Gender Series - Boys and Their Toys
By Eric Betancourt, NCCJ Contributor
Today I was woken up to the half-chore, half-delight, of having to watch my 5-year-old cousin Jacob and his infant sister Giana. It was a beautiful day outside so I decided to spend the morning in the backyard with them. Around noon I took them in for lunch, and after Giana was set for a nap, Jacob and I looked for some toys to play with. Reaching into a bag filled with both of their toys, I pulled out a baby doll wearing a pink dress and handed it to him. He shook his head in refusal of the doll and said, “That’s not my toy, it’s Giana’s”. I tried to tell him that it was alright to play with it, Giana was asleep and definitely didn’t mind sharing, but he continued to refuse and urged that it wasn’t for him to play with, that it was a toy for girls and he needed something different. He then proceeded to pull a toy snake out of the bag and played with that.
This got me thinking about how I grew up and the way I looked at the toys I was offered to play with as a child. To be honest, I would probably have reacted in the same manner as my cousin if I was offered a toy that had been labeled as ‘feminine’. Through my socialization I was taught to stay within the confines of the ‘man-box’ or be punished. My parents (like those featured in this study) bought into this belief, and my toy chest was filled with hot wheels, toy guns, and professional wrestling action figures. All of my toys reinforced the stereotypical gender standards that I was supposed to grow into. I was learning to love cars and to recreate violent scenes with my action figures. I was never offered a Barbie doll or an easy bake oven, but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have asked for them. I had already categorized them as ‘feminine' because of the constant advertisements that showcased girls playing with them. My peers at school would constantly police each other’s behaviors and pointed out whenever someone stepped out of line, so I didn’t want to condemn myself by bringing a Barbie doll to show and tell. I bought into the masculine label to protect myself.
Not only was I learning from my parents and peers to forsake all that didn’t align with my masculinity, I was getting messages from the toys themselves that taught me how to ‘be a man’. The toys that I played with promoted the idea that boys should grow up to be violent, and the violent video games that I played allowed me to practice performing my violence with ease. As shown in this video, my action figures helped shape my unhealthy expectation of what men should look like, and that expectation has only gotten more and more unrealistic as representations of masculinity have gotten more and more muscular in recent years.
Luckily, there have been recent efforts to combat the gendering of toys that many children have to go through. Swedish Toys R’ Us stores have moved to challenge gender stereotypes in their holiday toy catalogueand depicted children playing with toys that did not fit traditional gender stereotypes. In her Ted Talk McKenna Pope explains how she petitioned for Hasbro to manufacture their Easy-Bake Oven in non-gender specific colors so that her brother would be able to use it without fear of ridicule. I hope that things continue to go in this direction, and we can stop gendering playtime, if only for my cousin Jacob’s sake.
Other Gender blogs:
Monday, August 4 - Gender blog series introduction
Monday, August 11 - Female Gender and Toys
Monday, August 25 - Female Gender and School
Monday, September 1 - Male Gender and School
Monday, September 8 - Female Gender and Sports
Monday, September 15 - Male Gender and Sports
Monday, September 22 - Female Gender and Body Image
Monday, September 29 - Male Gender and Body Image
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