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Three year old girl has gender marketing all figured out

Via Unicorn Booty, a three-year-old realizes there’s something very wrong with gender marketing and goes on a rant. I don’t know how much she’s been taught to look out for this stuff, but either way, she’s the next generation and it warms my heart.

When three year olds can come to such feminist realizations unbidden, I have some hope for the eventual destruction of gender roles and the gender-specific marketing that goes with it. Compare and contrast with the recent attempt to pinkwash LEGO.

I hope this girl grows up to like superheroes if she wants, and only buys pink things if she decides she likes pink.

Comments

  1. capnxtreme says

    Three years old? I don’t remember what I was doing at that age, but it sure wasn’t breaking down gender roles and thinking outside the box. This is possibly the best thing I’ve seen on Youtube all year.

  2. says

    I was very much like that little girl! I was MUCH more interested in books(no princesses allowed),telescopes, microscopes, building catapults and various war engines built from found scraps, building forts,and climbing trees. I forgot to mention collecting insects, reptiles, and building terrariums for them. Skateboarding. Fishing.Video games. Archery.
    Every Barbie doll, baby doll,and play makeup set got destroyed or shoved into the farthest recesses of my closet.
    I think this little one will be just fine!

  3. Rich Wilson says

    I’ve moved quite a ways to ‘nature’ in my opinion of what makes kids tick in the last five years of raising my son. There are some ‘boy’ things that he’s obsessed over even if he wasn’t introduced to then. And some ‘girl’ things that he’s had every opportunity for, but doesn’t care about. He does love (and have lots of) pink. He does get into ‘girl’ cartoon mode and watch Strawberry Shortcake. But he has no interest in playing with princes dolls. Or any dolls. He does play with doll cars- as in flying them around, going “Boom Boom!” a lot and making up story lines for them.

    And I’m not saying ‘nurture’ isn’t a huge part of it, and that marketing in general isn’t huge pile of evil shit. I’m sure I killed a little piece of my son’s psyche when I let him watch Strawberry Shortcake.

    My dad once mentioned a cartoon strip he saw. Grandparent gives twin boy and girl each a teddy bear and asks what they’ve named it. Girl says “Bobo!”. Boy, pushing the bear around the ground making “Rrrr” sounds: “Truck!”

  4. Ol'Miss says

    Hmmmm…my boys definately leaned towards the boy stuff! Even when at a friends house, if barbie was around, she became “extreme barbie” and they wanted to know what happened to her when she crashed or fell from extreme heights! It wasn’t that they didn’t want to play with “girls” toys, they just played differently!

  5. rrpostal says

    Sorry to be the wet blanket, but she’s most likely just parroting her parents’ views. Though, I’m very happy these are the views she is being filled with, and it’s not to say she is incapable of processing it in her own way.

  6. F says

    She may be parroting her parents’ views, or not. I had a problem with the way stuff was marketed to children, and the gender dichotomy seemed stupid even if I didn’t articulate it to myself in terms of sexism. It wasn’t something I picked up from my parents or society in general; I couldn’t say where the hell that sort of thinking came from at all. (Possibly from observation that wasn’t colored by instilled beliefs? I don’t know.)

  7. demonhype says

    My mom made the same “nature, not nurture” argument with me, pointing out that we girls always chose dolls and my brother always chose cars, though we were all given a free choice. (How free that really is is debatable–there’s more to that than just “what mom will let me have”, and kids get indoctrinated very early via TV and other media and socialization).

    I asked her if she ever bothered to watch us playing with those toys and she said “no”. I pointed out that, while my brother indeed only chose the cars and never the dolls, he didn’t do anything besides “vroom vroom” with them (and occasionally huck them at people before we put a stop to that–he was a brat though, and the youngest). I asked her if she ever remembered, as she walked in and out of the living room, if she noticed half our dolls with their backs to one wall and half with their backs to another, facing the middle of the room. She remembered it and asked what that was. I told her “we were having a war”. I played GOD with my dolls–wars, famine, pestilence, etc. and whatnot. I have two Jem dolls with red marker on their necks. “Why would you marker up your dolls like that?” she asked, aghast. Well, I didn’t think it would stain (my test mark wiped off). But mainly, these dolls were the generals of the losing army and we built a scaffolding out of shoeboxes and publicly executed them. (Overprotected kids, I have no idea where this stuff came from). But how many little girls have public executions or wars or plagues with their Barbies? Just the choice of toys has little to do with “nurturing”.

    BTW, it was mostly me. My sister didn’t have many ideas and generally just went along with whatever I came up with. She’s got Care Bears and My Little Ponies all over the place, though she seems to like them on a more campy level than little-girl level. Plus she loves to see children cry from fear or disappointment (like in those Jimmy Kimmel youtube challenges, for example.) So much for nurturing.

    I got to play dolls with another girl only once (overprotective parents, remember). It started off as some kind of freaking fashion show or mall shopping trip, but I quickly took control and all of a sudden they were running for their lives from a horde of flesh-eating zombies or monsters or something, and then one of them turned into a zombie and got thrown off the stairs at the end. (My stories always had a distinct and dramatic ending.) This girl got really quiet, then said “that was WEIRD. Can’t we just play NORMAL?” So we had some kind of tea party or fashion show or some such mind-numbing crap, and I was never more bored in my life.

    The fact is that when I used to play as a little girl on the playground at school, sans dolls, the other girls went along with most of my crazy fun stuff, but once the establishment started getting a hold on them they turned into “tee hee pink princess boys clothes makeup tee hee, she’ll never get a husband if she keeps pretending to have a brain or opinions of any sort, and everyone knows the crowing achievement of a woman’s life, second only to childbirth, is finding Prince Charming, tee hee!” All right out of the script I was seeing parroted from the TV, movies, parents, adults, and everything else in society. From girls who used to have fun.

    Nothing anyone says will convince me that there is more nature than nurture to this. It is complete bullshit on every level. I was lucky because my parents are both commercial artists who worked in advertising, so I had the advantage of hearing the two most respected people in my life dissecting all manner of commercials to each other and explain cynically why every stupid American was going to race to buy this essentially useless gimmick (which is why I’m surprised that she thinks the whole dichotomous gender-identity thing is just natural and has very little to do with social and media programming, but she also wants to believe she’s just special too.)

    This is also why they will never allow schools to teach Media Literacy. It would undermine the entire basis of our carefully-programmed society and the basis of American capitalism as well. And as every conservative can tell you, that would be DIRE.

  8. demonhype says

    BTW, my brother was the only one who couldn’t wait to get married and produce a “cute widdle oogly boogly widdle baybee”, whereas my sister and I are avowedly childfree and, though older kids can be at least fun (when they’re not ours), we find babies not only uninteresting but, in fact, disgusting–freakish, vomiting, crapping little maggots who can’t even communicate and tell you what’s wrong. I am thirty-two and continue to have zero interest in that–not even a hint at this mythological “biological clock” that’s supposed to be riding my ass right about now by all accounts. Zero “nurturing” instinct.

    Nature over nurture, my ass.

  9. F says

    demonhype

    No, it’s all nature. Males of the species evolved specifically to like cars over the last several million years.

  10. redwards says

    *sigh* Not being able to pick up on the distress cues of a non-verbal being does not make you some amazing feminist, demonhype. It just makes you tedious. I’ve seen this particular claim so many times, I’m betting it’s complete bullshit, as you’ve probably had a pet at some time in your life and were perfectly able to tell when it was in distress. Infant humans aren’t any different than any other animal.

  11. says

    I have long suspected there is at least some component to this whole gender thing that is nature, but what percentage, I couldn’t tell you. I will say that it appears to be at least partly nature, in that kids will express their desires almost entirely independent of any kind of influence, but how much that nature part is, honestly, really couldn’t be determined via duelling anecdotes.

    I think the problem is, we don’t know how much these kids would have learned about trucks making roar sounds with a teddy bear, or naming it “Bobo” (which is a significantly more appropriate name for a bear than “Truck”) without someone actually giving them corollary information like that trucks go “roar” or that “Bobo” is a good name for a teddy bear. Nor do we know if that particular anecdote, hailing as it does from a comic strip recalled third-hand, is an actual example or just someone reinforcing existing stereotypes.

    These kids could have, as easily, been exposed to nothing but princesses and unicorns during their development and wanted to pretend to be princesses regardless of their sex. We don’t know. Short of experimenting on kids and isolating them from society, which is terribly immoral, how the hell are we supposed to figure out that they will on average trend toward more “stereotypical” gender roles?

  12. Rich Wilson says

    Nor do we know if that particular anecdote, hailing as it does from a comic strip recalled third-hand, is an actual example or just someone reinforcing existing stereotypes.

    I know this is an annoying card to see played, but I think the kid-related anecdote of a parent is easily worth at least three kid-related anecdotes of a non-parent. In your case Jason, I predict your kid will eat bacon while watching Hockey Night in Canada. We’ll hope the Beer part at least waits until later.

  13. says

    @Jason: kids will express their desires almost entirely independent of any kind of influence

    There is really no such thing as being even “almost entirely” independent of gender-based influence. Even a baby (less than a year old) is treated very differently depending on whether those interacting with him/her have been told it is a boy or a girl. The supposed girls are held more, comforted more quickly when crying, encouraged to explore less, etc

  14. says

    Yeah, some of gender is almost certainly nature. But then that nature is modified and expressed within a particular cultural context. It’s really, really, really tough to figure out what is and isn’t cultural, though, at least at this point in our understanding. Likewise with figuring out what’s natural.

    Boys starting to name teddy bears “truck” at an early age doesn’t mean it’s “nature”. Cultural, social and environmental cues start getting soaked up almost immediately upon introduction to other human beings. Like you yourself, Rich. Your son may already be looking to you for cues on how he is meant to express his gender.

    Taking the bits that we know to be actual neuro-chemical differences between sexes (generally speaking) and using that to extrapolate a hard gender essentialist worldview, like that boys “evolved” to like trucks and girls “evolved” to like dolls, is rather silly and a HUGE jump in reasoning. And leaving out a universe of variables. It’s especially silly when one fails to take into full consideration that any statement or loose “rule” about human sex, gender and sexuality ALWAYS has an abundance of exceptions.

    If there’s one thing we can definitively say about sex, gender and sexuality in humans is that’s diverse and will inevitably express in variation.

    I’ve had a bit of fun over the course of my gender transition with getting to see what sex hormones do and don’t do, in terms of effecting personality, psychology and behaviour. They really did give me more emotional nuance, range and depth. They definitely made me more prone to crying. But I didn’t become more creative, nurturing, intuitive… I didn’t start wanting babies (at least not any more than I already did/didn’t), I didn’t become tidier (though I was -culturally- obliged to put more effort into my appearance), I didn’t stop liking basketball, I didn’t start liking appletinis, I didn’t get catty and gossipy, etc. My olfactory and tactile senses improved quite a bit. I started enjoying touching people more. I became a bit more empathic than I had been.

    But basically the changes that were purely psychological were very minimal, and most everything had a physiological explanation. More oxytocin production leading to the empathy and touchiness, for example.

    It was a really fun and fascinating thing to watch unfold. A learning experience most people don’t get to have.

    So yeah, based on my experiences (and lots of reading, thinking and talking on the subject), I figure that there are definitely at least a few gendered cognitive and behavioural things we can say are “nature”, and sex/gender definitely aren’t “just a social construct”. At the very least it appears that gender identity and sexual orientation are fixed aspects of neurological structure. But we CAN’T extricate any of this from socio-cultural context and influence, the final form in which human gender and sexuality is expressed will always be socially and culturally mediated, and we certainly can’t use what behavioural trends (with all their exceptions) we have managed to clearly articulate as justification for big grand sweeping declarations of bio-essentialism.

  15. says

    P.S. It is clear, btw, that variation in gender expression pops up in almost every conceivable type of household, culture, class, race, whatever. I’d say it’s a universal human thing, if it weren’t for my general policy about being really, really, really careful about saying “culturally universal”. So I think it’s fair to say that, ultimately, boys won’t always be boys, and girls won’t always be girls, no matter HOW we raise them.

  16. says

    I, too, played with my barbies in nontraditional ways. We utilized our hair ribbons to tie them up and laundry baskets to encage them. *Which sounds only kinky at this point.

    Without being an expert in genetics or hormones, my vague hypothesis is even if it were ALL nature, humans have a lot of hormonal variations. Everyone’s read the study that proved that if your ring finger is longer than your forefinger, there was more testosterone during gestation. This gets extrapolated to imply that if your ring finger is long, you’re a lesbian (in my circle, we’ve all held up our hands saying “science!”), which might correspond to playing with cars over dolls. Sort of. I guess…even if were nature…who cares? I like wearing skirts but not makeup. What does that mean???? In spite of being quite religious, my whole family somehow remained non-gender-normative. The men were pretty sensitive, us chicks were less so, except my mom. I kind of always felt bad for her that she had 3 girls and none of us wanted to be girly with her at all. Altho, it could have been her lack of nurture that caused that…I don’t know or care much.

    It’s also culturally much more acceptable for girls to do “boy” things than vice versa, one way in which the patriarchy absolutely hurts men.

    I hope this little girl is indicative of our future, but my cynical self just figures she has some impressive influences on her.

  17. says

    We swore we wouldn’t raise our kids with sexist gender stereotypes. If our boys wanted to play with dolls, fine. If the girls wanted hammers and guns, fine. But from the minute the girls could stand in front of a mirror it was “I’m so pretty. (primp primp) Can I use your makeup mommy.” and with the boys it was “Give me a gun or a club or a knife and let me kill something.” Simply the way it was. Black and white. But then I got thinking about how the world treated my girls vs. the boys. With the girls if they met a new adult is was “Oh my. How pretty you are.” So what were they expected to take as the most important value, despite my reminding the adult that they were also smart. With the boys it was “Well aren’t you big and strong.” I don’t remember anybody encouraging them to be thugs, but I think they got that elsewhere.
    Gender stereotypes are built into our culture. They are damn hard to recognize, and even harder to fight.

  18. jamessweet says

    Sorry to link to my blog again, but it turns out I’ve written about the nature vs. nurture thing in regards to children’s toys rather recently.

    An excerpt, which comes after I briefly mention a couple reasons why it wouldn’t terribly surprise me if there were indeed a strong “nature” component to gender preference in toys:

    But that’s only a bit of speculation about what is; it says absolutely nothing about what we ought to do about it. Worse yet, it’s not even the complete picture: It’s undeniable that, even with gender stereotypes being bolstered by powerful cultural reinforcement as they are today, many boys would still rather play with dolls and many girls would still rather play with superheroes. It is not fair that these individuals be short-changed or stigmatized just because they don’t fit a stereotypical mold, even if that mold has a perfectly natural origin….Individuals should be empowered to do what they want, to act according to individual preferences and desires. This personal liberty and autonomy is one of our most important shared human values!

    My basic point is that even if there is a strong biological contribution to gender-stereotyped toy preference, culturally reinforcing those stereotypes is still a bad thing.

    And anyway, we know for a fact that “girls like pink” has no biological basis to speak of. If you’ve been down a toy aisle aimed at girls any time in the past decade, you know it’s gotten even worse than since I was a kid. So… much… PIIINK!

  19. Tiktaalik says

    I’m female. I was raised in a rural environment with no TV or radio, and my parents were very careful not to reinforce gender sterotypes. I had stuffed animals and model horses, but also cars, building equipment, models, jigsaw puzzles and games, as well as books, of course.

    That was the big thing: books. There were other children too, with gender-based stereotypes, but it was the books that did it. When I was eight, I read what was to become one of my favorite books: Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry. A great book, with a clear message that only boys can go on the horse roundup and girls have to stay at home and raise chickens.

    The point is, you may do your best to avoid gender-based stereotypes, but the culture is conspiring against you. Here’s a game: one evening, get a pen and paper and make notes on the gender roles you see on every advertisement that comes up during the shows you’re watching on TV. The vast majority of them are gender-biased, and the kids are seeing those, too.

    Girls aren’t born loving pink (I hate pink). They love pink because the culture says they’re supposed to, and because they can’t get away from it. They are awash in pink from the moment they’re born.

  20. says

    I absolutely agree with the general concensus in this comment thread that while some component of a particular child’s desires might be nature, disentangling them from all the cultural influences to find out how much is nature as opposed to nurture is nigh impossible. Especially given that the potentially spurious example of the boy calling his teddy bear “truck” would have no idea in a vacuum what a truck was, or that it made vroom sounds. And every adult’s reaction to every child probably has a very large influence in how they develop, far larger than we’d think.

    The reason I think there’s a component that’s nature is mostly because of kids who realize despite pushback from society that they’re the wrong sex.

  21. howardpeirce says

    Let’s take the long view, shall we?

    Until 250 years ago or so, if you had a toy, it was a) a stick b) a stick and a hoop c) a vaguely anthropomorphic shape made of sticks, d) a box with wheels (Old World only), e) the expectation that you would do productive work the minute you were capable of it.

    Toys were the exclusive provenance of the ruling classes, and if you lived in the past, you were not one of them, statistically speaking.

    The reason our toys reflect essentially Victorian views of gender roles is that, for the most part, the whole fucking concept of childhood dates to the Victorian era, and no further.

    I am not suggesting we abandon the concept of childhood; to the contrary, I think it’s incredibly important to our development as conscious beings. But toy gendering is one of those things that runs a mile wide and an inch deep. Individuals may not be able to control it, but we’re living in a transitional period. The things you do here and now will make a difference, because you’re not fighting the world, just a tiny slice of it.

  22. says

    howardpierce: which is why it’s incredibly important to point out this nonsense before it gets more thoroughly entrenched in our culture than it already is. I strongly suspect that the rise of the toy age has come largely with the privilege we enjoy today with regard to our consumerist Western society. Since it’s so new, it’s ripe to be changed. If we don’t point out these problems when they happen, they’re going to keep happening.

  23. kaleberg says

    The truck thing is definitely inculcated. We had a friend who bore a son and whenever she saw a truck she’d jump up and down excitedly and point it out to him. It was kind of hilarious. Maybe she was compensating for lack of toy trucks as a little girl?

    Until the 1930s, it was blue is for girls and pink is for boys, and all little kids wore skirts or shifts or whatever they called those things. Look for a childhood picture of Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt. By the 30s, they had flipped the colors.

    Also, an awful lot of girls did real nasty stuff to their Barbies. One used her as a victim for her science fair guillotine, others stabbed and burned her. I played with toy soldiers, and, yes, they faced live ammo, bombs and other weapons, but the idea was to keep them alive and healthy to fight another day. (This didn’t go for the Formex 7 soldiers whom we melted down to rejoin the Primordium from which they had emerged.)

  24. Juniper Shoemaker says

    I was very much like that little girl! I was MUCH more interested in books(no princesses allowed),telescopes, microscopes, building catapults and various war engines built from found scraps, building forts,and climbing trees.

    This interests me. I learned to read when I was two, and I always preferred books to toys and TV. That didn’t save me from a culture that taught me that my worth as a female was entirely contingent on whatever physical beauty I possessed. As someone mentioned up-thread, many books contain sexist messages. (For example, at age five, I read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House novels. Laura Ingalls may have been a bit of a tomboy with many positive attributes, but she was no Elizabeth Blackwell, and these novels don’t exactly carry messages of equality. I learned the American homesteader’s rallying cry of “Free, white, male and twenty-one” from these books!) Meanwhile, a child still has to deal with the expectations of teachers, playmates and parents’ acquaintances whenever she ventures outside.

    Moreover, I notice that a number of women who make a big deal about hating pink and princesses and scorning all of the women who didn’t have turned out a great deal “girlier” than I. I still like pink, even though it is not and never was my favorite color, I wear makeup, and I adore frilly feminine clothing. However, those are the only stereotypically girly interests of mine that remain. Meanwhile, several of the “I hate pink” women have sacrificed most or all of their careers in order to marry men and have children, which I would never do, and which, to me, is the “girliest” thing of all.

  25. says

    Do you think it’s a coincidence that Victoria’s Secret’s storefronts are decked out in pink? I say no. There has been some kind of conditioning of genders. And obviously retail America will do anything to capitalize on this. I did a research project on the matter, while I observed the differences in males and females while shopping. It is true, men don’t enjoy shopping as much as women. Women lingered more, socialized more, and thought more while shopping.

    http://gender-differences-in-shopping.weebly.com/

    See these results and let me know what you think. This little girl may be right, but what works should be used to our economy’s advantage… am I wrong?

Trackbacks

  1. […] These attempts at girlifying this class of toys — let’s call them engineering toys — are often quite maddening in the face of this culture, that has since the turn of the last century wholly entrenched rigid gender roles from the Victorian era. In this culture, where once we looked like we were actually coming out of the woods when LEGO produced ads for their unisex product that were absolutely wonderful and starred little girls as often as little boys, all doing the same things — but have evidently since backslid to an enormous degree. In this culture, where even three year olds can grok the transparent gendered marketing. […]

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