Christmas Eve at Toys R Us

Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I went to Toys R Us with my sisters–one of them wanted to find things to put in a snow globe she’s making.

It was really quite disturbing.

Obviously, there’s the really dreadful consumer aspect of Toys R Us (I never go there because there’s a great indie toy store-Child’s Play-very close to me and if I need to get kid gifts that’s where I go). Every conceivable thing has been licensed/tied in/etc. Note the toy food is McDonalds, there are Twilight lunch boxes, WWF action figures, Barbie and Disney Princess everything–shopping carts, play cars, vanity tables, etc.

The gendered aspect is, if anything, worse. Toys R Us is the most gendered store I’ve ever seen. It’s even worse than Target. You will see in the pics that there are often  girl and boy versions of the same toy right next to each other, often featuring characters–for example, there’s a Disney Princess television next to a Cars television (who buys their child a television featuring characters?) There  is a pink Cadillac and a black Cadillac, pink Rollerblade and black Rollerblade, pink bank and blue bank, pink Duplos and primary color Duplos.

But worst of all is the message these toys send. Virtually all of the boys toys involve competence, courage, strength and bravery–action figures of military, “everyday heroes,” wrestlers, superheroes. Not surprisingly, vehicles play a large role in boys toys, with tons of trucks and cars with names such as Mutator and WildFire. The names are interesting here–“Hero Factory,” “Khung Zoo Ninja Warriors,” “Rough Riders,” “Crime 8,” and “Battle 5 Force.” The only cuddly toy, aside from some blue dogs, that I saw for boys was a soft hamster–called a Battle Hamster. The only female action figure I saw had both arms cut off. Meanwhile, girls toys focus on caregiving, submission and responsibility: lots and lots of dolls, often with names or themes such as “Little Mommy,” “Baby Alive,” “Snuggle Kins,” “Caring Corner,” and “The Princess and Me.” There’s a lot of messaging about how worth is valued by service to others and acceptance of stereotypical feminine traits: an apron reads  “express your talent” and features Disney Princesses, and there are multiple pink baking sets. Rather than action figures, girls have disturbingly wide-eyed Little Pet Shop or Polly Pocket or Barbie girls, all of whom are shockingly sexualized. The focus is largely on caregiving and often on taking care of babies, specifically: there are dolls that wet, dolls that cry, dolls with their own cribs. There are also housekeeping supplies, such as a pink Princess vacuum, and there is a pink vanity table. Virtually all playsets include a component of caregiving, from My Little Pony to the Littlest Pet Shop to the Happy Family Doll House to Loving Family. Those latter 2 point to a disturbing “everyone must be happy” trend which is augmented by a baby supply company called Summer: The Best Time of Your Life. Mothers who find infants exhausting and prefer their kids older? You’re wrong.

Even babies don’t escape. Onesies for girls say “pretty” and are pink. Onesies for boys have cars, say “beep” and are blue. There are gendered baby bathtubs and gendered (and character laden) toddler potty seats.  There’s Elmo, Disney Princess, and Toy Story shampoo. There are toddler beds covered in Princess and Cars spreads. There are Thomas the Tank Engine toy chests. There are pink bead mazes.

The store was packed–not surprising–and kids were melting down and overwhelmed: entirely too much stimuli. We do children a great disservice by exposing them to this sort of consumerist gendered crap. Since we know that children learn through play, it seems evident that limiting their play by telling boys and girls what is and is not okay to play with can only have negative consequences. I heard one set of parents teasing their young son, telling him they’d buy him “girl toys” while he protested–laughing and cringing at the same time. Heartbreaking.

So check out these photographs, and see what we’ve done to our children whenever we take them into a toy store.

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3 responses

  1. Alie

    I love you and SOOOO much of what you said is dead on. However, I read nothing about the difference between the mental wiring in boys and girls. Girls are naturally drawn to the nurturing caregiver roles where as boys tend to veer more toward building blocks, vehicles, and more aggressive/violent roles. Also, I think that many of the reasons that layettes and little-kid clothing is gender specific is because many times, it’s hard to tell if a kid is a boy or a girl. Three of my female charges have had very short haircuts and every one was mistaken for a boy repeatedly. If they were wearing pink, I wouldn’t have had to explain that it is in fact a girl. (Well aware that brings haircuts into the discussion too).

    However, I totally agree that as a society we focus far to much on keeping our kids the sex they were born regardless of their wants, likes, and gender.

    December 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    • Alie–true about brain differences, however it is totally impossible to know how much of that is nature vs nurture–but there are some, for sure. I don’t know enough about them to make a lot of comments though!
      Re baby clothes–yea it is hard to tell, but I guess I question the idea that we should *have* to be able to tell.

      December 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

  2. Marle

    Alie, it’s hard to tell the difference between nature and nurture. Are girls really more nurturing or is it just that all their toys appeal to that side of a person and they get the impression that’s what they’re supposed to do? When I was a kid I was allowed to play with both boys and girls toys, and that’s what I did. I played with Barbie and My Little Pony and video games and Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Maybe if we give kids choices, they’ll make lots of different choices and won’t put themselves in little boxes from a young age, cars for boys and Baby Wetsy for girls (seriously, how is that fun?)

    December 27, 2010 at 7:33 am

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