Toy companies start marketing sexism as progressive

I’ve blogged about the Nerf’s new, idiotic toy line “for girls,” Rebelle, which includes a pink bow and arrow called the Heartbreaker. What’s remarkable is that the toy makers are marketing this line as progressive.


First, the headline on CNN: “Barbie, Nerf, redefine ‘girl’ toys.”

Isn’t that great? Leaders in breaking gender stereotypes! Read on.

Parents have gotten more open minded when it comes to how children play and what kind of toys are appropriate for their kids, according to Maureen O’Brien, a developmental psychologist who consulted with Mattel (MAT, Fortune 500) on its Mega Bloks set.

More open minded? I guess open-minded means going to a mega store chain like Target and shopping in a “girl” aisle full of pink. Gender segregated toys have never been so homogenized and mass-marketed and cross-marketed through movies, clothing, videos, apps and diaper icons as they are today. Here’s an ad for  LEGO ‘for girls’ from 1981, when I was a kid.


Here’s an ad for LEGO for girls, literally, today:


The CNN post rewrites history and misleads further here:

“There has always been this artificial gender distinction when it comes to play, but now it’s falling away as we learn more about the advantages of different toys,” said O’Brien.


It’s not falling away. It’s getting so defined, kids can hardly cross it.

Here is the “to be sure” paragraph. When I teach Op-Ed writing, I always talk about the “to be sure” graph writers must include to anticipate counter-arguments. You’re not supposed to actually use the cliche phrase as this writer does here:

To be sure, the new toys continue to play into some stereotypes. A Barbie construction set lets children build a fashion boutique, Lego Friends sells a pet salon, and the Nerf Rebelle comes in shades of hot pink and purple.


Except for that little, tiny issue, everything is cool, right?

Here’s the hilarious thing about the post. Toy companies actually admit that gender segregation is about making money.

 For toy makers, it is a relatively inexpensive move because they don’t need to develop an entire new line of toys from scratch. In fact, most of them use the same tools and models they use for the traditional toys, says Johnson.

And then again, at the end of the post:

“It’s driven by a simple fact,” said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Needham Co. “If you can get a product targeted to one gender to be appealing to the other, you can significantly increase sales.”

The reason these “experts” have the guts to confess the drive isn’t “nature” but capitalism is because the post frames the choice under the umbrella of a bold and non-traditional move.

In her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein is more clear:

Splitting kids and adults, or for that matter, penguins, into ever tinier categories has proved a surefire way to boost profits. So where there was once a big group called kids we now have toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens, young-adolescents and older adolescents, each with their own developmental and marketing profile…One of the easiest ways to segment the market is to magnify gender differences or invent them where they did not previously exist.

Get it? Instead of buying one, you buy 2. Or you’re supposed to pick this one, instead of some other brand, because it’s made especially for YOU.


This image, via The Society Pages, is so stupid its almost funny. If this product looks ridiculous to you, so should Nerf’s Heartbreaker bow. Not only that, you should help your kid see how stupid gender segregation is. We now understand that kids learn gender the same way they learn language, meaning they are born full of potential for a wide range of behavior, and based on learning, specific wiring is developed. Do you want multi-national companies whose main goal is to make money to have this level of influence in shaping your child’s brain?


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