Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gendered Toys

As someone who hopes to teach young children, I spend a great deal of time with kids. One child, in particular- a young, male, 7 year old cousin- is especially close to me. His interests in toys have changed in many ways since the days when his favorite toy to tote around was a soft, pale green bunny that I had given to him. His desire to be a big boy (or a "little man, as he calls himself) prevent him from wanting to carry any stuffed animal with him- much less a stuffed bunny. First grade has changed his toy preferences in many ways.

My little cousin's influences now are much more varied than before- commercials, television shows, movies, video games, peers, his father, cousins, his uncles- all influence his preferences on toys- and everything else. These influences all combine to form a rather typical toy wish list for a 7 year old boy. My cousin would wish for mostly video games- Nintendo Wii Mario Kart, Nintendo Wii Supersmash Bro Brawl, movie themed toys-from either Spiderman, or Pirates of the Caribbean, and water guns.

As I play games with my young cousin, he usually prefers either a video game of some sort (that usually involves a quest to capture something, and fighting off various creatures along the way), or playing with little plastic soldiers. He keeps the toy soldiers that his puppy has chewed limbs off of- to be "bombing victims". When we play "war" with the soldiers, his almost always die in terrible, gruesome ways- falling off cliffs (a kitchen table), being shot, run over by tanks, stabbed, or blown up. When asked where he got such ideas for his soldiers to die, he can almost always cite a video game, or movie in which he has seen something similar to this. When I admit that I am tired, and ask to play a different game (after 2 hours of "war") he responds with something along the lines of "oh girls, you would be tired with war- that's for men".

When searching the Boys toy section on Target.com- in which the caption reads "burn off the steam with some fun in the extreme"- I find that many of the toys in his age range deal with characters, such as his favorite, Spiderman. These character themed toys include a Spiderman 3 "web blaster" and mask (Hasbro). There are numerous action figures, such as Spiderman 3's Venom (Hasbro). My cousin loves these types of toys- pretending to be Spiderman, saving people, and fighting the bad guys. This is what he has learned "men like". Before he even really knew what Spiderman was, he wanted to see the movie- because his father, his uncles, and his older male cousins wanted to see it. He has an idea that men love "superheroes". He has learned this from his environment- "Sons were seen as strong, alert, hardy and coordninated" (Newman).

The other toys that I thought my cousin would place on a wish list were video games, and water guns. Whenever I "play" these video games with him, especially the ones that involving fighting 0r frightening creatures, he insists on me watching while he plays- because I might be scared if I play them. This idea comes from his ideas that video games with violence are for boys. Fighting, superheroes, soldiers, action figures, water guns- are all "boy games". He expects to win every water gun fight, and every "war" type game, simply because he is male. At a young age like his, these ideas are coming from such a variety of sources- it is all around him. In commercials, only boys seem to play with action figures, at recess, he says the girls talk and swing on the swings- it is the boys who play more physical games. He observes closely what his father, and uncles are watching (he is even known try and play his father's video games, and sneak downstairs after his bedtime to try and see what his parents are watching on TV). Nothing seems to escape him- it is mostly boys who play video games in commercials, and in his life, so he assumes that he must own every game he can get his hands on (but not the "girly" ones). According to Micheal Messner, masculinity is "..shaped and constructed through the interaction between the internal and the social" (Messner, 121).

My cousin and his father were once fighting over which types of video games he could play. My cousin was upset that he was not allowed to play his father's games because they were "too violent". My cousin pointed out that even his "little boy" games had violence- in racing games cars can crash, in many of his other games, the characters can fight or push each other, but it's "just not bloody". His point was a good one: many of the games young boys play do involve violence- even in subtle ways. While they may seem innocent, many boy's toys are geared toward physical aggression and activity. My young cousin is no exception to those boys who live up to the things they see on their TV shows, in their games, and in their toys- he is rather aggressive, prefers war-type games outside, and has ideas of what a "man" does, and what is "too girly". Even in small, innocous seeming ways, toys do in fact influence children towards certain gender roles. I myself have been influenced- I went from buying him stuffed animals, to buying him water guns and action figures. I wonder what his views on what is "girly" would be if toy marketing were different.



Micheal, Messner A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (1990).

David, Newman M. Identities and Inequalities Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2007.

1 comment:

Jessiebg said...

You've done a nice job analyzing the toys that influence gender using your cousin!
I thought that your analysis was very interesting by linking the commercials with the people in his life (and how they see the role of the toys your cousin plays with), and also the course readings.

For the course readings, be careful to fully link what you've stated with the author you've cited. I would have really loved for you to expand on your citation of Messner's piece. He makes an interesting argument about the potential embodiment of the messages that toys send and the ways that your cousin sees himself.
Also, make sure you contextualize each quote by integrating it within a sentence (so that it's easier to link to your point, and so that it's structurally correct in the writing-sense) so that the quote isn't a sentence of its own in a paragraph (also, the first Newman quote needs a page number).
Last issue I noticed was your paper is remarkably coherent for an intro without a clear thesis :o) Make sure you have a clear, focused argument as the final sentence in the first paragraph (your intro) so that the analytical target is clear to your reader from the outset of your writing.
Overall, great work!!!
Jessie :o)