Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Toys, Gender, and Patriarchy

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are gendered before we are even born. If mothers are expecting girls they are showered with gifts that are primarily pink, and blue if a boy is expected. This process continues during our early development through adulthood. Toys are one of the next major influences on our early development, and help us to identify who we are and develop our expected roles in society. Johnson explains, “to live in a patriarchal society is to learn what’s expected of us as men and women,” therefore because toys teach children what is expected of them as either males or females they support a patriarchal system, (95).
In order to further investigate the messages sent to young children by their toys I went shopping for Jordan, a nine-year old boy from New Jersey. I logged onto Amazon.com in order to do my shopping. My experience on Amazon.com supported Newman’s observation, “a quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer’s catalog or website reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines, (111).” The website is designed in a fashion that allows you to shop by gender, and then further splits up the toy selection by age, popularity, price, interest, and brand. I was surprised to see how easy the site makes it to find “the best possible gift” for a boy within his age range. This separating of toys by gender presents itself as an efficient way to purchase the best gift, but is just supporting and encouraging the separation of the genders.
The most frequent appearing toy for boys within Jordan’s age range was science and chemistry sets. Legos, scooters, radio-controlled helicopters, action figures, sports related figures and equipment were other toys that were featured. All of the toys emphasized boys need to be active, creative, and adventurous. By emphasizing these qualities, the toys are teaching young boys what their expected roles in society are. Some of Jordan’s favorite toys include basketballs, pogs, basketball cards, Etch-a-Sketch, and gak. These toys show that Jordan takes an interest in sports and has a sense of creativity. Pogs and baseballs cards are usually exchanged and played with among groups of boys, therefore Jordan is probably social. Jordan’s toy preference along with the toys suggested by Amazon.com support Newman’s conclusions that “sons are seen as strong, alert, hardy, and coordinated” and “boys’ toys emphasize action and adventure, (111-112).”
The messages that are being sent to children through toys help them to develop and identify their roles within society. In America we live in a patriarchal, or male dominated society. Toys that are marketed to boys help establish the fact that they are expected to be dominant, coordinated, and strong. Playing with the toys helps to develop the skills that boys will need in order to fill the roles expected of them in a patriarchal society. Messner states, “sport has served to bolster a sagging ideology of make superiority, and has helped to reconstitute masculine hegemony,” therefore the market of sports equipment to young boys supports the theories proposed by both Messner and Johnson, (120). By marketing certain toys to boys and certain toys to girls the toy market is establishing normative gender roles, and supporting the stereotypes that boys are more dominant than females, and that they are strong, coordinated, and engage in activities that are filled with action and adventure.
In conclusion, my experiences shopping for Jordan verified that messages sent out by the toys that are marketed to boys support the stereotypes established by a patriarchal society of how young boys should act and play. Newman found that boys were seen as strong, coordinated, and needed to engage in action and adventure. The sports equipment cannot be used and enjoyed if boys are not coordinated. The science kits teach boys to be creative, and explore their world hands on. Action figures, helicopters, and the other toys suggested both fulfill and encourage the desire to be adventurous and engage in active play. Without even realizing it young boys are developing the skills and learning the roles that will be expected of them as the mature into adults through the use of their toys.

Works Cited
Johnson, Allan G. "Patriarchy, the System." 91-96.
Newman. "Learning Difference: Families Schools and Socialization." 108-112.
Messner, Michael A. “Boyhood Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities.120-137
"Toys and Games." Amazon. 30 Sept. 2007 .