Gender-coded holiday shopping

In the world of children's toys, it's still boys against girls.

Published November 23, 2005 4:25PM (EST)

This morning, just two days shy of the official start of the holiday shopping season, Women's eNews shows readers how gender stereotyping still runs rampant in the world of children's toys.

According to Caryl Rivers, a senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, and Rosalind C. Barnett, a professor of journalism at Boston University, advertisers and retailers "have retreated to a pink-and-blue world, aiming products at the sexes as if they really did come from different planets." While boys are marketed toys that promise action and adventure, girls are sold products that promote "primping and passivity." For hard proof, the authors examine a newspaper circular recently distributed by Toys "R" Us. The gender hangups they uncover inside are enough to make you think it's 1955 -- not 2005.

First off, forget Title IX. "Toys "R" Us offers no pictures of girls on its sports page," Rivers and Barnett write. "Boys, meanwhile, are seen playing basketball, riding an arcade-style motorcycle and playing an electronic hockey game. No girls are seen in two pages of action-figure toys, nor in two pages of cars and trucks."

"Two pages devoted to building feature boys playing with Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and a huge 'tube park,'" they continue. In contrast, "girls are offered Cinderella Castle blocks (with a battery-powered waltz) and a cheap toddler block set. On a learn-and-create page, boys play with toy trains while girls seem delighted with a 'glitter dream dollhouse.'"

What's an enlightened parent to do? Maybe this year, instead of grappling between the Blue Bell Princess Dress Up Set and the Doggie Daycare Dreamhouse Nursery, get your girls go-karts!

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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