If you’ve had kids of your own, you may have been briefly concerned about imposing gendered expectations on your children by giving them stereotypical “boy”- or “girl”-coded playthings — or more likely, been accosted on that issue by someone who doesn’t have kids. Get ready for more of it, as it’s apparently the next imaginary crisis western society is facing:
“Tis the season for anxious parenting,” writer Elissa Strauss announced last Friday in The Week. The cause of this parental stress may not be obvious at first glance. Rather, it is quiet, insidious, and, apparently, it lurks worldwide.
It is — get ready, innocent holiday shoppers — an army of sexist, “gendered” toys, ready to oppress children around the globe. Sadly, these toys, much like, say, Victoria’s Secret models, face a rather odd conundrum: They are both victimizers and victims at the same time. These inherently sexist toys, you see, are also forced to live in a virtual apartheid of equally sexist, restricting, and gender-segregated toy store shelf arrangements. It is, as modern feminists like to say, a bit of a double bind.
Remember the children’s book Corduroy, where the underprivileged bear with the broken overalls lives on the same shelf as the fancy doll and the gigantic lion and the unintentionally spooky clown that looks like it’s about to murder them all? Well, friends, in our age of inequality, this diversity is apparently no more. Strauss explains further:
Thanks to the feminist revival of the past half-decade more and more parents now hesitate to buy their daughters a doll or sons an action figure. In Australia, activists are calling for a ‘No Gender December;’ in the UK a campaign called ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ is pushing for gender-neutral toys; in Sweden some toy stores are now gender neutral; and here in the States resistance to the pink aisle is growing louder and louder.
Interesting! Since I do almost all of my shopping online, thereby avoiding — and this is quite purposeful, friends — any type of toy aisle altogether, I did what any good writer investigating a potential international scourge would: I took my three boys to the local Target toy section. This, in case you don’t have kids, is a very brave thing to do.
My goal was to investigate “the gendered tyranny” of the toy aisles, as Australian academic Michelle Smith recently called it. I’ll start by saying this: There was a certain tyranny in the Target toy section, but I’m not sure if it was gendered. Here are the toys my kids descended upon within approximately 15 seconds:
- A giant plastic castle, concocted by the Fisher Price “Imaginext” brand, which has a lion’s mouth as a gate. Every time you open the gate (“Click!”) the lion lets out a roar (“RARGHGH!”).
- A “Let’s Rock” Elmo, which says the following, over and over: “ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH!” (Maybe this one was broken, but seriously, that’s all it said.)
- A four-foot long Star Wars light saber, which makes a rather realistic light-saber “Woooooosh!” sound. This toy is also useful for knocking all the other toys off the shelves.
- “Click! RARGHGH! Click! Wooooooosh! Click! ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH! RARGHGH!”
I’m sorry, what was I saying again? My ears are bleeding. Oh, yes. Among the colorful rows of the Target toy section — I’m sorry, I mean “the highly gendered amusement prison bounded by proverbial pink and blue bars” — two aisles stood out. Both, unsurprisingly, were an explosion of purple, sparkles, and several alarming and unearthly shades of pink.