and girls, showing that video games or that theme is only for girls or only for boys. It seemed like
that was a gender-neutral toy. There are other video games and gaming systems that are advertised on the girls page, which may cause people to believe that toys are becoming more gender neutral. However, those games that are on the girls page show games of pet adoption, “Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends” for Nintendo DS, and “Bratz” dolls. Yes, girls are now a new target audience for video game companies, however they are sending the same message they sent when they sold just a kitchen set and Barbie dolls: “girls should be indoors, cooking, cleaning and playing with dolls”. Toy companies market these items in order to keep girls in the “private sphere” of the home, while boys are allowed to go out in the “public sphere” and explore. If I really had to choose a toy that would be considered “gender-neutral”, I would have to choose the board game “Scrabble” because it allows children to practice their literacy skills. Boys and girls may choose to make words that are gendered, but the game itself is a blank slate and the players build it.
Overall, gender is a learned concept that begins even before children are born. Kids play out what they have learned through observations of others, their parents and their setting. Toys help gender children based on their sex. Toy companies carefully develop toys that act as “scripts” for children to follow as they grow into male and female consumers. Kids are the most influential consumers, so marketing to children is easy because they are sponges to information. Children will take in the information they see and buy into their “script” so they can grow into gendered consumers. Toys send messages of “how to be male” and “how to be female” to boys and girls so that the gendering of new generations continues. Boys are told to be active explorers who are emotionally unavailable; while girls are told to stay inside, be beautiful and to be emotionally available. These gendered “scripts” are handed to children at home and at school, molding them into who, according to society and toy companies, should be.


Lipsitz, George. “The Meaning of Memory: Family Class and Ethnicity in Early Network Television.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Sage Publications, Inc, California, 2003. 40-47.

Newman, David M. “Chapter 4: Learning Difference: Families, School and Socialization” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw Hill Companies, Inc, 2007. 113.

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Bratz Hairplay Doll: Yasmin”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/search/index.jsp?fbn=Boy+Girl%7CGirls&f=PAD%2FBoy+Girl%2FGirls&fbc=1&categoryId=2269731&view=all .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Cooking Mama 2: Cooking for Friends for Nintendo DS”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2943526 .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Disney’s High School Musical 2: Work This Out”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/search/index.jsp?fbn=Boy+Girl%7CGirls&f=PAD%2FBoy+Girl%2FGirls&fbc=1&categoryId=2269731&view=all .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Hannah Montana Concert Dress-Up Kit”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/search/index.jsp?fbn=Boy+Girl%7CGirls&f=PAD%2FBoy+Girl%2FGirls&fbc=1&categoryId=2269731&view=all .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Hasbro Designer’s World”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/search/index.jsp?fbn=Boy+Girl%7CGirls&f=PAD%2FBoy+Girl%2FGirls&fbc=1&categoryId=2269731&view=all .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Nintendo DS Lite in Coral pink”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/search/index.jsp?fbn=Boy+Girl%7CGirls&f=PAD%2FBoy+Girl%2FGirls&fbc=1&categoryId=2269731&view=all .

Toys ‘R’ Us. “Scrabble”. 19 May 2008.
http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2267244 .