Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pretty In Pink-Sex Segregation and Toys

This review is from: BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen, 1.0mm, Black, 16ct (MSLP16-Blk) (Office Product)

First of all I'm a male. I picked a pink one up by mistake to write a quick note... Next thing I know I'm sitting down to take a pee. Be careful.

You see, when I as a woman hold a 'legitimate' pen (read, one made for him,) my body has a way of shutting that whole thing down. That's what my Congressman told me, anyway. But when I hold the delicate barrel, pleasing colors and small size of the BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen, 1.0mm, Black, 16ct, everything works as God intended. BIC, you have answered my prayers, as well as all of the men in my life who know me better than I know myself. Thank you!

Someone has answered my gentle prayers and FINALLY designed a pen that I can use all month long! I use it when I'm swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It's comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty! Since I've begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approchable. It has given me soft skin and manageable hair and it has really given me the self-esteem I needed to start a book club and flirt with the bag-boy at my local market. My drawings of kittens and ponies have improved, and now that I'm writing my last name hyphenated with the Robert Pattinson's last name, I really believe he may some day marry me! I'm positively giddy. Those smart men in marketing have come up with a pen that my lady parts can really identify with.

Where has this pen been all my life???

With the holiday season in full swing, the tyranny of the pink and blue segregated toy aisles has slowly started spreading to adult products now.  The above quotes were some of the snarkier reviews for a Bic pen "made especially for her."  As you can see, many commentators questioned the need for a sex-segregated pen, especially one that wrote in the normal black or blue ink, but were encased in sparkly pink colors. Whether it's earplugs-Just for Women!, a GPS-Designed for the Woman on the Go!, or Dr. Pepper 10- No Girls Allowed!, there has been a clear, nonsensical gender segregation in products which have absolutely no need for it.

Most common word in toy ads marketed to boys

But it all starts in the toy aisle.  Recently an eighth grade girl wrote to Hasbro to ask them to change the gender marketing for the Easy Bake Oven so that her four-year old brother would feel comfortable playing with one:

I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work. … 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.

Please join me to ask Hasbro to feature males on the packaging and in promotional materials for the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, as well as offering the product in different, non gender specific colors, i.e. primary colors. … Help me in creating gender equality, and help the children of today become what they’re destined to be tomorrow.
Most common word in toy ads marketed to girls

While I don't believe there is anything wrong with a pink or blue toy by themselves, the overwhelming desire to shove kids into heavily stereotyped roles at younger and younger ages has to cease.  Just try finding gender neutral toys that aren't a bunch of blocks.  It has become harder and harder to do.  Both sexes are expected to cook now, care for the baby, and keep up the house.  It has been this way for at least the past thirty years or so.  So why are our toys still stuck in the 1950's as far as gender expectations go?  Does this calcified gender marketing affect children and their gender expectations going forward? How do we change this line of marketing?


  1. It's a constant issue with me and the Daughter. I want her to get to have Girly-ness and not think Boy-ness is in some way superior, but I have limited patience for the awful messaging that comes with the Pink, the play vacuums and babies and kitchens, and the Princessification of everything. Of course, I also reject the violence rife in the Boy section. How do these things affect kids in the long run? Do girls become boy-and-looks-obssessed and boys become violent? How can it not have a long-term effect, when play is in some ways what kids do to practice adult things?

  2. I'm so proud of that eighth-grade girl!

    Emily, I think the effect of the toys will depend on the parenting style in general and the morals and values parents pass down to their children. Barbie is not a problem if parents are teaching their daughters, explicitly and implicitly, to be smart, independent, and active. Similarly, Beadboy2's obsession with weapons and fighting toys is not causing him to be violent because we have instinctively phrased this stuff as good v. evil, fighting to protect and help others, not starting fights, etc. In other words, not fighting for fighting's sake.

    More generally, I do what I can to keep things, if not exactly gender-neutral, at least gender-equal. So I call the Batman and knight toys "dolls" and not "action figures." I make it clear there is no such thing as a girl or boy toy, or girl or boy color. I bought plastic bangles for the Beadboys, because they loved playing with my intricately-beaded ones and I did not want a disaster. I bought baby dolls to help Beadboy1 adjust when I was pregnant. (He was uninterested, and flung the dolls around. Beadboy2, on the other hand, loves taking care of them like real babies. Amusingly, he is their Granddad, not their dad.) When I have a choice, I pick toys that aren't coded for a particular gender.

    But it is so hard to escape gender-stereotyping! Beadboy2 is picking it up at school, although I do my best to squash it. And last year he was teased by several boys because purple is his favorite color, but apparently that's a color for girls. I told him purple is a color for everyone, and that it used to be that only kings wore purple. What I really wanted to do, though, was give the parents of those boys a piece of my mind. How are people in this day and age still passing that crap on to their kids???

  3. Yeah, that eightth-grader deserves some lauding.

    I do think parenting is extremely important, but society still has an influence on our kids, just look at the ideas kids bring back from their friends at school. And I think no matter how we try to mitigate the messages, kids go out in the world, and they know what the message is, and it does hit home to some extent. The thing that is particularly baffling to me is that I feel like it was nowhere near this bad in the late-70s/early 80s when I was a kid. The color stratification and the princess crap and some of the ties between the violence-heavy boy cartoons/movies and the action figures. Sure, we had star wars and we had princesses. But it's just nuts right now.

    On the up side, I was overjoyed to see this video from Sesame Street with Justice Sotomayor, and it's been really useful talking to the Daughter about princesses: http://youtu.be/EHICz5MYxNQ