March 31, 2010

Thinking Pink

Filed under: Gender — Tags: , , , , , , , — Melanie @ 9:12 pm

Jezebel’s post, Pink Think: The Sexist Toys of Our Youth, is a response to Time’s online piece, Not So Pretty in Pink: Are Girls’ Toys Too Girly?, an article raising questions about the one-dimensional caricatures that girls’ toys offer.

The list of products that pigeonhole girls in the clothes and makeup category goes on and on. Disney sells pink vanity tables for girls as young as 3, for example, and the European retailer Primark stocks a T-shirt in a 2-year-old size that’s emblazoned with the motto “S is for Super, Shopaholic, Soon-to-be-Supermodel.” Even old classics now offer girls’ versions, such as an all-pink Monopoly game in which the houses and hotels have been replaced by boutiques and malls, and a “Designer’s Edition” Scrabble that has letters on the front of the box spelling out fashion. It wasn’t always this way. A couple of decades ago, children’s clothing mostly came in primary colors and princesses were confined to the occasional film or Halloween costume. But as marketing to children has burgeoned into a multibillion-dollar industry, and our consumerist ethos has saddled kids with mountains of stuff, the gender divide has grown wider.

There are serious ramifications to all this marketing, the Moores say. The tidal wave of pink toys and clothes suggests there’s only one way to be a girl — pretty, princessy and fashion-minded. And this segues disturbingly quickly into often sexualized images of tween girls a few years older, says Lyn Mikel Brown, an education professor at Colby College in Maine and co-author of the book Packaging Girlhood. The not-so-subtle pressures of this marketing can damage self-esteem and feed worries about body image and appearance later in life, the sisters say. They also link it to a celebrity-obsessed culture that undermines adult women by glorifying glamour figures like Paris Hilton while neglecting those women engaged in more serious pursuits.

The Jezebel article questions the long-term effects of these toys that promote what Lynn Peril terms “pink think.

Yet here we are, studiously deployed in the combat of such messages to girls and women. We somehow emerged intact — not immune to internalized sexism, of course, but able to think clearly and beyond it. Was my love of Perfect Wedding a form of Stockholm Syndrome, its effective antidote parents who expected me to be more than a future wife and an internship at Ms.? Or was it just a really, evilly fun game and not much more?

To answer the question posed above, I say no. My students analyze children’s toys and clothing utilizing a critical gendered lens every semester (in fact, I graded this semester’s papers this afternoon). In many ways, toys created and marketed to children today are more sexist and confining than those from my childhood. To say that the writers at a critical and conscious blog emerged unscathed from the messages promoting beauty and domesticity as the sources of happiness for girls and women is not a conclusion that is representative of the mass population. Those Jezebel writers are sassy, smart and conscious. They can sniff out things like misogyny, sexism and sexist stereotypes quickly and easily.

Like the writers at Jezebel, I consider myself conscious and equipped with the ability to detect double-standards, sexist stereotypes and gender expectations. And, like the writers and individuals commenting at Jezebel, I liked my girl toys. I owned over 40 Barbies, the vacation home and the 3-story townhouse with elevator. I had the pink corvette and bags full of clothes and accessories. I loved grooming and dressing my Barbies, getting them ready for parties and dates (and engaging them in naughty behavior with Ken). Given a choice, I would have played with and had my Barbies proudly on display well into my teens. My mother eventually convinced me that it was time to put them away when I got my first boyfriend at 14.

Clearly, I loved Barbie and all the pink paraphernalia associated with Barbie. But I also remember the scale that was perpetually fixed on 110 pounds. 110. The last time I weighed 110 was when I was 5′ 2″ and in 6th grade. But that number, Barbie’s impossible measurements and “perfect” body were stuck in my mind as examples of what a woman should weigh and look like. I am not blaming Barbie and her pink scale as the sole variables that impacted my distorted and negative body image through most of my life. But I do recognize Barbie as one toy and one aspect of gender socialization that is part of a larger cultural onslaught (see here and here) that encourages girls and women to focus on beauty and relationships (the former as a way to nab the latter).

I agree with Irin Carmon’s statement “We somehow emerged intact — not immune to internalized sexism, of course, but able to think clearly and beyond it” only because I spent years deconstructing and decoding the messages reinforcing these gendered themes my entire life. I don’t blame my toys alone and I don’t pretend that these toys didn’t bring me hours of immense satisfaction and fun. But I also don’t discount these toys as agents of gender socialization that helped frame my expectations of my self, my place in the world, my relationships and possibilities. I recognize my ability to transcend these messages and “think clearly and beyond” them thanks to Sociology and Women’s Studies courses and becoming media literate.



  1. When I was young, I too loved playing with my Barbies. I also loved all my stuffed animals (all of which I created families for). I pretended to be a mother and a teacher. I also loved my Tonka dump truck and race car set. What I wasn’t aware of at the time, was that advertisers were hard at work convincing me of what I should want to play with. Through the years, toy companies and advertisers have come up with more insidious ways of selling us their products. It was in the 1980s, with the deregulation of children’s tv, that gender stereotyping began to become more prevalent. Toys and other products were not just a byproduct of the show, but the real money maker in the venture. It is our duty as parents (and in my case as an educator), to educate ourselves about the toy industry and to fight for what is in our children’s best interest.

    Comment by Heidi — April 1, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  2. […] more than 50 years, Barbie has remained an emblem of idealized femininity and a key element of gender socialization. Barbie fan Danielle Scott, 16, said: Playing with the hair, the brushes, switching […]

    Pingback by Doll Parts: The “Barbie Executioner” Strikes Back : Ms Magazine Blog — July 29, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

  3. This article further feeds in to the idea that from a young age, the boys are separated from the girls. By making a girl believe that she is supposed to like everything pink, and play with her barbie and wear makeup all show the constraints society puts on even little girls.

    Comment by Sadaf Abrishami — October 4, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  4. […] « penser rose » est une réponse de Feminist Fatal à Jezabel concernant son article sur l’aspect trop « girly » des […]

    Pingback by Le « penser rose » / — December 12, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

  5. -Advertisers purposely separate aisles for girls and boys. Because they feel that toys cannot be universally appealing to both boys and girls for the most part. Girls are then usually taken to that aisle almost immediately, and therefore pressured that they can only choose from this section, and would be weird for choosing something else or it would be wrong if they liked something from the boys section. The same goes for boys, and I actually believe, that if a young boy had heterosexual parents, especially if they were and/or possibly homophobic, all hell would break loose if they were to pick up a toy from the girls section.
    -Boys and girls enjoy different clothing, with different messages on them. Girls are believed to like princesses, queens, pinkish stuff. Boys like baseball, tough movie characters that are all men not women, and it becomes a huge surprise when a girl likes another color, another t-shirt, or a “tougher message”. Boys are supposed to like blue, green, red t-shirts, etc. There are no pink shirts in the boys section because many store departments believe that most parents are homophobic and would not let their boys buy colors of those shirts because it would be weird, proper, etc., only in rare occasions when there are international designers that wouldn’t be as homophobic, or don’t believe colors/ message clothing aren’t limited to one’s sexuality. When girls grow up, it is then a surprise to boys when girls like tough movies like the godfather, lord of the rings, or become videogame designers, because they cannot understand the transition of only liking pink shirts with toy barbies to liking a movie like godfather which shares very little characteristics. Toys are toys though, and Girls and boys like toys, so they are obviously going to enjoy some toys their parents felt was right for them instead of the ones they originally desired. So they do appreciate their toys, and become fond of them, and seek more toys similar to the ones they had before, just more evolved. They begin to develop a taste. Then we start to see boys and girls only like certain types of toys that play into the trap of the stereotypical idea, that girls like barbies, and boys like cards. Which is essentially because those are the only toys boys and girls have ever been familiar with, and they do not want to try new unfamiliar stuff and go through the same process, when they already know what they like for sure. New toys are unfamiliar and don’t appeal to them as they did when they first went to the store; they have experience and developed specific tastes and familiarity.

    ps-i am using this response for my essay haha.

    Comment by Hasan Gondal — March 23, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  6. These toys cause mentally destructive damage to a child in that they cause children to grow up with the goal of having an almost unachievable appearance to match up to Barbie as you did. The majority of people will live their lives with the definition of society according the media and toy industry never having the break through and realization that the definition provided to them might be incorrect.

    Comment by Tiffany Majdipour — October 9, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

  7. Things have definitely changed throughout time and by the looks of it, it is continuing towards that ” misleading” direction. As a young girl I loved barbie and pink, not noticing how it would shape me and make me who I am today. I am glad that points like these are being brought up today, because when I someday have a child, I will definitely take these matters in to account. Giving my child the right to choose for him or her self.

    Comment by Tandis Shams Fard — October 10, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  8. When I was a little girl, I also played with and collected Barbies, but I’ve just realized now that however fun these toys may be, it’s critical to look at the world and how we’re influenced by things like toys, clothes, where we shop, what we watch, and music through a critical gendered lens. Pop culture, advertisers, companies, and people who design these items cater to audiences who are ignorant and choose to buy into their messages of gender socialization. I think all consumers, parents especially, should always be aware of just how impressionable their children are, share with their children about how gender socialization operates, and how to transcend these boundaries our society has put upon them.

    Comment by Jennifer S — October 12, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

  9. This article helps to demonstrate how even in present day society toys are a primary tool of gender socialization. Toy companies see typical gender roles as a source of profit. By stereotyping girls through pink and beautification, and boys through violence and dominance, not only are toy companies making a lot of money, they are furthering and helping to create gender roles and gender socialization.

    Comment by Chloe Shenassa (women studies 10 scholars) — December 6, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

  10. […] more than 50 years, Barbie has remained an emblem of idealized femininity and a key element of gender socialization. Barbie fan Danielle Scott, 16, said: Playing with the hair, the brushes, switching […]

    Pingback by Doll Parts: The “Barbie Executioner” Strikes Back | Adios Barbie — December 13, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  11. You can hate a woman with out being sexist, I hate the Skylar White character with a passion, not because she’s a she but because she’s a ungrateful hypocrite adulterer who is self centered to a near unimagineable level. I don’t have the time to delve into the whole of her bullshit because I don’t have the time to recap every single show in the series. Ive been watching the reruns that AMC has been showing and had to write this so I would stop yelling at the TV. Skylar White is fucking bitch, Walt has become a horrible person but he became that person because he had cancer and was trying desperately to provide for his family, including Skylar!!! In short he was thinking about someone other than himself. Skylar fucks her boss helps him commit fraud treats Walt like shit, from day one, and every other word out of her mouth is me, me, me, I, I ,I mine, mine, mine, my, my, my, she’s flabbergasted when someone doesn’t do exactly what she says exactly when she says it. Like they didn’t get the memo that this is queen Skylars world. Now is she written in a sexist way? I don’t know, I’ve seen Betty Draper compared to Skylar White and think that’s crap, she’s one of my favorite female characters on TV, of course I’m only about half way through the series. On another note I have a question, when I was younger I got my ass kicked by a girl, because I refused to hit, push or kick back, as I was raised, “never hit a girl” I was taught that 1 if you made a woman mad enough to hit you, you most likely deserved it 2 if a girl was mad enough to hit you that means is must really like you and 3 if a girl is and enough to hit you never hit her back and cover your nose and your nuts, but is that sexist? If a guy started a fight I hit back, so in this world of equality of the sexes, if a girl hits you it’s your duty as a freedom fighter to slug her in the jaw. To do otherwise, to not hit a woman would be sexist. Or is getting to hit men as hard as you want when ever you want without reprisal a fare trade for making $0.70 on the dollar compared to men? However if that’s true then why is a man considered a cheap-skate if he doesn’t pay for the date? The inequality in pay kind of makes sense when you look at it like that…men make $0.30 more, on the dollar than women, because they pay for 100% more of the dates. Damn except for lesbians, but gay men get screwed ( no pun intended) too. Well crap maybe I am sexist, just the kind of sexist that lavishes women with gifts, pays for every date, would sooner take a beating than lay a finger on a woman and thinks guys that cheat are douche bags…..then again maybe the world is just fucked. I need to watch less TV…..but Kurt Vonnegut is dead and Chuck Palachnuck hasn’t written shit lately.

    Comment by Jordan — June 22, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

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