Unless you have completely denounced all things internet, you have probably seen this video:
It is a commercial for toys made by GoldieBlox. Half a dozen people sent me the video in the course of a couple of days last week. I was already familiar with this brand of toys and think they are filling a much needed gap in the market. This newest commercial spins a number of things on its head—challenging the idea that girls only want to be princesses while encouraging them to engage in play that engages their intellect and teaches them fundamentals of math, science, engineering and physics. The commercial also includes a rewrite of the lyrics to the popular song by Beastie Boys “Girls” with more empowering language. The original song includes the following:
Girls - to do the dishes
In the Goldie Blox version girls can "build a spaceship, and code a new app." It was inspiring to see the media attention this company is getting. When I shop for presents for my friends' children I spend a lot of time trying to find toys that are gender neutral or don't reinforce gender stereotypes. It can be a daunting task, so I am happy to see toys like this joining the shelves.
And then I went to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Although my husband and I usually go into movies right when they start to avoid some of the preview material, this time we went into the theatre early. I was reminded of the fact that movie theatres now play commercials before shows (a practice I still find deplorable—if I wanted to watch commercials I would stay home and watch TV. Or hulu plus). Anyway—it was clear to me that the commercials for this viewing were geared toward a particular audience.
One of the commercials was an advertisement for Nerf Rebelle.
According to the Toys R Us website, “Nerf Rebelle is THE sports action brand built specifically for girls. Like all Nerf products, this line is full of great performing toys that provide hours of active fun, but these toys also feature fierce styles girls ask for!”
Really. Girls are asking for “fierce styles”? Or are marketers trying to convince girls that they need “fierce styles?”
I love that the girls in the commercial are running, playing sports, being active. But why not just have girls in the same commercials as boys? Why do the "nerf for girls" toys need to have special names like “Hearbreaker Bow” and “Pink Crush”? Why is everything in pink and purple? What's with the play on "being pretty?"
I really wanted to like the Nerf line, but it reminded me too much of the recent lego fiasco: Lego Friends
This selection of Legos includes Lego "dolls" who hang out at the beach, go to a bakery, and even drive a convertible. And did I mention all the Logo friends are girls? Because that really is the crux of the matter here. There is nothing wrong with Legos (and girls who play with them) who want to decorate their house, or work at a cafe. But can't boys do those things too? Lego Friends supposedly were a response to concerns that the "standard" Lego sets are always marketed to boys. And this was the solution?
I know that this is all about $$. If marketers can convince you to buy different toys for boys and girls you have to spend more money. But seriously, is this where we are as a society? Being overjoyed about a rewrite of a super sexist song and pink guns that shoot foam darts?
I am not usually one to harken back to the “good ole’ days” but I can’t help but think about my own childhood growing up with three brothers. Yes, we all had toys that were our own, but mostly we shared toys. We had a large box filled with toys that anyone could play with. My little brother had an orange bow that I would occasionally use for target practice. I didn’t tell my parents that I needed a pink one instead. When my cat had kittens, my brother enjoyed driving them around in the Barbie convertible. Lots of toys were orange, green, red, brown and black. Sure there were some pink, purple ,and blue items, but we did not divide the world based on color.
Imaginative play is such an important part of childhood; it provides kids with opportunities to try on possible adult roles. Kids get to consider what it would be like to take care of a baby, cook meals, be a construction worker or hairdresser. When we tell girls and boys (whether indirectly or directly) that they can only play with certain toys we are imposing on them limits to what they can become. I am concerned about all the ways that kids are being told that they have to grow up to like certain things and have particular characteristics just because they are male or female.
I hope these recent trends are suggestive of a bigger movement toward ungenderizing kids’ toys. Until that day comes, I will keep using my imagination to dream of a better future and the tools I have to work for one. A future with a shared toy box that offers children a world of possibilities and a rainbow of colors.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.