As we continue to critically analyze popular culture and its mass consumption, we also must take the time to investigate its impact on children through the various outlets, such as their toys.
In Wendy Varney’s article OF MEN AND MACHINES: IMAGES OF MASCULINITY IN BOYS' TOYS, she says
“Many toy stores of the Western world have boys' sections dominated by toy representations of cars and weapons, action figures, and, interestingly, since the mid-198os, a range of toys that blend these categories and locate men as machines.” (p.153, Varney, 2002)
Toy stores haven’t change since the 1980s. It has been more than a quarter of a century, where boys (and girls) have been predisposed to believe what their gender entails. As Varney continues to say:
“[…] they transmit to children, in concert with other cultural apparatus, particular views of gender relations, examples of appropriate behaviour, and character models” (Varney, 2002).
Boys are therefore represented as machine, tough, heroic, powerful, and etc. As such, girls cannot be represented by those particular adjectives because they belong to the boys.
One toy I’d like to reference is the Nerf gun. This is a type of ‘gun’ that shoots out darts. The guns, varied in sizes, but didn’t stray away from the male gendered coloured such as: blue, grey, black, orange and green. Just recently, in 2014, a new line was released called Rebelle that targets ‘girls’. How so? Well, the guns are pink or purple, glittery, and are named after words like diamond and dolphin. Let’s also not dismiss the way the name of the Nerf gun line is spelled, ‘reBELLE’, as in, princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps the French word for ‘pretty’. How else could guns be made for girls if they are not pink and pretty? Not only that, but the line implicitly implies that while you are holding this gun, you are a ‘rebel’. What makes the child a rebel? Is it because they are holding a gun? Or is it because, guns are meant for boys only and if you’re a girl with a gun, you must be a ‘rebel’?
In Damsels in Discourse: Girls Consuming and Producing Identity Texts through Disney Princess Play, Karen E. Wohlwend says:
“All cultural artifacts, from children’s scribbled drawings to manufacturers’ franchised toys, bear traces of the social practices that produced them” (p. 58, Wohlwend, 2009)
Whether it’s the Rebelle line of Nerf guns or just the regular one, we see Wohlwend’s point in effect. The social practice is that men are machines and girls are pretty. The social practice is that men go to war, while the women stay home to take care of the house and the way they look. Men are dirty, women smell nice. We may have progressed throughout the years, but we haven’t completely changed.