I live in the United States with my nine-year-old boy named Jason. This year for the holidays, I have decided to let Jason come up with a wish list of five toys he wants. Jason chose K’NEX, LEGOS, Transformer action heroes, and some toys involving baseball and hockey. As his father, I predicted these toys would be on his wish list because, as the years go on, Jason shows greater interests in building, action heroes, and sports like most of his male friends. The amount of money I can spend on Jason’s gifts is $168.00. I decided to shop online on Target’s website. Target makes it fairly easy for parents because they have categories of toys for them to click on based on age, gender, indoor play, outdoor play, and electronics. Thus, I clicked on toys available for nine-year-old boys. Naturally, the toys on Jason’s list appeared in Target’s toy selection for young boys.
Target and other online shopping store’s decisions to separate toy lists based on gender show how gender is socially constructed in society. Jason’s wish list is similar to many other boys’ lists because Jason and his male friends enjoy common themes often associated with boys. In David M. Newman’s chapter entitled “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization”, he discusses how children obtain information: “on their developmental path, children acquire information from a variety of sources-books, television, video games, the Internet, toys, teachers, other children, other children’s parents…” (107-08). As Newman states, toys, other children, and other children’s parents have an influence on what children like Jason like to play with and what, or who, they associate themselves with. It is important for adults to remember that “from an early age, they are like ‘gender detectives,’ searching for cues about gender such as who should and shouldn’t engage in certain activities, who can play with whom, and why girls and boys differ” (Newman 113). Thus, the first theme of toys I decided to buy for Jason involved building. This idea of building something fascinates Jason, partly because he is a boy. I bought him the LEGO Power Miners Claw Digger Set for $17.99 and the K’NEX Double Ferris Wheel for $29.99. The K’NEX set was only available online while the LEGO set was available online and in the store. Both toys are aimed at children ages seven and up.
Jason’s fascination with building and putting things together has grown over time as he continues to play with young boys. The packaging of the LEGO set, in particular, attracts young boys that are Jason’s age. The cover of the box includes what many parents and people would consider to be masculine colors. For example, the box only includes dark colors like blue, green, black, and orange. In addition, the picture on the cover is of a large tractor. Tractors and trucks are what many young boys are known to play with and are therefore thought to be masculine. The packaging does not include glamour or lighter shades of color because it is meant to attract young boys instead of young girls.
The K’NEX set cover uses colors that can be attributed to both genders; however, the main slogan on the box is “Imagine-Build-Play”. The cover clearly shows that this toy has to be built by hand first before it is played with. Thus, the toy is once again geared towards boys who like to build things and use their hands. The toy building sets and their covers I bought for Jason show young children that there is a difference within the genders: “toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information…toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines” (Newman 112). Looking at Target’s online selection for girls in order to compare the gender differences proved what Newman states. Nearly all of the items on the suggested list of toys for girls had something to do with fashion, make-up, Barbie, or dress-up. The suggested list for boys my son’s age included trucks, cars, action heroes, and sports. Newman further speaks about how certain toys are created and aimed towards a certain gender: “decades of research indicate that ‘girls’ toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys’ toys’ emphasize action and adventure” (112). Thus, one click of a button on a store’s website can demonstrate gender differences and allude to what the normative gender roles in society are.
Action heroes and this need for adventure was the next theme I saw in Jason’s wish list. As a young boy, Jason often plays with action heroes and pretends to be the hero or the villain with his male friends. The Transformer action heroes I bought Jason were only available online for $21.99. The action heroes are meant for children ages five and up, yet Jason still loves to play with them. Again, the toys contained colors most commonly associated with boys. The black and orange figures were also not included under the selection of toys suggested for girls which again implies that girls aren’t supposed to play with action heroes that are better suited for boys: “in one study, there was significant agreement among adults as to what were the most ‘male’ toys (guns toy soldiers, boxing gloves, G.I. Joe, and football gear) and the most ‘female’ toys (makeup kit, Barbie, jewelry box, bracelet, doll clothes)” (Newman 112). Here, Newman comments on what is seen throughout stores like Target. There is a common attitude present throughout society regarding what is appropriate for the different genders.
Sports were the last theme I saw in Jason’s wish list which I strongly appreciated since I am his father. I have played sports outside with Jason ever since he was a little boy. I bought Jason the Major League Baseball Pitching Machine for $40.00 and the Franklin NHL Set of Two Mini Hockey Goals for $46.00. Seven and up is the suggested age for both toys. Interestingly, the toys associated with sports and athletics cost more money than the other toys did. The class of a family determines what toys can be purchased: “some families have greater access than others to the economic resources that are associated with a comfortable childhood, lots of toys, and athletic equipment…” (Newman 128). Since Jason is growing up in a middle-class environment, I am able to buy him most of the toys and athletic equipment he desires. I did, however, shop online for some toys that were listed under $25.00 to meet my $168.00 limit and not exceed it. Especially with shopping online, it is important to watch the cost of the toys because, at the end, shipping charges are added to the final cost of all the gifts. Thus, class and economic income play a role in determining what toys parents, or relatives, can buy for children.
It is no surprise Jason is interested in sports like many other boys. After all, it is more socially acceptable for boys to play baseball than play with dolls. In Michael A. Messner’s essay entitled “Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities”, Messner comments on the association made within society that links boys to organized sports: “organized sports is also a ‘gendering institution’-an institution that helps to construct the current gender order. Part of this construction of gender is accomplished through the ‘masculinizing’ of male bodies and minds” (134). In addition, fathers, or male relatives, have an influence on children and the sports they play: “first experiences in sports might often come through relationships with brothers or older male relatives, and the early emotional salience of sports was often directly related to a boy’s relationship with his father” (Messner 127). Thus, it is no wonder that the girls’ selection of toys does not include sports toys or gear. Messner goes on to talk about the way that class status affects boys’ associations with sports: “men from higher-status backgrounds are likely to describe their earliest athletic experiences and motivations almost exclusively in terms of immediate family” (131). This is true for Jason because we are a part of the middle class, and I have educated him about sports.
All five gifts therefore support the normative gender roles in society and show how both gender and class are significant factors that determine what, or who, children associate with and relate to. Young boys and girls learn a great deal of information about societal norms through the world and through their experience with toys. Advertisements for toys, as well as the toy boxes, covers, and slogans, reveal a lot about how society perceives boys and girls differently. Toys demonstrate how gender is socially constructed. In addition, toys help society make a distinction between various class statuses since economic income often determines what toys are bought for children to play with and become familiar with. Society should therefore become more informed and modify the messages they are sending children about toys in relation to gender and class identities.
Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, Inc., 1990.
Newman, David M. “Learning Difference: Families, Schools, and Socialization." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
Images In Order Of Appearance
Target. LEGO Power Miners Claw Digger Set. 2009. Target Online. 27 May 2009. <http://www.target.com/dp/B001GN6XLA/sr=1-2/qid=1243560701/ref=sr_fkmr_txt_1_2/176-4286298-6077819?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Alego%20power%20miners%20claw%20digger%20et&page=1>.
Target. K’NEX Double Ferris Wheel. 2009. Target Online. 27 May 2009. http://www.target.com/KNEX-Double-Ferris-Wheel/dp/B000GH2SG6/sr=1-1/qid=1243560482/ref=sr_1_1/176-4286298-6077819?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Ak%26%2339%3Bnex%20double%20ferris%20wheel&page=1.
Target. Transformers Animated Jetstorm and Jetfire. 2009. Target Online. 27 May 2009. <http://www.target.com/Transformers-Animated-Jetstorm-and-Jetfire/dp/B001K36PMS/sr=1-5/qid=1243554701/ref=sr_1_5/176-4286298-6077819?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Atransformers&page=1>.
Target. Major League Baseball Pitching Machine. 2009. Target Online. 27 May 2009. <http://www.target.com/Major-League-Baseball-Pitching-Machine/dp/B0007DHT8Q/sr=1-1/qid=1243560832/ref=sr_1_1/176-4286298-6077819?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Amajor%20league%20baseball%20pitching%20machine&page=1>.
Target. Franklin NHL Set of 2 Mini Hockey Goals. 2009. Target Online. 27 May 2009. <http://www.target.com/dp/B000O15GSG/sr=1-1/qid=1243560938/ref=sr_fkmr_txt_1_1/176-4286298-6077819?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Afranklin%20nhl%20setof%202%20mini%20hockey%20goals&page=1>.