My best friend had a ditch behind his house. Growing up, one of our favorite things to do was to go play in the ditch, pretending it was a canyon, a river, a moat or whatever our small, imaginative minds could create. Looking back, it seems liberating to run outside, imagination flowing in the breeze, and own our entertainment. In those moments we could be anything we wanted.
Across the ditch was another friend of ours–a little girl. She could join us and be whoever she wanted to be. The freedom of adolescence ruled the world.
Time has passed and that adolescent expressiveness has turned into maturity and composure. More than ten years have swiftly sailed down the creek, a new generation has escaped into the ditch, and the world has changed.
In our ever-changing America, one of the easiest ways to see the need for feminism is to see how the media portrays my best friend and I compared to the little girl from across the creek.
To the left is a 1981 Lego advertisement. Notice that the Legos are not being marketed to girls or to boys, but to children in general. Since this 1981 ad though, Lego along with many other companies have segregated the market into boys and girls toys, as evidenced by the 2011 Lego Friends set. On a practical level, this makes sense as segmenting the market into narrow demographic groups allows toy makers to sell more versions of the same toy but there are sociological impacts in doing so.
Lego argues that this set is geared towards getting young girls to be interested in building and creating when they reach the “princess” phase. While that seems a noble cause, the components of the set restrict their ability to build and create. One mother was quoted saying “I have no problem with them making pink Legos, but I really hate the message they send. She doesn’t need to be building a hot tub and serving drinks. I want her to build whatever she wants. We want her to be herself.”
This discussion is much larger than Lego though. Many toy makers have feminized their products and fill stores with pink paraphernalia. To help analyze the issue, please consult three year old Riley Maida, the world’s youngest feminist.
“Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses, some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
Excellent question Riley.
Riley is just one of many girls who are interested in superheroes, but she is part of a greater group of girls who are interested in more than just princesses, beauty, and domesticity.
Dr. Elizabeth Sweet writes:
Picture a five-year-old girl, bright and imaginative, who likes building sand castles, collecting bugs, drawing, learning about dinosaurs, and putting together puzzles. She also loves princesses.
Unfortunately, only one of her many interests is represented among the toys and products marketed to her. She can easily find clothing and shoes with princess characters on them; eat princess-themed snack foods; brush her teeth with a princess toothbrush; carry her lunch in a princess lunchbox; and drink from a princess water bottle. She can have a princess themed birthday party and if she does, her guests will inevitably give her princess related gifts. In fact, her room can easily become filled with so much princess paraphernalia that it becomes a sea of pink and taffeta. And in the toy aisles, she can find a plethora of pink princess options to choose from, but little else. Now, more than ever before, it is possible for a young girl to be fully immersed in a corporate created princess experience in every moment of daily life.
In her 2012 New York Times article “Guys and Dolls No More?” she adds “Every day, people encounter toy departments that are rigidly segregated [by gender]. There are pink aisles, where toys revolve around beauty and domesticity, and blue aisles filled with toys related to building, action and aggression.”
There are costs associated to treating boys and girls as if they are different species. Toys help shape the interests and perspectives of children at young ages. By the age of 2, children have a strong sense of gender identity and begin to understand gender stereotypes.
If young children are beginning to comprehend gender roles at such a young age, then we must make sure that what they are learning is healthy. Are they learning that boys gets to be stars, but girls get to be cheerleaders? Are they learning that men are the heroes and women are the damsels in distress? Are they learning that men are the bosses, and women the secretaries? Are they learning that women are princesses, homemakers, and objects of beauty, but boys are tough, stoic, heroes?
These are harmful stereotypes that the world is spoon-feeding children and drastically affect a child’s development.
There are some companies that are positively encouraging young girls to build and create. Goldie Blox, winner of the “Intuit Small Business, Big Game Challenge” explains their mission, writing:
In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys”. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.
We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way.
In a world where children are indoctrinated with gender-based expectations and limits, we need more companies who are willing to push the boundaries. To teach boys to be verbal and expressive, and to teach girls to be builders and creators.
We need to tear down the walls that tell boys and girls that they are different, when they are far more alike than we often give credit.
We need to see the inherent potential in all children to do great things.
And we need to jump across the ditch, and invite that little girl to come play.
I’m no expert on marketing and gender roles. Much of the information for this blog came directly from the links below. Check out these resources for more information:
- Analysis of the 1981 Lego Ad , Huffington Post
- Gender Based Marketing , Huffington Post
- Gender Roles–Interview with Kids
- Guys and Dolls No More? , NY Times
- Goldie Blox
- Pigtail Pals
- Princess Free Zone
- Riley on the Avengers
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