A Visit to Toys' R Us

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A Visit to Toys’ R US|
How Toys are Affecting Gender Roles in Growing Children|
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Ji-Young Kim|
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2012-05-21|

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Today’s toy store is the Mecca for children. Although many traditional toy stores have died out due to the advent of electronic toys, big stores like Toys’ R US have survived by flexibly by absorbing its new adversaries. Now, they sell a very wide arrange of toys, from orthodox toys like dolls and action figures to toys that followed technology’s evolution, like electronic book readers and of course, video games. However, while toys have evolved, it became clear from my observation that the buyer’s attitudes about what toys are appropriate for each sex has not changed much. Also, although many previous masculine themed toys have become gender-neutral, still many more gender-biased toys carry messages of what boys and girls are expected to grow up. Still, I could see signs of improvement overall, and believe that as long as there is room for improvement, gender bias amongst children will gradually disappear.

As I coursed through the aisles, I noticed that the store divided itself into several parts: boys, girls, electronic games, and gender neutral. I found it amusing that the section for the girl’s toys was in the very back of the store. I assumed that this would result in girls getting a taste of the boy’s toys, but not vice versa. It would be profitable for the toy store to place the girl’s section in the front, because ignored products are often placed in the most valued spots (e.g. shelves that meets eyelevel), but I guessed that the toy store assumed that it would hear complaints from the parents if they decided to place toys that way. The front of the store, excluding the girl’s section, was divided into half by gender-neutral toys and toys for boys. Interestingly, the section for boys and gender-neutral sections were not marked ‘boys’ but only the types of the toys (e.g. action figures), but the section for girls was clearly marked as ‘girls’.

Firstly what I see was the gender-neutral area contained mainly storybooks, board games, Lego, sports and musical instruments. I noticed that many toys that were traditionally considered masculine, like drums and skateboards, were now in the gender-neutral area. However, some toys we consider traditionally gender-neutral like sports equipments, had no pink colored items (lacrosse sticks), while some other equipments, like tennis rackets, which were placed right next to the lacrosse sticks, came out in both pink and blue. I assumed that there was no market for pink lacrosse sticks, or it wasn’t significant enough to fit into a toy store. Board games almost always showed ageism and reinforced sex stereotypes on their cover when depicting men or women. It is also worth noting that toys that are completely free of gender bias are based on themes completely unrelated to social activities (e.g. rubber dinosaur models). One interesting board game for small children, named Battle of the Sexes by Imagination, was about testing the opposite sex about the interests of the player’s sex (e.g. The number of football players in a team). Outwardly, this seems like an excellent game which allows you to get to know what the opposite sex is like, but is in fact reinforcing ideas about the norms of the opposite sex into children.

The gender-neutral section also included the well-known Lego series. Although I call this a gender-neutral toy, it is only so because it has a small amount of pink-colored sets containing pieces that are mostly women. Despite the Lego series’ seemingly gender-neutral concept of building blocks, most of the toys are themed around mostly masculine activities. Many, if not most, depict warfare, a theme based on violence, which is mostly considered masculine. Adventure themed Lego toys have no women characters involved; it always depicted men who are digging up a desolate landscape and fighting mummies with, of course, pistols...
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