Experience: Toys and the Binary

In order to observe the limiting and binary gender separation of toys, pretty much any toy store will do. Upon arrival, everything may not be immediately noticeable about how...

In order to observe the limiting and binary gender separation of toys, pretty much any toy store will do. Upon arrival, everything may not be immediately noticeable about how the gendered items are organized throughout the store, but soon enough, the separation and assumptions about gender gradually get more and more apparent.

It’s worth pointing out that one of the first things I tend to notice is that the board games are generally more neutral regarding the packaging and what customers the games are aimed at. There were gender marketing distinctions with some of the games, but all gendered and non-gendered board games were mixed together in the same area. This mixing happens in a few other instances, especially the Legos. Other common gender-neutral toys I saw this in were blocks, Play-Doh, many stuffed animals, and educational entertainment. Basically, the neutral items appeared when the target market included infants, early toddlers, and older kids. It is almost as if infants are given any toys because they are not likely to be immediately altered by gender stereotypes. Once they become toddlers, they are thrown every bit of sexism and gender socialization at them. Then, once they are fully formed into society’s image of what their gender should be/do/look like, the neutral items reappear alongside the gendered products, and based on their previous socialization of gender roles and stereotypes, they will make their decisions.

One thing that really surprises me is the slight gender differentiation in educational entertainment. For the most part, these items are neutral. But, while I was in a local Toys“R”Us, the color and packaging of one item in particular said quite a lot about society’s view of gender. The item came in two colors: pink and green. Of course, the pink version featured two girls on the box. The green version, however, featured a boy and a girl. Could this be a subtle acceptance that girls can do “boy things” while simultaneously establishing that boy can’t do “girl things”? It’s acceptable for women to wear pants, ties, have a job, earn degrees, and be the source of income for a household. Meanwhile, switching the scenario over to men doing stereotypically “feminine” things like wearing dresses and makeup is seen as so demeaning to their manhood; the boys are taught that anything even remotely “feminine” is off limits. As my friend who came along to the store with me said, “See, you know a mom would definitely buy [the green one] for her daughter, but no mom is going to be buying [the pink one] for her son.”

Where things get more blatant in their gendered ideals are the actual sections dedicated to either gender market. The toys typically created for boys are packaged in boxes with darker colors and more action-filled scenes while the toys typically purchased for girls are more light-hearted, homely, and bright. In the isles designated with blue signs, the words on those signs read things along the lines of cars, trucks, sports, and action figures. The isles designated with pink signs read dolls, cooking, cleaning, and fashion. Learned behavior at its finest display.

I thought Toys“R”Us would have evolved and proven themselves to be better than a showcase of a highly gendered society in this day and age. We’ve still got a long way to go before constructed and enforced gender roles are widely regarded as too restrictive and even damaging.

Annelise Vlacich – To phrase my identity as simply as I can, I’m a cisgender non-conforming polysexual feminist. I’m a human being who’s just trying to achieve my dreams, however simple they may be. I was born and raised on Long Island to a Puerto Rican mother and Italian/Croatian father. Currently, I attend college in Pennsylvania and hold a future of writing and editing ahead of me.