Toys as Role Models

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Toys as Role Models

Judy Attfield, who holds a PhD in history and design, has written numerous articles in relation to design history. Her articles, often written in a formal and informative style, concentrate on parenting and family issues. Citing the differences in the maneuverability designs of Barbie and Action Man, which embody the stereotypical cliché of feminine passivity and masculine activity respectively, “Barbie and Action Man: Adult toys for girls and boys, 1959-93” (P. Kirkham (Ed.), The Gendered Object (80-89). Manchester: Manchester University Press) by Judy Attfield argues that children are not only able to subvert toy’s stereotypical meanings but also create fantasies of their own.

Targeting the general public in her article, Attfield starts off by giving compelling insights into a societal trend termed “androgyny”. This trend that she mentions, combines both femininity and masculinity into one and is said to be raving in today’s society. However, in the latter portion of the essay, Attfield failed to elaborate on this trend. Instead, readers are led into a discussion on gender-stereotype propagating Barbie and Action Man, which contradicts her thoughts on androgyny. Even though fashion dolls like Barbie are designed for dressing and posing, and action figures like Action Man, for physical manipulation, Attfield claims that toy design does not dictate how a child plays with it. Instead, play is subjected to a child’s creativity and does not necessarily affect his or her actions and thoughts on gender stereotypes. She backs her claim by citing the following example - “a number of informants recalled, in their play it was Barbie who was most often given the role of ‘bad girl’.” (Attfield, 1996: 86). Simply put, Barbie, a toy originally meant to project innocence, can be given an immoral role through creativity.

However, her view that toys do not instill gender stereotypes is unjustifiable. Toys largely influence a child’s understanding of...
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