With the excitement of winter break approaching, 28 students sat anxiously in their seats waiting for class to be over. The last thing they wanted to be assigned was a project to complete over their week off. Their reactions? Interest, but in a calm, cool and collected highschooler way.
The question these upperclassman would be tackling, proposed by Mr. Bradley during his first period Sociology class, included whether or not gender-specific toys were enforcing stereotypes later seen throughout society. The project consisted of finding a toy that provides an example of how children are influenced to develop “boy” or “girl” traits by writing and presenting their findings.
Darren Battle (‘18), a student from the Sociology class, offered his thoughts on the subject matter: “When it comes to the Easy Bake Oven, you see that it’s mainly for girls and you see girls think they’re suppose to cook. You have boys who have ‘tough toys’ and it makes them feel ‘tough’.”
In a New York Times article titled, “How gender-specific toys can negatively impact a child’s development,” it states that gender neutral advertising was more popular throughout the 70’s, where 70% of toys were not labeled as a specific gender. Since the late 90’s, gendered advertising has returned to the markets, increasing in the 2000’s.
The sudden drop in gender-specific advertising for children's toys in the 70’s is as a result of the increase of women entering the workforce. The majority of toys catered to girls since the 1920’s promoted domesticity: for example, play sewing machines and tableware sets, reflected the types of manufacturing jobs women were most likely to hold. The second feminist wave, beginning in the 60’s and lasting until the early 80’s, promoted less domestic jobs to women, thus changing the types of marketing in toys.
As of August 2015, Target’s spokeswoman Molly Snyder announced the store’s effort to remove all gendered based labeling in hopes of reducing stereotypes in toys. Changes have already begun and will continue to be done over the next few months.
Will this change in labeling have any affect on Target’s sales? Having two versions of the same toy is usually a marketing tactic used to increase sales. Without this, Target might be paying a price. According to the Toys Industry Association Inc., the year-end U.S. Sales data for 2015 shows toys catered to specific genders such as dolls ($2.58 billion) and building sets ($2.04 billion) both surpassed categories such as youth electronics ($.60 billion) and games and puzzles ($1.62 billion).
Despite the potential decrease in sales for children's toys, many psychologists and parents agree this is the right choice. “Boy” and “girl” toys are heavily influencing the minds of young children by telling them who they should be, how to behave and what they should be interested in. Psychologist Megan Fulcher, associate professor of psychology at Washington and Lee University stated, “Play with masculine toys is associated with large motor development and spatial skills and play with feminine toys is associated with fine motor development, language development and social skills.” Organizing merchandise by gender only restricts the exploration of other toys.
In that case, maybe it’s best to let toys be toys.