Gender socialization exists in many forms throughout society and it starts from a very young age. There are many factors, such as one’s peers, that can influence the gender training that goes on in society. One prominent form of gender training comes from what kinds of toys children play with when they are young. Like Barbies for girls and G.I. Joe’s for boys, there seems to be very strong themes that determines what toys are considered “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys”. While toy shopping for Melanie, a five year old girl from Hamilton who enjoys playing baseball, collecting bugs and horseback riding, on the Toys ‘R Us website, there were many instances of toys playing a dual-role of entertaining children and providing “gender training” for them.
The first toy on Melanie’s wish list was Happy Nappers, which are play pillows in the shape of various different animals. There were four different styles of Happy Nappers available on the Toys ‘R Us website: a dog, dragon, penguin and a ladybug. Since Melanie likes to collect bugs, it seems that the ladybug Happy Napper would be the best choice for this child. However, it can be suggested that the ladybug Happy Napper would be first choice for a majority of girls. The ladybug plush toy comes with a pink house with a pink heart on the front door. After black, pink is the most dominant color present on the plush toy. Another way that this product is marketed toward young girls is the fact that it is a ladybug stuffed animal. The name “ladybug” creates a notion of femininity, since consumers can connect the name to the abundance of pink on the toy and assume that this style of Happy Nappers is the “girl” one.
Newman defines socialization as “the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” (Newman, 108). He explains that parents usually buy toys that are geared toward the gender of their child as a form of “gender training”. The abundance of pink on this particular toy allows one to assume that this toy could be given to a young girl in order to supplant this “training”. The ladybug version stands out from the other types of Happy Nappers available on the Toys ‘R Us website due to its feminine appearance. It seems that this version of Happy Nappers was designed to be the “female” of the group. Creating a feminine version of an otherwise gender-neutral role can be seen as an example of a company taking advantage of the idea of gender training in order to market a product.
Melanie’s favorite sport to play is baseball, so a new aluminum baseball bat would be an ideal present for her. While looking up baseball bats on the Toys ‘R Us website, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large number of baseball bats that were marketed toward a certain gender where the difference would be as simple as the color of the bat (blue for boys and pink for girls). One of more blatantly obvious examples was the Hearts T-Ball Bat. This baseball bat is mostly pink and features a pattern of pink hearts on it. From just looking at the bat, one can easily conclude that this bat is intended to be marketed towards young girls. In addition to this, the maker of the bat, Regent Sports, has also come out with a matching baseball glove. The entire glove is light pink and also features a heart pattern on the inseam of the glove.
It seems that the purpose of Regent Sports coming out with these two products is to market them to young girls, allowing them to tap into a market that has not seen much attention from sporting goods companies. In her article, Sex, Lies & Advertising, Gloria Steinem mentions another example of this kind of gender-based marketing with toy-train maker Lionel. “They made a pink train, and were surprised when it didn’t sell.” (Steinem, 225) Plastering the color pink and heart patterns all over traditional baseball equipment is an obvious example of gender training. Since sports are seen as a masculine hobby, creating gender-based equipment such as this only reinforces the idea that anything that has pink all over it is a product made for girls. It seems very doubtful that a young boy would ever use these two products, due to their feminine appearance.
The last present that Melanie wanted was an Easy-Bake Oven. The Easy-Bake Oven is a very popular product marketed toward young girls, as it allows them to “bake” various treats. The one I found on the Toys ‘R Us website was mint green and silver and looked like a kitchen appliance one would find in the 1950s. It is no secret that the primary target market for the Easy-Bake Oven is young girls. The front of the package features three young girls sitting around a table eating cookies, presumable made from the oven. This product encourages the female stereotype of the domestic homemaker.
Newman states that toys geared toward young females tend to “revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion and motherhood” (Newman, 112) and the Easy-Bake Oven is a prime example of a “girl’s toy” revolving around these themes. The Easy-Bake Oven allows young girls to bake “all kinds of sweet treats” and provides them with small variety of baking appliances. This product is an excellent example of a toy that can be used as a form of gender training. This toy glorifies the lifestyle of the domestic housewife by taking an act that is associated with this ideal, baking, and turning it into a form of play. Even the design of the product creates an aura of nostalgia that dates back to the era of June Clever and a period in American history where women were seen as domestic caregivers and men were supposed to be the breadwinners.
It is no secret that gender-specific marketing is very prominent in the toy industry. Many popular toys can easily be categorized as either a “girl toy” or a “boy toy”. However, sometimes these toys can play a role in reinforcing stereotypes associated with a certain gender. They become a form of gender training for these young children, encouraging them to buy into the ideal values that exist for their gender. Also, gender-specific marketing seems to be over simplistic at times (simply splashing pink all over an otherwise gender-neutral toy). This type of gender-based marketing shows that the gender socialization that exists within society starts at a very young age.
Newman, David M. “Learning difference: Families, schools and socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 107-141. Print.
Steinem, Gloria. "Sex, Lies and Advertising." Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader. Ed'. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66. Print
Web. Happy Nappers - The Perfect Play Pillow - Bungalow to Ladybug. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.
Web. 9.5 inch Glove and Ball- Hearts. Toys 'R Us. July 29,2011.
Web. 25 inch Aluminum T-Ball Bat- Hearts. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.
Web. Easy-Bake Oven and Snack Center with Classic Light Bulb Oven - Mint Green. Toys 'R Us. July 29, 2011.