Toys Are For Tots (Not Girls or Boys Damnit)

Whenever I’m sitting on a bus or eating at a restaurant or grocery shopping or any number of activities that put me in the vicinity of youngins, I’m consistently flummoxed by the amount of shiny screened objects they have. I feel like a geezer to say this, but back in my day, I had toys with more than two dimensions.

My most memorable plaything was easily my Easy Bake Oven. I received it in the early 90s and it was a favourite well into grade school. Mine was a technological marvel, echoing the harsh lines and off-white shades of yesteryear’s microwave, complete with un-clickable buttons and a sticker light display. I made all of the brownies and cakes within weeks of it’s arrival, but that didn’t stop me from playing with the tins and the 100W bulb. I would reward anyone that listened to my rambling stories for more than ten minutes with tiny empty cake pans decorated with imaginary sprinkles. (Note: I will owe you an invisible brownie)

All kids like sweets, toys and burned fingers right?

Of course, the Plastic Box of Joy I toted around is quite different than what’s on the shelf today. Whereas I had a mini-microwave, any kid that wants to play-cook will only find this:

This hurts my brain more than a burn from a 100W bulb.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one to think there’s too much “girliness” going on here. Thirteen year old McKenna Pope saw a problem when she went shopping for her six-year old brother. She hoped to find something to help him embrace his love of food, but like I said, there’s pretty much only one option for kids that cook. So she created a petition to tell Hasbro to hold back on the estrogen.

[W]e soon found it quite appalling that boys are not featured in  packaging or promotional materials for Easy Bake Ovens — this toy my brother’s always dreamed about. And the oven comes in gender-specific hues: purple and pink.

I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work.

I have always been adamantly against anything that promotes specific roles in society for men and women, and having grown up with toys produced by the Hasbro corporation, it truly saddens me that such a successful business would resort to conforming to society’s views on what boys do and what girls do.

I want my brother to know that it’s not ‘wrong’ for him to want to be a chef, that it’s okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate.

Baking and eating sweets seems like it’s a common activity among all children, so why has Hasbro pinkified the shit out of my beloved Easy-Bake Oven?  Their EASY-BAKE Ultimate Oven FAQ, says it’s for children over the age of eight with adult supervision. In the past the toys had been modeled after the kitchens of the time, moving through a palette of turquoise, yellow, avocado green and my aforementioned beige. In 2003 they released the Real Meal Oven which showed girls and boys making pizzas and snacks with a white and blue box. They even made a throwback to the 100W original with a teal version of the Easy Bake Oven and Snack Center. So really any child should be able to use it.

Girls and boys cooking! And no one exploded!

Not so fast according to Hasbro. That new teal version still only shows girls cooking. As for the rest of the line? “The EASY-BAKE brand is a fashionable fun food brand that inspires tween girls to bake, share and show their creativity and expertise through an immersive brand experience.” While the gendering of different colors is an issue in and of itself, in this case, the bubble gum pink and lavender incarnation only reinforce its stance as a Girl Toy (unless I’m really behind on kitchen design trends).

Kids like Pope aren’t asking for manufacturers to move mountains, simply to recognize that really awesome toys should be shared by all. They don’t need to go through their catalogue of toys to create girl versions that are “pink enough”  and boy versions that are “gross enough.” They just need to acknowledge that kids’ creativity will cause them to have interests that lie on both sides of the invented gender line at the toy store. What’s the point in ignoring half the population by only showing the other gender on the box? It kills me to think that little girls are missing out on opportunities to learn about science or construction and little boys aren’t getting a chance to express their creativity because they can’t imagine themselves as the actors on the packaging.

I feel queasy imagining that this is the solution via I-mockery

If you’re going to bestow gifts upon some children this holiday season, there are a few ways you can avoid reinforcing these stereotypes without making it a huge deal. You don’t need to make a giant political statement by vetoing all of the dolls on your niece’s wishlist or only giving toys in shades of yellow or unbleached cotton. Holidays are supposed to be fun for children, not a foray into the overly-complicated brains of grownups. The last thing you need is a crying five-year-old and bigoted family member chastising you for attempting to convert their daughter with a Tonka truck. But hey, you can still put something fun under the tree without compromising your beliefs.

Choose the ungendered option. It seems like most manufacturers will create a “boy” or “girl” version of their toys to force their parents to spend more. If you can, say “fuck you” to marketing by looking for the pronoun-free set. Does anyone really think boys learn chemistry differently than girls?

Take the adults’ preconceptions out of the picture. Chances are Hasbro won’t be changing their packaging between now and Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it for them. Let your kids play with their present the way they want to, not the way the marketing geniuses at Giant Toys Conglomerated imagined your kids should be playing. If the packaging is covered with stock photos of little blonde girls covered in pink and bows as they create tiny bedazzled confections, simply remove the box. It might take a bit more work to repackage their presents, but maybe your little boy can focus on making his brownies instead of wondering where all of the other little boy chefs are.

Force siblings to learn from one another. If you’re giving to a household with multiple children, let the kids know that there aren’t any set rules when it comes to toys. Instead of giving the girls and boys different but equal gifts, just give them one. They’ll have to learn to cooperate and will  realize that model trains or beadwork can appeal to all genders. If if turns out that both Tommy and his sister love pink and firetrucks, more power to them.

Rely on their imaginations. Give your kids a blank dollhouse or playhouse because the power of their imaginations will always trump the manufacturer’s paint.

Or better yet, give your kid a blank box. I’m pretty sure all kids love playing in cardboard boxes, regardless of which gender box they fall into.

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

26 Comments

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    One really good toy for sharing is Playmobil sets. They come in lots of different price ranges and have tons of different themes and the packaging is generally just a picture of whatever’s in the box. When my brother and I were younger, we could count on getting a huge box of playmobil every christmas from our cool aunt. And palymobil is way more fun to play with when you don’t have to be all the different characters yourself-usually it comes with 3-4 different animals or people and some scenery or a vehicle.

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      I had the same oven when I was little. Next to Nintendo, it was the best thing ever. I still remember how the cake mix and frosting tasted. I don’t get while cooking is still gendered today. I mean, you look at Food Network and the Cooking Channel and see that some of the best world renowned chefs are males. Cooking, like other self-sufficient survival tactics should be encouraged for all kids growing up. Thankfully, my mom didn’t gender police what I played with. I played with everything from Barbies to video games and my brother’s wrestling action figures. It was ok for me to tag along and do what my older brother was doing. I think society goes a little easier on girls coming up, because I’m sure if this was the other way around and my brother wanted to play with my Barbies and My Little Ponies, my mom probably would’ve intervened.

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        “I think society goes a little easier on girls coming up, because I’m sure if this was the other way around and my brother wanted to play with my Barbies and My Little Ponies, my mom probably would’ve intervened.”

        This is definitely true. It’s still much more socially acceptable for girls to have “boy” things than for boys to have “girl” things, although there is a growing “support movement” (I guess you’d call it) for boys who like “girl” things.

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    When my oldest son was 4, his favorite toy at daycare was a mock kitchen. When Christmas came, my partner and I assembled him a kitchen out of cardboard boxes and equipped with pots and pans. He loved it and happily played with it for several years. When he got older, I took him into the real kitchen and let him mess around with simple recipes. The impact all this had on his “manhood” ? In highschool he was an all county line backer, after which he attended one of the military academies. He is now an officer in the U.S. Military, engaged to a wonderful woman, and he is a pretty good cook. So the hell with Hasbro and the rest of the toy makers. Personally, I think he looks pretty sharp wearing a pink dress shirt.

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    I wore tons of pink frilly dresses and had like 15 barbies as a kid, but also had a ton of hand-me-down clothes and toys from my big brothers. My barbies got along very well with my lego men.

    Anyways, great article! I would love for toys to be available in bright primary colors so that little Sammy and Carson can enjoy them equally.

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    My brother and I just had a lot of lego and toy cars, dad made us ramps out of mdf and we just played together a lot.
    I had no idea this was as unusual as it seems to be until recently.
    Now, Mum worries that she stunted us by bringing us up without gender (and the same) because neither of us is gender conforming.

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    When I worked at Target, I overheard a conversation between a mother and her 3 or 4 year old daughter. The daughter was looking at the ad for toys and said “Look, cars!” The mother took the ad and quickly turned the page. “No. Cars are for boys.” She wouldn’t even let the daughter look at a picture of a toy car. I mean, really! I wanted to ask her how she got to the store. Clearly she must have walked since she didn’t have a man with her to drive the car. Ugh.

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    I work at an art gallery and we sell these beaded lamps shaped like animals. They are adorable, and pretty gender neutral, which is unusual compared to most baby things that are either pink or blue. Last weekend, a woman said she needed to buy 5 baby gifts, and wanted five of the lamps, but first had to decide which we’re for boys and which were for girls. I really offended her when I suggested that it didn’t matter. I don’t know what would make a giraffe definitely for a boy, unlike a lion which is for a girl. I guess I’ve just been studying animals wrong my entire life.

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      Also dogs are for boys and cats are for girls. Monkeys are questionable, although you more often see them on “boy” things. To be for girls, the monkeys must be on a pink/purple background and/or have bows on their ears to indicate that the monkeys themselves are girls. Same with turtles and frogs.

      (These are my observations from several years of buying children’s clothing. It’s really quite complicated/ridiculous.)

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        Although most of those associations do indeed seem rather ridiculous, those of “dog” and “cat” are less so; most languages with male/female/(neuter) grammatical gender have “dog” as masculine and “cat” as feminine, perhaps indicating that at least to most cultures that use such languages, there is something about dogs and cats that is inherently masculine or feminine.

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    Also, can we talk about how many times I almost set my house on fire with my easy bake oven? If these new ones are anything like the one I had in the mid-ninties, I’m not sure the color matters as much as how that plastic handle melts and burns on that light bulb pretty fucking fast.

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    It’s so fucked that we push the “women are the ones who cook” bullshit because now, women are more career-oriented and the hard fact is, MOST top working chefs in the culinary field are MEN. In like 10 seasons of “Top Chef,” there has only been one woman winner. So it’s particular bullshit that we’re gendering cooking toys.

    Also, does anyone remember the Imaginarium? We had one in our mall and it had one big entrance for adults and a small door for kids to go through (and I was obsessed with it because tiny versions of big things entrance me, which is why I stared at those tiny cupcakes up there for a million minutes), and they sold super smart toys that were scarcely -if ever – color coded for gender or any of that junk. I had a ton of outdoor exploring tools and spy kits and puzzles and BrainQuest cards from there. I would still buy stuff from that place if it was around.

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    I’ve been working at a toy store for a month and the sexism in children’s toys is enough to make me want to cry. Little girl wants a Jessie the cowgirl doll from Toy Story? She has to go to the “boys” section because no girl could possibly like a movie with male leads. If a boy wants a Slushie machine has has to cross over into the pink domain of the females, so that’s not going to happen. It’s fucked. At least the Preschool aisle is integrated. I just can’t stand the idea that a girl may think she can’t get the Spiderman action figure she wants because it’s not gender correct or whatever. I am filled with toy corporation rage, if you can’t tell.

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      I do not at all understand why Toy Story things are always in the boys section. Because if it’s not a Princess movie, it must be for boys? My 3-year-old daughter loves Toy Story (the first one, not even the ones with Jessie); she often pretends to be Buzz Lightyear, standing at the foot of our bed and yelling, “To infinity and beyond!” as she jumps and lands on her face. (It’s so cute I can’t even scold her for jumping on the bed.) She also loves Cinderella (her Halloween costume choice this year) and loves to dress up and pretend to dance with the Prince (usually me).

      I wish toy manufacturers (and a lot of parents/other adults) would realize that sex/gender means NOTHING to young children. They have no concept of gender roles until it’s taught to them. My daughter knows she’s a girl, because she’s been told she’s a girl, but the word doesn’t really mean anything to her and it definitely has no bearing on what toys or movies she likes.

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    There’s a great toy store chain in Canada called Mastermind Toys. I haven’t actually BEEN to one in ages (but a new one opened up just down the street from my apartment), but the site itself is great. There are no “girl” sections or “boy” sections. Every toy is organized according to your child’s interests or age, not his or her sex or gender. The store focuses less on stereotypically “gendered” toys such as action figures and dolls, and pushes toys that emphasize creativity and learning. You can shop online, too!

    http://www.mastermindtoys.com

    A similar chain we’ve got is called Mind Games:

    http://www.mindgamesexpress.com

    Also, totally gloating, but speaking of girls and boys and gendering through use of colour, I had a moment at work last week that made me so happy. So I tutor a boy in grade 7. He came into class last week with new Adidas. Immediately his older male classmate asked him why his shoes were silver with pink stripes. He says, “Nina, don’t you agree that those are girl shoes?” Before I could answer, the grade 7 kid, Clark, asks, “Who cares?” I was worried he might be embarrassed, but not at all! In fact, he said that *I* was the one who inspired him to not give a crap about gendering products through colour. During the summer, Clark was in a class where we talked about social issues, and I led a seminar about how companies market toys to kids. I brought up how companies use colours to show parents which toys are for girls, and which ones are for boys. So Clark starts railing into his classmate about sexism, and how colours should be gender-free. I was so proud of myself. :)

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    I find it completely bizarre that my somewhat homophobic parents managed to deal with the gendered toy issue so well.
    I’m one of 8…5 boys, 3 girls…All of us had a ‘baby’…because mums and dads all need to know how to look after kids. (All of my brothers breastfed their dolls which is great on many levels.)
    I got identical tools to my brother at Christmas. None of those rubbish pink hammers. And I still use them now. Yesterday in fact.
    We have the world’s most amazing set of Brio train set…and we would all play together.
    The only bizarre thing is that I never got given much Lego, and my brothers did. I was always a little jealous.

    We all had ‘girls’ toys and ‘boys’ toys, and it wasn’t really a big deal. I mean we’ve all still grown up horribly gendered, but that’s society for you.

    Okay, on a completely different note…what is with easy bake ovens? I hate this kind of product. Why not just teach your child to cook proper food in a real kitchen? Way more useful. We need less gimmicky toys, not more.

    Ps love the article.

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