Real Boys Play with Trucks

4 Apr

Given this blog’s reliance on sexist marketing advertisements for kindling, I’m reluctant to post more ads. While these are clearly contemporary and powerful examples, I’m also interested in writing about current events, policies that reinforce male stereotypes, and anecdotal encounters. However, I saw these Toys “R” Us magazine advertisements during the holiday season and was recently able to find them online. They are simply too good to pass up. Below are two ads that appeared in Toys “R” Us’s ad flyer in December:

In these ads, the marketing executives make very clear their stance on race and gender roles. Three white boys and one boy of color are featured, surrounded by a cornucopia of trucks, cranes, tools, trains, airplanes, firemen, and technology. No girls. No remotely “feminine” colors or activities. Just white boys controlling things. Subjects controlling objects. The boy of color, instead of wielding a remote control, drill, or truck, is standing passively next to a three-tiered tower of presents, as if recipient of the charity.

When I saw this ad for the first time in December, it really scared me. Millions of parents out there will be receiving these ads in their mail and millions will view these sexist representations of boys and girls. And they will accept them without question, because they have been taught not to. Boys build things, women don’t. Boys are strong, women are weak. And millions will buy these products for their children and perpetuate gender norms and stereotypes that teach boys that if they aren’t strong, they aren’t real men, and that teach girls that if they like trucks, they are not feminine. It reminds me of the terrific piece from CrimethInc.

I’m not saying that no parent should ever buy his or her boy a truck, or that any girl should be given a doll. These toys can help children develop prosocial behavior habits and fine and gross motor skills, and they can promote positive parent-child relationships if playtime is regular. And yet – all toys can support these developments. One real issue is the dangers associated with playing with opposite-gendered toys (for lack of a better term). Boys who play with dolls and girls who want to play sports may become the targets of teasing or bullying, which can have severe negative impacts on children’s self-esteem and social development. This is the main reason many refuse to buy opposite-gendered toys for their children. And yet, what if every boy played with Barbies and wore dresses? Would teasing end? The answer, of course, is yes.

We must let children explore gender just like we let them explore their foods. If girls don’t like broccoli, we offer alternative vegetables. Why do we made them wear dresses or play “house” if they want to wear pants and wield tools?

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