6 thoughts on “The bad old days?

  1. This is definitely worth a more systematic investigation. Were these ads the exception in that period, or has there really been an increasing tendency towards ‘genderization’ of toys in the last decades? (sorry for the horrible made-up word…) Also, I seem to remember that clothes for girls were less ‘girly’ back when I was a kid, but it’s hard to tell objectively just from such recollections.
    Meanwhile, I run my own little campaign at home, hammering on my two girls that there are no such things as ‘toys for boys’ and ‘toys for girls’, and that everybody can play with whatever they want.

  2. I can’t say that I put a huge degree of credence in my own memories of the 70’s (I was a little kid), but I think that if you look at a lot of things from then, you’ll find a conscious attempt at more gender-neutrality: in shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company, things like “Free to be You and Me”, and so on. My guess is that this was before the real wave of anti-feminist backlash (that I think probably got started in the 80’s), and a time when lots of women who had been in college during the late 60’s and early 70’s were involved in the women’s movement, the ERA was still a live issue, and there was awareness of things like this in lots of areas. But, it seems to have been swept away by the 80s.

  3. Not to discount the impact of the feminist movement and the backlash against it, but Reagan-era deregulation of marketing may also have had something to do with these changes. In the US, in 1984 the FCC deregulated children’s television and permitted direct marketing to children. My guess is that the increased competition for direct access to children’s attention played a role in the exaggeration of gender differences. Doesn’t it make sense that in children’s markets, just as in other markets, subdivision can lead to increased purchases? It’s not enough to share your brother’s Legos (or wear his hand-me-downs)–you need your own pink toys and clothes.

    Another way this may have worked to exaggerate gender differences is that character (or licensed) toys began to saturate the market–they could be advertised on TV in connection with shows the characters appeared on. Whereas when girls and boys play with Legos, the gender difference in their play is whatever they bring to it, the gender difference between Mario and Strawberry Shortcake is in the toy itself.

    Now a question: my 4-year-old son has had absolutely no exposure to Disney/superhero culture except what he picks up in conversations at school (and the school does not itself have licensed toys). He mostly plays with girls, and he wants me to tell him what princesses are. He’s working hard to figure out all the things he hears on the playground, and so keeps coming up with things like (to me, his mom): “You be the king and I’ll be the princess. I have a magic wand that has the superpower to spit fire.” Do I attempt to demystify or just let him keep working at it?

  4. [Film spoiler alert]
    I was pleased at the end of Toy Story 3, which was not too bad and loved by the 7 year old we took along, that the teenage boy gives away his old toys – the main ones of which are a ‘cowboy’ and a ‘spaceman’ – to a little girl and the film doesn’t feel it even needs to comment on the gender ‘appropriations’ of the toys.

    I wonder if this was a deliberate choice?

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