Interesting what my co-blogger wrote about the marketing of ‘aggressive’, sex-role stereotypical toy to boys. Though there are always differences in styles of play between boys and girls, it is clearly a profitable business to dictate the type and manner of play – and one largely based on stereotypes about appropriate gender behaviour.
Though girls who are encouraged and have the opportunity for rough and tumble play outdoors enjoy these pursuits as much as boys, they do not respond in the same way to the toys that are marketed to boys.
Toys like transformers, bakugons, and even pokemon do not generally appeal to girls as much as boys. Whether that is nature or nurture is still uncertain although I am convinced there is a heavy dose of what I’ll call nurture for lack of a better word, although it hardly seems nurturing to give the thumbs-up to toys whose play involves fighting and battles.
An ABC news report from 2009 says that $15-20 billion a year spent on marketing toys to children. The marketing to children and the consumerism of their lives is being purposely directed by the advertising industry.
I am still not sure why they are so invested in separating the sexes but it is clear that most toys are marketed to one gender or another, almost exclusively, using sophisticated, psychological market research to pinpoint the buttons that will lead to boys wanting one kind of toy and girls wanting another.
If boys and girls keep going outside to play and keep that playful, unstructured approach to life (many say until at least the age of 15), they will probably evolve along more parallel lines than occurs now. A large part of that comes from keeping a separation between children and marketing messages about toys and play – a challenge furthered by children spending less time outdoors and more time watching digital media. And that outdoor play does not mean adult-organized team sport.
A study, published in a 2004 issue of Contemporary Issues in Childhood Journal says that, “The most successful outdoor play experiences usually involve the child’s free choice, which is self-motivated, enjoyable, and process-oriented. Natural experiences such as collecting leaves, throwing stones in a pond, jumping over small brush or logs, building sandcastles, collecting sticks or nuts from the ground, or creating hiding spaces challenge the child’s imagination and reasoning abilities”
But back to the games marketed to boys. One of the biggest troubles I see and the most annoying things is their inevitable default into fighting. Is that the only thing we want our boys to think about when they’re playing? And spend time thinking about, strategizing about, and doing? How many other ways are there of being in the world? Countless. Boys can sing together, run together (without having to race or have a winner or loser), wrestle together, cook together, eat together, make art together, tell riddles, jump on a trampoline, play a cooperative game.
But once they’ve got a taste of the fighting, the games they are lured to, and then mixing with other boys who are also exposed to the same marketing, it is easy to keep the pattern going. And I think that aggressive, confrontational approach transfers to boys’ approach to daily life.
We’ve noticed that our son is more aggressive after he’s played games that are all about fighting and we try to be aware enough to point it out to him and ask him what he thinks, trying to build his own awareness and analysis.
I can’t see how to completely avoid the mass media of aggressive toys short of sequestering my child, but I guess the trick (again) is to control the peer culture as long and as much as possible, mixing with other parents who have a similar philosophy, and working together to come up with alternative ways of managing and teaching the boys to manage these toy.
And to avoid the mainstream media and consumerist habits rampant in our culture. Creating your own toys, having open-ended toys that can be played with in a variety of ways, and avoiding giving attention to the heavily marketed (and highly profitable) toys that limit childrens’ input and imagination.
I feel very strongly that we need our children to develop strong, creative juices to reach their full potential, whether sanctioned by sex-roles stereotyping or not, in order to face the challenges of the future. We are short-circuiting their ability to do so by letting corporate marketing influence our children’s play.