Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gender Specific Version of 90s Toys: Stereotyping at its Finest

From infancy, we learn that blue is boys and pink is for girls. Even idealistic parents who seek to give their child a more open-minded experience usually succumb to the plethora of gender-specific paraphernalia in the marketplace. When it comes down to it, your kid is most likely either going to beg you for a dolly or a monster truck, and you're just going to have to deal with it and shell out the cash for different toys for different gendered siblings.

Toy companies are savvy to the fact that creating gender specific toy options gives them double the revenue avenues. They pretty much only have to think up one idea and then tint it either blue or pink accordingly. Figuratively speaking, that is. I don't imagine they actually have an idea dyeing process.

Some of the ideas translated well to dual versions, while others may have been best left to appeal to a single gender. I mean, let's be real here. Everyone knows it's cool for Transformers to turn from a car into a robot. It's fully functional, and now endorsed by Megan Fox. But for a doll to turn into a cupcake? What exactly is the functionality on that one? At least as a robot you can wreak general havoc and destruction. What new power do you gain by disguising yourself as a tasty baked good?

Narrow minded toy producers gave us a clear-cut stance on gender stereotyping, advertising the toys exclusively to the designated gender and thus alienating any kid who may like to play with a toy aimed at the opposite sex. They weren't out trying to destroy individuality, they just wanted to make truckloads of money and figured that appealing to their main audience would probably do that trick. Here are just a few of the stereotypical girl version/boy version dichotomies of toys available to children in the 90s:

Girl Version: Treasure Trolls
Boy Version: Battle Trolls

Let's play a game. It's called good idea/bad idea. It goes a little something like this: troll figurines with rhinestone belly button embellishment? Good. Reinterpretation of that same cuddly figurine to wield an axe and nun chucks? Bad. Don't get me wrong, I understand that trolls are by nature supposed to be gruff and aggressive, but the troll toys available on the market place were generally pretty friendly. The regular ol' trolls were fairly gender neutral until Ace decided to baby dollify them to attract an offshoot group of fawning young girls:

Of course that girl in the commercial would wish for curly hair. She couldn't possibly want a better understanding of precalculus or biomedical science. Nope, its pretty much all about looks. Thanks, Ace!

Hasbro took a slightly different approach in marketing to juvenile male consumers:

Geez, these things are threatening. And we wonder why boys grow up to be so aggressive?

Girl Version: Treasures n' Trinkets Jewelry Making Kit

Boy Version: Creepy Crawlers

Creepy Crawlers have been around for decades, entertaining children with marginally hazardous ovens with the power to nuke gooey bugs. Boys got to do this:

While girls got to do this:

Why exactly young girls would want to make earrings and necklaces out of a disturbingly gummy goo is beyond me, but apparently ToyMax thought they had a real winner here. To be fair, I did own this toy, and I did wear the clip-on earrings. They were sort of cute, in a why-the-hell-am-I-wearing-pink-slime-on-my-earlobes kind of way.

Girl Version: Cupcake Dolls
Boy Version Transformers

I know I've already began a partially-completed rant up top there, so I should just let these commercials speak for themselves.

Boys had this:

Whereas girls had this:

I'm sorry, "she cooks sweet and looks sweet and smells sweet, too"? Boys get killer robots and we get a junior housewife in training? Boy, I just can't wait to rush home so I can practice baking and looking pretty. Who needs global robot takeover when you've got domestic skills?

Girl Version: Barbie Lamborghini Power Wheels
Boy Version: Jeep Protector Team

Yes, you heard that right. We're going to shop, shop, shop, till we drop, drop, drop. Now there's a positive message to send young girls. Let's just hope our young male suitors packed a credit card in their kawasaki ninjamobiles.

Well, isn't that nice? Boys get to be heroes and girls get to go shopping. How enlightened. Thanks, Mattel!

Girl Version: Happy Meal Barbie Toys
Boy Version: Happy Meal Hot Wheels Toys

McDonald's Commercial (1998) - The best free videos are right here

I admit this one is sort of a cop-out. Barbie and Hot Wheels are not really related in any way other than that they are both children's toys and obviously have some sort of lucrative relationship with McDonald's. They're certainly not alternative versions of the same toy. Rather than selecting a universally appealing consolatory toy to offer children as kudos for finishing their McNuggets, McDonald's went the route of giving all boys one model toy and all girls another. The message here was clear: girls should like dolls, boys should like cars, and McDonald's counter employees will scorn and berate you for requesting otherwise.

I'm not all that up on current toys so I really couldn't tell you if today's offerings are any more enlightened. It's pretty safe to say that as long as there exists a marketable demographic of toy buyers, toy companies will employ utterly shameless tricks with little regard to sensitivity or diplomacy. That is to say, corporations will continue to shill pink crap for girls and blue crap (with lasers!) for boys until it stops being profitable. If you can't beat the system, you might as well join on in. Now where's that cupcake doll?


CTB said...

I love the title of this post. So funny!

Shannon said...

When I worked at McDonalds in the early 2000s, they still had Barbie/Hot Wheels happy meals, but we were not allowed to ask if the meal was for a boy or a girl. We had to say, "Barbie or Hot Wheels?" to know which toy to give. In response, most customers just told me the gender of their child:

"Barbie or Hot Wheels?"
"It's for a girl."
"Hot Wheels it is!" 'Cause that's what I would want.

Anonymous said...

OMG! Blast from the Past!! When I was little, I never wanted the Barbie Happy Meal; I always wanted the Hot Wheels because that is what my brothers got and I didnt want to be left out. LOL

Great post- love it!!


Cee said...

That pic of the barbie happy meal doll with the light pink dress brings back a lot of memories...I had about 12 of her.

And I am still pissed at my parents for never buying me the barbie power wheels jeep.

Anonymous said...

Too funny! I haven't been to McDonald's in probably 10 years so those Happy Meals bring back a lot of memories. I'd always get a Barbie while my brother would get a Hot Wheels Car. Stereotyped are not, we loved them!

Sadako said...

Yeah, I'm kind of embarrassed at how bad the girl toys were. I totally forgot that we girls had a creepy crawlers equivalent because well...what beats creepy crawlers? I STILL walk around singing the theme song when I'm bored. CREEEEEEEPY CRAWLERS!

I did have a bunch of the McD's Barbies. I also remember I had a little Barbie version of Belle. And an ice skating one. And...I think that's it. Yeah.

Scientific Housewife said...

What's sad is that I still have some of my Barbie Happy Meal toys, those things were awesome!

Marci Darling said...

Ahhh love this post!

I always got the barbie and the more I look back on it I had no idea what I was thinking!

Nikki said...

When I was a wee lass in the 80's, my parents got me a Power Wheels Jeep-just like the one my Mom really had! :D

Ice Queen said...

I remember when they used to split the happy meals. I don't think they can do that anymore, can they?

Anonymous said...

I remember having the Barbie on the bike, it pretty much pissed me off because um she was stuck on a bike what the hell. And I also had that Blueberry muffin doll. I do remember she smelled pretty good. But I also had a brother so I played with all of his transformers and boy toys.

Melanie's Randomness said...

Excellent Point!!! Omg one of my best friends who is a guy can't understand why I didn't have the Gi-Joe, the transformers, the race cars, the Hot wheels...and I keep trying to tell him Oh I had the girl versions aka barbie, trolls, my lil pony, etc. hehe.

I totally had the treasure's N Trinkets. hehe

Emily said...

I remember the Cabbage Patch Happy Meal toys...were they accompanied by Hot Wheels, too, or were they on their own?

Opanga-Tay said...

Unless I'm mistaken, I think they still have the Barbie/Hot Wheels thing at McDonald's.

I admit, I bought into the girl stereotype pretty heavily. I loved Barbies, Treasure Trolls, I had one of those cupcake dolls, and I had a jazzy jewelry kit, which allowed me to make my own hair barretts. But I always wanted a Creepy Crawlers toy. Not because I liked bugs, but the idea of making them was so appealing to me. I was so disappointed I never got it. :(

Janna said...

But I loved my Cupcake Dolls! :P I can still smell that cupcakey scent...

ark said...

I recognize some of those hotwheels! I'd always have my mom say boy so I could get one. I swear we still have some of them lying around the house somewhere.

Andhari said...

I'm so guilty about Barbie, I seemed to have EVERYTHING Barbie-related. Even the stupid videos, yikes.

ps. I like hot wheels too!

alexa - cleveland's a plum said...

i always wanted the boy toys, still do kinda - gadget and car wise.

Nashe^ said...


I had every single one of the McDonald's Barbie happy meal toy up there!!!! Seeing those again made me :)))))

Alberto said...

generic viagra

buy viagra

viagra online

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking your time writing this post! Cheers, coupon and voucher
Also, feel free to visit my blog

kitsora9tails said...

Oh happy meals, I remember quiet a few times when I got a Barbie or other such thing and looked the cashier directly in the face (while mom was still ordering)and said "I want one of those (boy)toys" Especially when they had pokemon or digimon stuff, then I would ask for the specific card, figurine or toy that I wanted. I vaguely remember being told I can't have one at some point, I remember because my mom got mad at the cashier and we left right before she was about to pay.

7year old me "screw you mcdonalds! I shall not be patronized."

Blogger said...

Anyone else is interested in getting a FREE MC DONALD'S GIFTCARD?

Digg This!