Monday, May 19, 2008

Gendered Consumers/Engendering Consumerism –Toy Shopping Field Work

  • A 7 year old girl’s Birthday Shopping List:

1. America’s Next Top Model Barbie

2. Strawberry Short Cake Little Crib Play

3. Bratz Hairplay Doll

4. Dirt Devil Junior Play Upright Vacuum Cleaner

5. Wooden Kitchen and Refrigerator Set

A normal 7-year-old girls wish list would look something similar to the list above. If you look on toy websites you can narrow your search results right down to the age and gender. All the products marketed to young girls between the ages of 6 and 11 are based on gendered roles. These products give young girls the ideas that girls are supposed to grow up to be mommy’s, homemakers and have to be dolled up and skinny to be play into their roles as females. Kilbourne says: “Primarily girls are told by advertisers that what is most important about them is their perfume, their clothing, their bodies, their beauty…Even very little girls are offered makeup and toys like special night Barbie, which shows them how to dress up for a night out. Girls of all ages get the message that they must be flawlessly beautiful and, above all these days, they must be thin (260).”

In the case of “America’s Next Top Model Barbie”, there are a few different types that depict different cultures. There’s Blonde, Brunette and Red head Top Model Barbie. Asian Top Model, Hispanic Top Model and African American Top model Barbie. The same is the case with Bratz Hairsplay Doll. Each doll is made so that any little girl regardless of race can relate to the doll because she’s got the same hair color or skin tone. Every one of these Barbie’s are proportioned in a ridiculous manner that a normal young woman would never be able to achieve and maintain in a healthy way. Unfortunately though this is what young girls see as beautiful and Barbie’s such as these are what give young girls the wrong impression about body image. Kilbourne states that: “Even more destructively, they get the message that this is possible, that, with enough effort and self-sacrifice, they can achieve this ideal. Thus many girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable… The glossy images of flawlessly beautiful and extremely thin women that surround us would not have the impact they do if we did no live in a culture that encourages us to believe we can and should remake our bodies into perfect commodities (260).

Next on the list is the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, (just like mommy’s), a kitchen play set, and strawberry shortcake’s crib set. All these toys marketed to young girls and buys into the stereotype that young girls should be learning how to be mommies and homemakers. Toys encouraging cleaning, cooking and nursing babies are predominant on toy websites under girls between ages of 6 and 11. Why aren’t these house playing products also geared towards boys? Many young men grow up to be famous Chefs. Why not nurture that natural skill in the kitchen from a young age. For example, Emeril has his own show just like many other male cooks, with his own food line and recipe books. This double standard is the exact type of marketing that defines roles in the gendered socialization of women.

If you go onto any toy website and go “shopping” they make the process very easy for consumers. “Click here for Boys Ages 1-5, 6-11, etc.” You will find many different variations of the above shopping list for girls in almost all the age brackets. Everywhere you look there are tons of Pinks and purples and blinding glitter. Everything for young girls is geared more towards ascetics, creativity and the “normal” role of mommy/homemaker. Under the boys section you will find toys that challenge young boys to think and solve. Puzzles, legos, building blocks, and action figures. It’s nurture vs. violence in the world between girls. Vs. boys.

All the toys geared towards males cultivate ideals that only boys should be competitive, assertive and aggressive while girls play the role of the complete opposite. Katz states: “For many males who were experiencing unsettling changes, one area of masculine power remained attainable: physical size and strength and the ability to use violence successfully…Historically, use of gender in advertising has stressed difference, implicitly and even explicitly reaffirming the “natural” dissimilarity of males and females. Stressing gender difference in this context means defining masculinity in opposition to femininity. This requires constantly reasserting what is masculine and what is feminine (351).”

If you look at the age ranges, the toys marketed towards young children are basically the same but as the age goes up the toys just get more accessories, more technological and more complicated.


Kilbourne, Jean, “The more you subtract, the more you add: Cutting girl down to size;”
Gender, race and class in media Sage publications, 2nd ed. California 2002

Katz, Jackson, "Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinque for men".