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What’s Wrong With This Picture? UPDATED

Update at the end of this post.

This is the box for the Stomp Rocket, a toy for kids (you step on the air pump thingie and it shoots styrofoam rockets into the air). The toy is made for kids age 3 and up. The cover is illustrated with a photograph of two children with the toy.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Stomp Rocket toy box

Hint below the jump.

Please note who gets to actually play with the rocket — and who gets to stand to the side with her hands raised to her face in admiring astonishment.

Also, of course, the kids are both white. I wasn’t in the toy store buying this, so I don’t know how universal that is, but I’m betting it’s pretty darned common. People who have been in toy stores more than me, can you tell if if that’s the case?

*****

UPDATE: On Facebook, some people have pointed out that some of the other Stomp Rocket marketing and packaging has images of girls playing with the toys, either alone or with boys watching. (Link, link, link.) On their current website, in the Products list, they have: one image of two boys (one playing, one watching); one of one boy and one girl (the boy playing, the girl watching — that’s the one discussed in this post); one of two girls and one boy (one girl playing, one boy and one other girl watching); one of a girl by herself (riding a toy car, not playing with a rocket). So while the general trend of sexist marketing of children’s toys is incontrovertible, this particular company is doing better than many.

All still white kids, by the way.

Comments

  1. says

    When my sister and I were kids, watching Saturday morning cartoons, we would take note of the commercials for toys that we saw during the commercial breaks. Of course we noticed that the toys were very gender-segregated, but the ads for board games usually featured a mixed-gender, and mixed-race, group of kids playing the game.

    But, at the end of the commercial, a kid would generally stand up and shout “I win!”, with arms raised in victory. That kid? Always a boy. ALWAYS. And almost always white.

  2. suttkus says

    There’s nothing wrong with this picture. What’s wrong is that EVERY other picture in a similar context shows the same arrangement. If the context (pictures selling children’s products) had an equal mixture of boys-forward, girls-forward pictures, different races involved, then this picture would have nothing wrong with it. Just one part of the grand melange. But the context isn’t diversified; it just keeps reinforcing the one image.

  3. baryogenesis says

    The last time I was at a Toys R Us, the girls’ section was glowing pink. Aisle after aisle of everything pink.

  4. nathanaelnerode says

    To follow up on baryogenesis, the problem is that there IS a “girls section” and a “boys section”.

    When I was young, I remember going to a toy store. It wasn’t segregated.

  5. dravid says

    Try this experiment. Take 50 boys and 50 girls (aged 5) to a toy store and ask them to pick one toy only. For most of us the results will not surprise, boys will go for toys like guns, rockets and action figures and the girls will go for the Pink Aisles. There will be some crossover. What that should show us is that the the cover of the this toy is not sexist it is simply commercial. If the majority of girls wanted rockets then the toy companies would advertise to that demographic. I have friends who absolutely refused to allow their boys toy guns, what did the boys do? Made guns out sticks. It’s nature not nurture.

  6. says

    I hated toy guns and action figures as a boy, and resented the presumption that I was supposed to like them. I was miffed by the pink aisles because they represented an entire world of toys that were off-limits to me, whether I wanted to play with them or not. So I spent my youth fiddling with things like Lego bricks that seemed constructive and gender-neutral at the time. It’s anyone’s guess if they still are, though.

  7. Robert B. says

    Gee, dravid, your experiment is totally unbiased, too, on account of the toy companies have no influence whatever on what toys these kids know about and think they should get. It’s certainly not as though those companies spend millions of dollars on advertising to shape their primary markets. Nor are they ever abetted by relatives who only expose kids to the things they’re “supposed” to like. *eyeroll* Find me a hundred kids who haven’t grown up in a deluge of gender-role messaging about how they play, and maybe your experiment might be worth a fart in a windstorm.

    I’ve worked selling toys, and they are LUDICROUSLY overgendered. The girl-targeted toys are easiest to spot, since everything that’s not pink is lavender and it’s all about being pretty and/or sweet, but there’s distinct patterns in the boy-targeted toys too. Saturated primary colors – red, green, blue, orange – heavy emphasis on machines, violence, sports, big animals, action generally. The patterns are so clear that I’m sure there are lots of good toy ideas that aren’t being produced because they can’t be obviously classified as “for girls” or “for boys.”

    If the store where I once worked had stocked the toy pictured in the OP, I’d have been told to shelve it in the boys’ aisle next to the robots. I’m slightly surprised they put a girl on the package at all.

    To answer your question about race, Greta… honestly, the overwhelming barrage of gender messages in toy marketing washes out the race messages a bit, at least for this white dude. But as best I can remember, if any toy or children’s item depicts one person, that person is white. If it depicts two people, they are usually both white. At three or more, they remember that humans come in more than one color – but the girl-targeted stuff rarely lets the range go any darker than medium-brown. Since these are “girls” toys and so all about beauty, the message is that a pretty black girl is one with lighter skin.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    Somewhat OT, but for international womens’ day, on boardgamegeek, the site of my major hobby, there was a thread opened to discuss games designed by or illustrated by women.

    Someone wrote, “Oh dear… will the community be able to show constraint and maturity???… ”

    But the boardgame community — still overwhelmingly male — made a long series of posts about….

    Female boardgame designers they respected and admired.

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/170857/8-march-is-international-womens-day-celebrate-your

    That was it. That was all there was. There were also links to earlier, similar lists, which also had no sophomoric jokes or insults or male strutting either.

    I realize that the fact that a predominantly male community NOT being venal and misogynist should be commonplace, rather than noteworthy. And I also realize that there shouldn’t be anything especially noteworthy about a game being designed by a woman.

    But I was just proud of my peeps, and wanted to share it.

  9. cressida says

    @jaytheostrich: Did you even see the comment directly above yours?

    Regarding dravid’s comment: If I hear one more person say “girls turn trucks into dolls and boys turn stuffed bunnies into guns and therefore NATURE” I’m going to blow my brains out. Boys and girls are treated differently from gestation onward, so of course they behave differently. The hypothesis that boys and girls have inherent brain differences is unproven and needlessly complicated. It’s vastly discouraging that so many people don’t understand this.

  10. dravid says

    Don’t disagree with you Robert B. Children are exploited and therefore through that their parents. I grew up in a small country town before Television, we made sling shots, played cowboys and Indians (with horses), blew up things with fire crackers. My sister and my friend’s sisters were not interested in these activities and would not have been welcome in any case. We rode horses and the girls did also, the difference being that the boys raced our horses and played the aforementioned games (I shudder now at what was fairly hard on them) and the girls were not interested in racing or being Indians. My point being that advertising had no (or little influence) on our behavior, we did what we enjoyed doing and girls did other things. If there is someone who can expertly comment on this it would be welcome however I believe that males and females are “hard-wired” to different roles through evolution. Hunters and Gatherers/Nurturers and our children’s toys reflect this.

  11. Robert B. says

    I focused on toy advertising because it was more relevant to the OP and your claims, not because it’s the only source of what I was talking about. But that’s okay, I bet small country towns before television didn’t have any homegrown gender policing at all.

    Wait, what was that?

    My sister and my friend’s sisters… would not have been welcome in any case.

    Nope, nobody’s telling anyone how their gender is supposed to play there!

    By the way, if you’re looking for some expertise, PZ has some posts about how implausible the kind of thing you’re proposing is. I suggest you look them up. The gist of it is, since male and female populations of the same species are always interbreeding, for a trait to evolve only in males, there not only has to be strong reproductive advantage for males to have it, but also strong reproductive advantage for the females to not have it.

  12. cressida says

    @dravid:

    “I believe that males and females are “hard-wired” to different roles through evolution.”

    EVEN IF THAT WERE TRUE (and I think it’s bullshit), that doesn’t mean we have to accept those roles today. We’re an intelligent species no longer ruled by instinct. If we choose to perpetuate the idea that there are no men’s roles and women’s roles but that anyone can pursue any goal regardless of historical gender stereotypes, then We Can Do That. And we should. How is any other approach anything other than bigotry?

  13. dravid says

    My wife doesn’t think I’m a bigot because I don’t like Chick Flicks, Just insensitive, same difference to toys.

  14. Greta Christina says

    dravid: I encourage you to read the book “Gender Shock.” There is considerable evidence that gender role training begins in infancy. People treat babies they think are boys and babies they think are girls in ways that are very apparent and even obvious to researchers – but people engaging in this are unaware of it and will often completely deny when it’s pointed out to them.

    It’s possible that there are some inborn differences between the genders in humans – there are in other mammals, after all. But the evidence for this is shaky at best – while the evidence for extensive gender role training and enforcement from birth is incontrovertible. And even if there are inborn differences, they’re not in the form of “all males are like X, all females are like Y.” They’re more like overlapping bell curves. Lots of different overlapping bell curves, in fact, since gendered behavior falls along lots of of different spectra (physical aggressiveness, communication skills, ability to read emotions, etc.). Most of us have some traits that are more stereotypically male and others that are more stereotypically female. So the idea that “girls/ boys are just naturally like that, boys naturally like to play with rockets and girls naturally like to watch admiringly while boys play with rockets” is bull. There’s no excuse for the overwhelmingly rigid gendering in marketing of children’s toys, and other forms of gender role training and policing, in kids or adults. It does serious harm.

  15. Infophile says

    @15 Greta: “…there are in other mammals, after all.”

    This made it occur to me: Let’s look at one of the other mammals you might be familiar with: dogs. There are obvious differences in sexual behavior and reproduction, but beyond that, the gender differences are dwarfed by individual personality variation. However, as there’s less socializing of dogs to behave according to gender norms (most people can’t even tell a dog’s gender without a gawk at their genitals), it’s a lot easier to measure what innate sexual differences do exist. To wit (and remember, these are all small trends, dwarfed by individual variations):

    Male dogs tend to be: More people-focused, more child-like, more demanding of attention.

    Female dogs tend to be: More independent, more territorial.

    Oddly enough, it’s pretty much the exact reverse of what we expect in humans. And even then, it’s pretty damn minor. There’s simply no evolutionary advantage for dogs to have significant behavioral differences between the genders. People make tons of “just-so” stories for why there would be an advantage to humans having gender differences, but you can make just as many stories arguing for the opposite differences. The only way to know for sure is to study differences in an environment shielded from socialization effects.

    In short: Of course it’s possible there are behavioral gender differences in humans due to biology alone. If you think you know what they are though, you have no solid basis for your claims. The evidence is impossibly muddled by socialization, and that’s not likely to change at any point in our lifetimes. Given that we can’t know the differences, it make sense to behave as if there are none and let the cards fall where they may.

  16. brucegee1962 says

    It makes sense that there aren’t brain differences, and plenty of differences in social treatment.

    What about the differences in biology, though? When boys (of all ages) become overly attached to guns, for instance, it’s common for people (even feminists) to say, “Well, this must be related somehow to how they feel about their own equipment.” Rockets are often noted for being phallic. Video games like Space Invaders are often noted for having male-viewpoint sexual overtones.

    Agreed that we can overcome these biases. It still seems as if we need to be aware of them to overcome them.

  17. grumpyoldfart says

    Only two kids in the photo. It had to be one or the other doing the jumping.

    One black kid and one white kid would have been nice – but then every other ethnic group would have felt left out.

  18. Anthony Burber says

    @dravid:

    I grew up in a small country town before Television
    [...]
    played cowboys and Indians
    [...]
    My point being that advertising had no (or little influence) on our behavior, we did what we enjoyed doing

    “Playing cowboys and Indians” is not something that children (and only male children) naturally do for fun. If you did, it is because you were exposed to a whole raft of myths so pervasive that you have never questioned them, even into adulthood. Yes, myths. In the scenes in your head, what proportion of the “cowboys” were African-American? If it wasn’t at least one in four, you were influenced more by Hollywood than by reality. Maybe they squeezed in some other crazy stuff, like suggesting that you want to be led by a President who looks like Ronald Reagan, even if he thinks that lowering taxes will increase revenue.

    You may reply that this sort of racial representation doesn’t matter either. Project Implicit at Harvard University says it does – that the stereotypes we are exposed to are the stereotypes we apply to the people we meet. If we want to serve fairly on a jury or while conducting job interviews, we must acknowledge these biases, and correct for them. Pretending they don’t exist won’t help us, and will harm the people we meet.

    Now, on the particular matter of toys, maybe the rest of us on this blog are wrong. Maybe we end all gender-coding, of “boys’ aisles” and “girls’ aisles”, of endless pink and lavender. Maybe we end all the segregated advertising. Maybe we do all that, and children go right on playing with the same toys they did before. Would this outcome make your life worse in any measurable way?

    @grumpyoldfart:
    Comment #2 by suttkus addresses both issues.

  19. Abdul Alhazred says

    Perhaps the manufacturers are in the business of selling toys?

    It’s definitely a down-scale low-brow toy that progressives would never buy their kids anyway.

  20. otrame says

    dravid @11,

    As a woman who grew up in the 50s, I can assure you that among your sisters and her friends, there were girls who wanted to play the boys games, found dolls boring and loved sports. I was lucky in that in my neighborhood girls who wanted to play with the boys were allowed to do so, but I was constantly informed (not by my parents, I must say) that my preferences were not appropriate for a girl.

    As an adult, though, I have often wondered if some of those boys might have wanted to play with the girls (and no, I am not saying they were gay; they might have been, but I am a straight woman who liked being a Lieutenant in our little “band of brothers”), thought playing “war”–which we did a lot–was boring, preferred trying different clothes on dolls and such. Those boys had it even harder than I did. At least there was a label for me, tomboy, that was not entirely pejorative.

    My point is that just because you remember things a certain way doesn’t mean that is the way things were below the surface.

  21. Onamission5 says

    Oh sure, evolution blah blah blah brains gender guns machines.

    Which totally explains why my sister and I would build tree forts, turn sticks into guns, pine cones into hand grenades, and why one of my favorite childhood toys was an old metal Tonka truck.

    I wonder, when was the last time anyone saw advertising for building toys that looked like this?
    http://ghosts-in-the-tv.tumblr.com/post/60499358565/1950s-60s-lego-packaging-and-the-children-of-lego
    Yes, mind, the ads are *very very* white. Do note how many of those kids are girls, though. (also note the complete absence of mothers, as with all things sport and construction, apparently kids can only learn them from their fathers)

  22. suttkus says

    @otrame:

    As an adult, though, I have often wondered if some of those boys might have wanted to play with the girls … thought playing “war”–which we did a lot–was boring, preferred trying different clothes on dolls and such.

    In my kindergarten, there were three “play stations”. I don’t remember how all the arrangements worked, but I know we took turns at play time. One station was filled with “boys'” toys, trucks, race cars, airplanes. The girls station had mock stoves, refrigerators and dolls. And there was a neutral station were the teacher had selected books from the library.

    On my first turn at the play stations, I looked at the boys area, so a bunch of boisterous, off-putting, rowdy jerks playing with boring toys. Even then, I couldn’t comprehend what people found so entertaining about vehicles. (To this day, I find nothing more ridiculous than car commercials. Seriously, it just looks like a car, the fact that you’re showing it from a dramatic angle doesn’t make it anything other than an ordinary car!)

    So I went into the girls’ area. The girls were delighted to have me. I avoided one of the girls having to be the daddy for the house-game they were setting up. And we were having a grand time.

    Until the teacher grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and dragged me out. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?”

    I honestly don’t remember what my answer to that was. Knowing me, I probably just mumbled something noncommittal. That’s my usual go-to reaction for dealing with questions I don’t like.

    She turned to the girls. “WAS HE BOTHERING YOU?”

    The girls, just as frightened as I was by this sudden intrusion of Authority on our innocent play, generally mumbled “no” but made no effort to be assertive about it.

    I was then told, quite clearly, that boys were not allowed in the girls area.

    I went to the library and, I suppose, I’ve never left. By the end of Kindergarten, I was reading on a fourth-grade level. 30-odd-years later, and I still haven’t developed proper socialization skills, but am I ever good at reading.

  23. says

    As a parent of an 18-month-old squealing little girl whose favorite toys consist of Duplo blocks and Tonka Trucks (that she puts stuffed animals in all the time), it really varies based on brand and type of toys. My wife and I are trying to be as unrestrictive as possible and avoid the whole girl/boy mix (and will do the same on any future kids).

    I suppose it helps that her daddy is a Lego collector that’s not scared at all to walk down the girls section to grab the Friend’s bricks. Sure, they’re bad about how they target girls instead of both genders, and the garish pink boxes that fits into that aisle… but the parts in the sets are just fantastic! Okay, not really related.

    Anyway, as to the toy showing the kids, it depends on the brand. While it’s bad for participation on one count (I’d be curious if it shows the opposite on the side art), it at least shows both genders, and that’s a huge step in breaking down the girl/boy toy divide. Trying to find the study, but I know there’s one out there that showed that the entire idea of gender specific toys just vanished when you show both genders on the box, regardless of what type of toy it was. Kids aren’t picky, it’s the parents that are inflicting these things on them.

    Some manufacturers out there have really embraced that, one I’ve noticed the most with it is Step2, maker of a lot of the play houses, “food” tables, and kitchen things. They’re certainly not perfect (and they do make some of the pink/blue junk, especially with vehicles), but walk down any big toy department that carries them and you can see the kitchen stuff showing both boys and girls playing with on the box. There certainly needs to be more in that whole direction (especially with my favorite toy above… all kids love to build, gender doesn’t matter), but any step feels like a good sign.

  24. fork says

    Not to do with toys, but last summer, I was at a buskers’ festival and saw 2 acts. The first was some guys on BMX bikes. Yes, all guys, including the announcer. But what was really interesting is they used upwards of 10 participants from the audience. Passive roles, like laying on the ground while the bikes jumped over. Only men were chosen. Except when they needed a smaller person. Then they went with a boy.

    The other was the only female act in the lineup, a contortionist. There was a lot of sexual innuendo in her banter, and she used only male helpers from the audience.

    Also, two years ago when my daughter was 11, she had a sub for her gym class. The boys were made to do push-ups from the plank position; the girls, modified (knees touching floor). The girls weren’t even given a choice to do a “real” push-up. They were told to do the modified one.

  25. exi5tentialist says

    In my Sainsbury’s earlier: greetings cards. For him. For her. Ridiculous. Why not… For Extroverts. For Introverts? It’s all silly.

    Sheila’s wheels. Men’s changing rooms. Women-only aerobics. Ladies’ underwear section. Girls’ schools.

    Toys aren’t the source of the problem.

  26. mistertwo says

    Someone gave our younger son a model rocket as a birthday present when he was in elementary school, and one of my regrets as a parent is that we never built it.

    Well, younger son is going to be a daddy next week or thereabouts. The day they told us about the baby I stated my intention to correct that failing with this, our first grandchild. It was my daughter-in-law who asked “what if it’s a girl?”

    Both my wife and son quickly answered that girls can build rockets, too. As it happens, it is a girl, and I plan to build that rocket with her when she’s old enough to really help. I also plan to buy a telescope and learn enough to tell her about the stars. I guess it’s true that being a grandparent gives us a chance to do some things we should have done as parents.

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    If there is someone who can expertly comment on this it would be welcome however I believe that males and females are “hard-wired” to different roles through evolution. Hunters and Gatherers/Nurturers and our children’s toys reflect this.

    You have a lot of remedial reading to do.

  28. dravid says

    Thank you Greta Christina, absolutely agree with your observation of “They’re more like overlapping bell curves” because this is also my thinking. Anyway I certainly got the conversation going. By the way I’m Australian and the Cowboys and Indians came from listening to Radio Shows and seeing cowboy movies. It didn’t occur to us to do Drovers and Aboriginals, but that’s a whole other story. As eight to 12 year olds we were not gender biased, there were “Tomboys” who played along with our games, it’s just the sisters who wanted to change the “rules” or got bored and wanted to go home. We did change our minds about girls a few years later. Also I am happy to accept that I could be wrong and I will do some study on this subject. Unless you look at it scientifically personal observations can be skewed. I am still not totally convinced and somehow I think that there is some gender politics in the responses and possibly some conclusions looking for evidence rather than the other way around. Then again I could be guilty of that also, perhaps we can all give it some thought.

  29. says

    As eight to 12 year olds we were not gender biased, there were “Tomboys” who played along with our games

    Funny.

    What else besides gender bias could explain needing a specific label for a girl who preferred playing games stereotypically associated with boys?

    The label “tomboy” presumes several things:

    1. There are boy things

    2. There are girl things

    3. A girl who does boy things is different and needs a label

    That’s gender bias in a nutshell.

    Tell me, were you aware, as a child, of any labels reserved for boys who preferred stereotypically feminine pursuits?

  30. Silentbob says

    Anecdote:

    When I was a small boy and I was getting my first bike, my parents took me to the bike store, told to pick any one I wanted and I could have it. So I picked the one I liked the look of the best, and they dutifully bought it for me. Well it turns out it was a “girl’s” bike (i.e. no crossbar) and I was mercilessly teased by the other kids (and adults!) for having a girl’s bike – to the point that, although it was a perfectly good, functional bike, I not only refused to ride it out of shame, I deeply resented my parents for letting my buy it. I’d never had a bike before; what did I know? They must have known. Why did they let me have a girl’s bike?! (And you can bet my next bike was a super-macho number that I insisted my dad spray-painted black with big chunky BMX wheels.)

    The point is, if you think kids choices aren’t affected my cultural expectations – even small children – you’re kidding yourself.

  31. echidna says

    Dravid,

    I’m an Aussie too, and probably just a little younger than you (we had B&W TV when I was a kid, but broadcasts were not continuous.

    I remember going to a work Christmas party, where all the kids were given a Christmas present. The boys’ toys were interesting, the girls’ toys were all dolls and things I was not interested in. I asked if I could have a boys’ toy instead. No way.

    The gender stereotypes in Australia in those days were terrible. I remember when the pubs closed at 6pm, and women who didn’t have dinner on the table for their drunken husbands were liable to be beaten. It’s not what happened in our house, but the expectation that women would passively look on and provide encouragement and food for men’s activities sure was. And that the family dinner would be ready whenever my shift-working father got home, no matter how ridiculous the time.

    I hated the stereotyping with a vengeance, even as I was influenced by it myself. I did, by the way, become an engineer,and worked with nice massive machines for the same company that refused me those boys’ toys long before. Much to my parents’ dismay, and the disgust of my school mates and their parents. It just wasn’t feminine.

  32. echidna says

    Thanks for the link, brucegee1962, to boardgamesgeek. I enter my Arkham Horror stats there, so it’s nice to make contact in another context. It was a nice thread.

  33. dravid says

    OK, my final comment. Seeing that Greta Christina rightly pointed out Demographic Bell Curves and Bell Curves within Bell Curves so we are looking at a very complex question. The crux of the matter is Normal Distribution. To simplify the question I would like to present the one item that creates one of the main differences (or main difference) in behavior between Boys and Girls, Men and Women and is present in boys in higher amounts before birth and after birth than girls and that is: (drum roll please) TESTOSTERONE. QED.

  34. echidna says

    dravid,

    drum roll please) TESTOSTERONE. QED.

    Testosterone is roughly equal in prepubescent children regardless of gender.

    If physical differences were all that mattered, there wouldn’t need to be all the social pressure on girls to be quiet, kind and obedient. There also wouldn’t be all the pressure on boys to never show feelings, be competitive and show their independence.

    Much of what seems to be normal gender differences is taught, not innate. Did you read my comment at #33? Did you read SallyStrange’s comment at #30?

  35. sacharissa says

    The thing that stood out to me was the fact that the boy is active and the girl is passive. This difference in depictions can be seen in images and statues going back millennia.

  36. Anthony Burber says

    @dravid:

    Also I am happy to accept that I could be wrong and I will do some study on this subject.

    Good to know. Start your study with Gender Bias in Mothers’ Expectations about Infant Crawling (PDF).

    Abstract

    Although boys outshine girls in a range of motor skills, there are no reported gender differences in motor performance during infancy. This study examined gender bias in mothers’ expectations about their infants’ motor development. Mothers of 11-month-old infants estimated their babies’ crawling ability, crawling attempts, and motor decisions in a novel locomotor task—crawling down steep and shallow slopes. Mothers of girls underestimated their performance and mothers of boys overestimated their performance. Mothers’ gender bias had no basis in fact. When we tested the infants in the same slope task moments after mothers’ provided their ratings, girls and boys showed identical levels of motor performance.

    So yes, before you could even walk, anyone who compared you and your sisters’ motor development would probably be wrong, and wrong due to gender bias. Because these things snowball, it is impossible to claim that any variation from that point onwards is hardwired into our biochemistry.

  37. Greta Christina says

    dravid: I’m going to get a little harsh here. You seem to have some sort of problem with reading for comprehension. Several people have pointed you to scientific research showing that extensive gender role training and policing begins in infancy. In some cases it’s unconscious — in which case people will typically deny it when it’s pointed out to them. In some cases it’s overt — in which case people will often defend themselves by saying that these roles are just natural (or God-given), and they’re just treating the way nature or God intended. Do you have some response to this? Or are you just going to continue to ignore it? Why are you sticking your fingers in your ears and saying, “We weren’t gender biased, we weren’t gender biased, la la la la la la”?

    You say that “Unless you look at it scientifically personal observations can be skewed.” Apart from the absurdity of saying that being told, in open words, that you can’t play with certain toys or engage in certain behaviors because you’re a girl or a boy is somehow a “skewed personal observation”: There is an enormous body of research clearly demonstrating extensive gender bias in how girls and boys are treated. Thousands of people have looked at this scientifically, and they have shown that you are mistaken and we are right. Are you going to keep sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring that reality?

    And even if there are some small innate “overlapping bell curve” differences — so what? Would that be an excuse for the constant hammering into us, both overtly and unconsciously, every day, every hour, from the day we’re born, of hundreds of ideas about what girls are supposed to be like and what boys are supposed to be like? How would slight differences in multiple bell curve peaks, with significant overlap on the bell curves and with each person having peaks in different places on different bell curves, be a justification for the relentless cultural insistence that we must all sort ourselves into two distinct behavioral camps?

    This stuff does serious harm. It does harm to girls and women. It does harm to boys and men. It does harm to trans people, who are seen as one gender by others but self-identify as another. It does harm to people who don’t identify on a gender binary. It stunts people’s natural abilities. It warps people’s perceptions of what other people are capable of. It warps our perceptions of what we ourselves are capable of. It has practical effects, including glass ceilings, wage imbalances, the filtering of women out of male-dominated fields (such as STEM), and more — not to mention depression, poor self-esteem, and more. And the policing itself can be brutal: from verbal ridicule and harassment to physical bullying and brutality. (Talk with some trans people sometime about their childhood experiences — and then come back here and tell us that brutal gender policing isn’t a thing.)

    Please stop defending this by insisting that it’s “natural.” That is a weak excuse for not taking action. Thank you.

  38. smhll says

    I appreciate that you mentioned the research, Greta. I find that many gender essentialists are unaware of the studies showing that (in my culture in the US) when handed an infant one is nearly always told the gender. Then, it’s common for a person to handle a male infant more vigorously and comment on how tough or strong he is. With a female baby, the handling is very likely to be more gentle with many comments about how pretty or beautiful the baby is.

  39. Schlumbumbi says

    I can’t begin to fathom what the world must look like through such ideologically coloured glasses, and what cognitive pressure it must put on you on a daily basis. I sincerely hope you’ll find the way out of this rabbit hole one day.

  40. Greta Christina says

    I can’t begin to fathom what the world must look like through such ideologically coloured glasses, and what cognitive pressure it must put on you on a daily basis. I sincerely hope you’ll find the way out of this rabbit hole one day.

    Schlumbumbi @ #41: Who in this conversation are you addressing? And whoever you’re addressing, can you please address the content of what they’re saying, instead of just referring to them as having ideologically coloured glasses and being in a rabbit hole? Thanks.

  41. markd555 says

    dravid: I was just wondering, do you read what you type?

    Please don’t take this as an attack, we are all products of our time and surroundings. What makes us open and compassionate individuals is when we think past that – what affects our thinking, is that right, who am I affecting – and question ourselves.

    I grew up in a small country town before Television, we made sling shots, played cowboys and Indians (with horses), blew up things with fire crackers. My sister and my friend’s sisters were not interested in these activities and would not have been welcome in any case.

    By the way I’m Australian and the Cowboys and Indians came from listening to Radio Shows and seeing cowboy movies. It didn’t occur to us to do Drovers and Aboriginals, but that’s a whole other story. As eight to 12 year olds we were not gender biased, there were “Tomboys” who played along with our games, it’s just the sisters who wanted to change the “rules” or got bored and wanted to go home.

    Yes, that is the culture you and any female acquaintances were in. You grew up watching & listening to cowboy movies and radio shows, basing your play on that. No female heroes.
    Are you saying this had absolutely no role in your thinking as a child?
    But it did determine what games you played.

    And females were not welcome.
    Oh wait, didn’t mean that females were not welcome, they just weren’t welcome because they -all change the rules-.
    They all do?
    Yes most likely they change the rules by playing a “boy’s game” and “who ever heard of a female cowboy?”
    And boys would not change the rules?

    Yep I would likely go home bored too and not bother.

  42. says

    I’ve been a model rocketeer off and on since I was in elementary school (and for reference, I’m roughly the same age as Greta). Model rockets (actual flame-spouting rockets, which are more on the hobby end of the toy-hobby continuum, compared to stomp rockets) neatly combine my fascination with spaceflight and my desire to make things with my hands. I’ve been out of the hobby for a few years now, just because life twists and turns, doncha’ know, but I miss it and I’m eager to get back into it.

    Maybe.

    I’m on a Yahoo email group (remember those?) for the competition part of the hobby, and recently there was a proposal to replace the word Craftsmanship (a broad category of contests in which the quality of the model is judged) with a gender-neutral term. I was saddened to see how much resistance there was to such a simple, obvious, zero-cost change. There was the expected complaint that the proposed replacement term — Craftspersonship — is clunky and artificial sounding (I actually agree; my suggestion was to simply use Craft), but what really bummed me out was all the outright hostility and bloviation about “social engineering” and “political correctness,” and the claims (including from a couple women) that no reasonable person could be offended or even a little put off.

    I thought these people were better than that. That’s what I get for thinking, eh?

    For a quick comparison, I’m also involved as a volunteer in a national rocketry competition for school-aged kids that’s sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and intended to encourage young people to consider engineering careers: Think FIRST Robotics, but with rockets instead of robots. In that competition, which is only tangentially connected to the organized rocketry hobby, girls are well represented among the competitors (including no small number of all-girl teams) and women among the adult coach/sponsors. The organized hobby, on the other hand, attracts very few girls and women, other than the wives, girlfriends, or daughters of hardcore male enthusiasts (and even most of the daughters don’t stay in the hobby after about middle school).

    It’s easy to argue that any one word in a rulebook (or picture on a package) is trivial in itself… but this shit adds up. Many are blind to those effects; too many others, tragically, see them and are perfectly fine with them.

  43. says

    dravid:

    I grew up long ago in a very small town. No TV, no toy stores. No advertising. Toys were Christmas gifts, one per child. I got dolls. And a weaving loom. My brothers got train sets, Meccano, Tinkertoy, small engines for making stuff work, a log set (the pre-Lego builders’ set), etc.

    I got the message. Dolls were for girls. Meccano was for boys.

    I gave away the dolls, and played with the train set. I built stuff with Meccano. I took apart and put together the motors. And read “101 things a boy can make”.

    And my family, observing this, turned around and gave me more weaving looms and dolls.

    Sometimes people don’t see what’s staring them in the face.

  44. says

    I worked at Fisher-Price in the 1990s.

    I don’t know how has much changed since then, but packaging and toys aimed at non-caucasian families simply did not sell.

    The buyers for toy makers are not the general public, they are retailers.
    The toys are revealed at Toy Fair in spring, for stores to order. This is BEFORE the toy goes into production.
    If the stores don’t like the box, it gets changed before production.
    If the stores don’t like the toy and don’t order it, it doesn’t get produced.

    Then, in fall after the stores have ordered and production has geared up, Consumer catalogs are released. They still may show the older pics, though.

    Stores will not (or would not then) order toys aimed at non-caucasian families, because they don’t sell (except for in very limited geographic areas)

    Stores will even refuse to buy a case of assorted items with SOME of the toy parts or packaging aimed at minorities. They will express interest in the caucasian-themed item, and ask that it be made available separately or else they will not order.

    The rationale is that the other toys don’t sell (think suburban malls and toy stores, etc.) and take up space on the shelves.

    We had a license “Little People” shampoo line, bottles with little people heads. We developed plastic heads in both pink and brown, but stores would only order brown.

    We offered a line of “My Friend” dolls, and the non-caucasian doll in the series was not ordered by a single store… only the pilot run of 200 “My Friend Karen” black dolls were produced, and they sat in warehouse space until I got the word out to interested parties who called and ordered them directly.

    My sister went shopping for Barbies, at the time about $15 each, and ended up buying African-American Barbie and Ken, which were in the clearance aisle for $1.49 each.

    We came out with a toy fire-hydrant lawn water-play sprinkler toy.
    I had to deal with upset people calling to complain that we made the product at all, because “that’s what GHETTO kids do, you want all kids to act like GHETTO kids?”

    That’s our culture.

  45. says

    (The shampoo case was one where we tried to offer a case of “assorted” and the stores refused to buy the product unless we offered solely pink. hey felt that with baby shampoo the “I wont buy this effect” would be at the most severe.)

  46. says

    Not for nothin’, but did any of you see Alton Brown’s traveling live show? He’s not exactly the world’s greatest feminist, but he does do a whole bit about how he wanted an EasyBake oven when he was a kid, and “Santa” wouldn’t bring him one because they were for girls.

    As an aside, the EasyBake is the only one of my sister’s toys I can remember playing with.

  47. Nick Gotts says

    Anyway I certainly got the conversation going. – dravid@29,/blockquote>

    Gosh, yes. No-one else here has ever come across the notion that gender differences in toy choice are innate. We can only be profoundly grateful for your totally original and deeply learned contribution.

  48. says

    @Jafafa Hots

    Same argument as it’s just God’s way. Or Nature. Or Evolution. Or What the Market Wants. It’s Just Culture. As though it can’t be changed. If all the toy makers had a diversity of children on all the boxes and packaging, it would be much more difficult to cater to the racial and gender police. Why are black or brown dolls considered toys that white kids ought not to play with? It’s time consumers demand that toy manufacturers stop manufacturing racism and sexism.

  49. dravid says

    Nick, one thing about this discussion was that it was respectful. I think that you got lost and found the wrong blog.

  50. Anthony Burber says

    @dravid #55:
    “Respect” is about more than not using expletives or direct insults. You have done the equivalent of stepping into an astronomy discussion and saying “the world looks flat, so why do you say it’s a sphere?” Then, when people take the time to educate you, you ignore them and make a new assertion. That is not respectful, and you have not posted with respect here.

    Having demonstrated no respect, you didn’t receive any either. If you think the first time you were disrespected was Nick Gotts #53, I agree with Greta Christina #39: you have a problem with reading for comprehension.

    If you are genuinely interested in this subject, you need to start not by making assertions but by asking questions. That’s real questions, not passive-aggressive leading questions. You can even start asking them of yourself. Sallystrange #30 has a good one.

  51. Eddie K says

    OMG???? Are all of you serious who are arguing about the gender role in this ad? You know whats wrong with the picture? The hose for the toy isn’t connected! Get your heads out of your asses and stop blowing things out of proportion!

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