Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gendered Consumers/Engendering Consumerism

The messages that big toy companies are sending with their products are encoded with all kinds of philosophies, values, and ideals about today’s society. In particular, nearly every product on the market is advertised towards a specific gender. Take Transformers and Barbie Dolls, for example. The very use of the words “action figure” and “doll” are cues towards what’s appropriate for a specific gender. You won’t find many boys playing with ‘dolls’ or girls playing with ‘action figures’ since, as Newman states, “Unfortunately, children whose behavior doesn’t conform to generally accepted standards of gender are subject to ridicule or worse.” (Newman 115) So from a very young age, children are indirectly told what is acceptable and unacceptable to play with simply by what it is called.

While shopping for Transformers and going to the website, one is bombarded by a black background with red and blue caption boxes (primarily ‘boy colors’), followed immediately by a flash video of an explosion. More specifically, some of the toys offered include “Robot Heroes, Cyber Slammer, Optimus Prime Battle Rig Blaster, Robot Fighters, Puzzles, etc.”(Transformers) Clearly this is showing children that boys should primarily be occupied with action, violence, competition, exploration, etc. It seems as if the toys embody the hegemonic ideals of the CEOs themselves; men should be independent and powerful and ready to fight any competition. They even seem to fit right in with Johnson’s idea of Patriarchy: “...standards of masculine toughness …masculine protectiveness…’naturalness’ of male aggression, competition, and dominance.” (Johnson 94)

On the other side of the gender spectrum, during a trip to Barbie.com, one is bombarded by a pink background followed by glittering starry banners along with a greeting of “Think Pink”. (Barbie Girls) Clearly this product is marketed towards girls but what message is it sending? Barbie epitomizes the stereotype for the ideal female in American society: slim, curvy, ‘pretty’, generally flawless (aesthetically, anyway). This ideal of impossible, unattainable beauty is potentially a dangerous one to be ingrained in a child’s mind at such a young age. For example, the strive for Barbie’s slender physique may actually cause some girls to obtain eating disorders later in life. Furthermore, although there exist a handful of non-normative Barbie dolls, such as Speed Racer Barbie, BarbieCollector.com shows that there are vastly more normative Barbie Dolls than not, such as, “Miss Sapphire Barbie, Perfectly Pink Barbie, etc”. (Barbie Collector) The message being sent to young girls here is to emphasize their looks and physical aspects as much as possible, even to the point where it may affect the type of job you attain one day.

Further shopping on these sites shows that their products parallel commonplace stereotypes held in American society. For instance, toys on the Transformers website include complicated role-playing toys which the child must figure out and subsequently take charge in a given scenario using such toys. These toys then influence the gender of a child by instilling in him the ideals that men should be strong and independent and should be encouraged to explore and learn new things. On the other hand, Barbie toys are geared towards aesthetics. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a toy on the Barbie site that deals with anything of intellectual value. Everywhere on the site, toys can be found that come with accessories that encourage girls to “mix the fashions, hair, and faces to match your mood!” (Barbie) Clearly these toys coincide with stereotypes of woman having no intelligence and their bodies and looks being the most important aspect about them.

So these toys are geared towards one specific gender or the other and cause this extreme dichotomy in classification that may be unhealthy. Children become ingrained with these ideas that one thing is OK for one gender, one thing is OK for the other gender, and there is nothing in between. Like Newman says, “It is a short step from these dichotomies to identifying one member of each pair as good and the other bad, one moral and the other immoral, one worthy and the other unworthy.”(Newman 37) So he is saying that this dichromatic characterization of gender that children are learning from such a young age is the first step in instilling, essentially, racism and other unhealthy ‘white and black’ comparisons and judgments. It’s teaching children to be closed minded and quick to try and put people into categories.



Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Johnson, Allan. Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. Temple University Press, 1997.

Transformers. 19 May 2008 .

Barbie Girls. 19 May 2008 .

"View All Barbie Dolls." Barbie Collector. 19 May 2008 .

1 comment:

Jessiebg said...

Nice job with your first blog post Dan! It's a good analysis of the toys in relation to the pieces you've cited. I would like to see you have a bit clearer thesis that gets to the heart of the writing's focus. One other minor issue is that the parenthetical citations need to have the period after the citation. ie:
Unfortunately, children whose behavior doesn’t conform to generally accepted standards of gender are subject to ridicule or worse” (Newman 115).
Other than that, nice work here!!!
:o)
Jessie