Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blog Post #1: Online Toy Shopping Field Work

Lia is a 10 year old girl from Pt. Pleasant, NJ, and like many other girls in this society loves to play with toys. She has a preference for some certain types and dislikes others for her own reasons. While toy shopping for a girl at Lia’s age, however, many similarities between these toys became apparent. Although different genre of toys were present (hula hoops as opposed to dolls) there seemed to be an inherent trend in all of them and this is very apparent when directly comparing those toys to those in the boys’ aisle. This poses the question of whether Lia’s likes or dislikes contain any differences or self recognition between certain toys. For that reason, toys targeted at young girls endorse normative gender roles that define their place in society.

Some toys convey the types of responsibilities to which a female should adhere. A perfect example would be the easy bake oven, a very popular product. It is such a popular gift because girls want to act just like their mothers do. It relays the message that a girl can get a head start on what mommy does everyday. It tells girls that in their future these are their responsibilities whereas boys construct buildings, perform science experiments and buy properties, like in monopoly; all superior trades. Inferiority becomes apparent and “the inferior place assumes the familiarity-and even desirability-of home” (Henley and Freeman 84). Hasbro’s talking vacuum product gives life to an inanimate labor object linking the relationship between companionship and house labor.

Girls’ toys also express the message of how females are supposed to behave in society. The use of colors applies to this very well. Looking up toys for girls, almost all displayed them in pink, purple, or yellow and this ranged from dollhouses to activity toys for girls like skip-its or hula hoops. Even when gender-neutral toys were found there were still certain versions of the toys that were made in pink, exclusively for girls. These colors denote a sense of frailness and softness as opposed to the strong connotation of blue which are assigned to boys. This consequently lays the groundwork for a girl’s introduction to this patriarchal society we live in, where images of feminine vulnerability and the “naturalness of female caring, cooperation, and subordination” (Johnson 94) exist.

Some toys suggest to girls how they’re supposed to look based on society’s definition of feminine. Looking for girls’ toys in the age range of 8 to 11 I found many dolls loaded with make-up and even more-so just life-sized heads made specifically for make-up application. Along with make-up are clothes where companies create specific business units solely focusing in on dolls’ clothing. Furthermore this leads into the realm of sex. Dolls (especially Barbie) feature too little clothing, revealing too much skin and even posing in sexually provoking positions. Sex is being introduced to these young girls and furthermore dolls are now made to portray real celebrities whether it’s the slim and busty Baywatch Barbie or country singing star Hannah Montana, complete with a cleavage-revealing top and long black leather boots. Girls infer from this the socially acceptable ways to dress and how to use their bodies in connection to their gender.

Because society is essentially defined by the media then toys thus are products of the media spreading social ideologies and facilitating hegemony. James Lull identifies that the essence of hegemony lies in “relationships between and among the major information-diffusing, socializing agencies of a society and the interacting, cumulative, socially accepted ideological orientations they create and sustain” (63). Thus this patriarchal and hegemonic society uses the marketing of toys, targeted at young girls, purposely to classify them in terms of the social normative.

Images from: www.amazon.com

Works Cited

Henley, Nancy and Jo Freeman. “The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior.” Women: A Feminist Perspective. Edition 5. 84-93.

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997. 91-99.

Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Dines, Gail and Jean M. Humez, eds. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. United States: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-65.

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