Tonka: Built For Boyhood


Susan Iverson wrote in to wmst-l about a flier she received from Tonka, whose tagline is “Built for Boyhood”. She writes:

A full page ad promoted that these toys were “built for the 3 stages of boyhood: smashing, crashing, and bashing”. The insert ad is framed around “you know you’re the mom of a boy when…” and it proceeds to describe boys as superheos, detached from peers, less verbal than girls, less emotionally expressive (“let him express his feelings his way”).

She goes on:

My daughter (age 5) looked at the pictures of the toys trucks and pointed to two items she’d like to have. As she continued to look at the insert, she asked “why are all the pictures of boys?” I shared with her that Tonka markets its toys for boys. She looked at me with confusion and said “well maybe if you tell them [tonka] that I am a boy, they’d let you get me the toys”… Yesterday she was playing with her Little People toys and asked “mom, are these toys only for boys too?” I assured her they were for any children.

The good news is that Iverson is exactly right how Fisher Price advertises its Little People stuff– not all toy companies are quite as into traditional gender roles as Tonka, apparently. After (completely by chance) finding a “digger with girl builder” for my son on ebay, I went looking for other examples. Fisher Price does show girls playing with just the sort of stuff Tonka sells for boys only.


Of course, like all these companies, progress is limited. The toys at Fisher Prince are still divided into boys’ and girls’ and gender-stereotyping is, as always, rampant. (Thanks, Mr Jender, for your technical assistance.)

20 thoughts on “Tonka: Built For Boyhood

  1. I certainly hope that Iverson told her daughter that her trucks were also for all children. It sounds like a good and early example of how advertising does not get to tell you what to do . . . even if the ad itself, and the need to have that conversation are both extremely unfortunate.

  2. Cara, I should have included a bit more. They’re going to write a letter together to Tonka explaining that girls like trucks too.

  3. What is surprising about the fact that Tonka is marketing to boys? If one were to walk through a toy section in any department store, s/he would clearly see the division of the ‘boys’ and ‘girl’ sections. This reminds me of the Mary Jane statue up roar. I think a question worth asking is why are people concerned with specific engendered products, and not the environment (consumer capitalism) that cultivates and thrives of these engendering these products.

  4. Hi Crimson, you’re absolutely right that the broader environment is what counts. Tonka would just be some odd anomaly without that. Instead, it’s a really usefully blatant illustration of the way that children are taught to be gendered. And Iverson’s story of her daughter’s reaction is a beautifully clear illustration of the effects of this. Sorry for not making this clearer– I take Tonka’s marketing to be interesting only because of the broader phenomenon it illustrates.

  5. Amen, Crimson Dynamo. But, funny, I never hear boys feeling left out of the Disney Princess/fairy/Barbie marketing ploys. Seriously, people. It’s marketing and if your daughter wants a truck, buy her one. If your thirty year old sister needs denture cream is she pitching a fit because denture cream is marketed to only elderly people? I don’t THINK so. Let’s keep this in perspective. Boys can have their toys and their interests can be celebrated. It doesn’t mean the downfall of civilization or feminism or the world as we know it. Girls can have their stuff celebrated too and I don’t hear the boys complaining.
    Doesn’t the Feminist Front have a few more important issues to tackle these days? (domestic violence, contraceptive rights, the prevalence of women in poverty???)

  6. Boys, too, get left out of things they’d like to do because they are “girly” things. My nephew, now 4, far prefers the relational play and fine-motor activities that are supposed to be for girls. Trains, trucks, and action heroes have almost no appeal for him. Instead he likes Polly Pockets and stuffed animals and dress-up. But his nursery school teacher has told him he’s no longer allowed to play with girl toys, and his older brother and father mock him for his preferences. His grandmother (my mom) leads him away from the girl aisles and toward Spider-man etc. At 3, he responded, with a big sigh, “I know. There’s girl toys and boy toys, and I’m a boys.” So now he plays with his “girl” things more secretively, and I wonder how long it will be before they disappear altogether.

  7. That’s incredibly sad to hear. So far, nobody has told me 2 year old son not to play with kitchen stuff. But I know the world of gender pressure is out there, just waiting to jump on him.

  8. […] out. Let’s see, we’ve got thousand dollar plush Harry Potter creatures, oh yes and tonka trucks marketed exclusively for boys. You know the ones. They’re all over the TV saying ‘BOYS ARE BUILT DIFFERENT’. […]

  9. The suprising and appaling part of this is not that they are marketing to boys… that is just being an unethical business man… What is MORE terrible is that they are publishing the “how boys are different than girls” literature along with it. They are blatantly promoting these gender roles to inspire some sort of nostalgia that will get daddies to buy their boys tonka trucks…. capitalizing on gender roles.. FOR SHAME

  10. I was upset to read, “But his nursery school teacher has told him he’s no longer allowed to play with girl toys…” That teacher is not respecting the child’s rights. Here in California we actually have laws against that kind of gender discrimination. The parent could sue.

  11. Get over your girlie-self. I have 2 sons and we have been swimming through the aisles of ‘girl-marketing’ just to get to the puny-by-comparison boy section. Good grief let ’em have the tonkas! If your daughter wants one, make her step into one of the few ‘testosterone’ aisle and pick out her bright yellow truck. Then go get your pinkypurple easy-bake oven, pinkypurple art kits and stuffed animals with sparkle collars & pinkypurple paws.

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