Little tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep this holiday season. Kids all over the place are up in arms over some gender injustice in Toyland.
Earlier this month, McKenna Pope, a 13-year-old from New Jersey, started a petition on Change.org. Her goal? For toy company Hasbro to make her 4-year-old brother’s culinary dreams come true and lighten up a little on their gender-specific marketing of the Easy Bake Oven. In her petition, Pope writes: “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.”
What?! Where did this kid come from?
Ms. Pope’s petition has collected over 38,000 signatures, indicating that she’s on to something big. In fact, this is not the first time Hasbro has been petitioned by the under-15 crowd to change its marketing approach.
These kids are with it. And it’s hard to miss. Any casual observer knows that toys, like almost every other product in the department store, are marketed to young folks using extreme gender stereotypes, and are even organized by gender. Don’t believe it? Take a stroll through your local toy store, or better yet try a Google-image search. Whoa. Whoa, again.
So what’s wrong with having different toys for different tots? Let’s hear what the kids have to say:
“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.”—McKenna Pope, 13 years old
“I think it’s not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won’t give little girls much care”, R, 6 years old
From the mouths of babes.
Extreme gender stereotyping limits the ways that both girls and boys see themselves and their prospects for the future. Many toys and games targeted toward young girls promote nurture-play, domestic-play, and princess fantasies based largely on Disney-esque romance tales, which themselves include some pretty disturbing trends. Marketing for toys targeted toward young boys is often based on the promotion of action, accomplishment, dominance, and violence. This stereotyping is critically linked to bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and relationship abuse.
While it is entirely possible for a highly conscientious and self-possessed little boy (with equally conscious parents) to choose to play with a doll or a toy kitchenette, the excessively stereotyped marketing strategies used by most companies to market their toys can create some serious cognitive dissonance. Not to mention they are literally in different aisles.
Protest organizations like the UK-based “Pink Stinks” campaign are popping up all over the place, and even some toy companies are getting the picture. As any good marketer knows, it pays to listen to your customers.
This holiday season, consider supporting the work of the many companies and individuals working to expand the dreamscape of how kids can see themselves. Not sure you’re ready to buy a dollhouse for your sister’s 6-year-old son? Try some art supplies. Or a cool coloring book. Hey, some parents are even experimenting with gift-free holidays.
Whatever you decide to do about gifts this year, make sure that the kids in your life know how much you love them and how much you believe in them!
Rachel Valentine is our Rape Prevention Education (RPE) Coordinator. She works with youth, parents, and professionals to prevent sexual violence in our community.