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Guys and Dolls, Girls and Guns? Do toy trends reflect our world or create our society?
A young girl has sparked a campaign to ask Hasbro to make gender-neutral versions of the traditional Easy-Bake Oven. If the hue was less “feminine,” she feels more boys would play.
A Swedish catalog for Toys R Us has been in the news due to its stripping of traditional toys for traditional sex roles.
In the Swedish catalog, boys and girls are both seen cleaning homes with make-believe tools. Interestingly, the toy vacuums and irons and other paraphernalia are still in the nursery pink-and-blue choices.
Actress Claire Danes just won an Emmy for her role as a CIA operative. Obviously, little girls aspire to go into law enforcement or the military. TV and movies are giving more and more examples of tough, gun-toting females. Toys will follow suit.
Many people are purported to have lost their minds when they saw this catalog photo of a boy playing hairstylist with a young girl. They fear that access to toy shampoo and toy scissors will lead to brainwashing.
One of the most popular characters in teen fiction was translated into a movie role and a Mattel doll. Meet Katniss Everdeen, who has an amazing gift for archery.
Disney princesses usually have bows upon their heads. Not Merida—who casually wears her bow and arrow slung across her hips and waist.
If a consumer knows her daughter is mad for Merida, but hesitates to buy the brown-and-gray archery set, Disney has out this more “girlish” version in pastel colors.
A young girl has sparked a campaign to ask Hasbro to make gender-neutral versions of the traditional Easy-Bake Oven. If the hue was less “feminine,” she feels more boys would play.
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With only 12 days left until Christmas, the panic of “what, where, when, why, and who” is in full gear. Back in journalism class, those were the all-important five W’s—the essential questions and considerations that had to pop up in the opening section of a news story. Nowadays, with jingling and jangling hanging above and inside my head, I’m more prone to mad dashes to the store than tracking down quotes for punchy first paragraphs. My five W’s are all about my shopping list, and what I should get the people in my family and network of friends.


Now, my social circle is a rather square one. A lot of the folks I know are rather traditional. Like Bill O’Reilly, the FOX newscaster who is waging a one-man war against the “war on Christmas,” would say, “They’re not SP’s, definitely not secular progressives.” Nope, I think most of my relatives and associates are more “old-fashioned,” more inclined to respect the way things were and not necessarily stand up and cheer for the way things might become.


Where do I fall in that pigeonholing? I think I’m a “traditional progressive”! Yes, it’s a category that doesn’t exist in the O’Reilly vernacular, but it should. I don’t want the whole world to go crazy and turn upside down over night, but I realize life, love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is being redefined every day . . . and I’m all for it.


My feeling is that as long as we’re still talking about families raising children—no matter the components or complexions or construction of the family—rather than the state taking over that duty, all is right in the world.


And this brings us to my recent encounter/skirmish of sorts over “gender specific” toys. It’s all over the news how a very determined, self-promoting young girl has managed to get a petition signed by hundreds of thousands of Facebook users demanding that Hasbro manufacture its Easy-Bake Oven in neutral tones. Rather than only being available in hot pink or neon purple, she’s requesting that the oven be made in a beige or tan or white or black or sage green. (You get the point.) By stripping it of its perceived “girlie” pink hue, her brother would be able to ask for one for Christmas. The feminine colors associated with the baking franchise makes little boys not want to ask for it or handle it when it’s in the house.


Why is that the case? Why is pink so frightening to little boys? And why do toy companies continue to slap that coloration on items that don’t reflect that in real life?


There was a time when toys were used to coach young girls into their future roles of wife, mother, nursemaid, and care-giver. Doll houses, baby dolls, toy irons, toy stoves, baby bottles, diaper kits—all of this was bought and sold to help little girls become familiar with their identity over the next 30-odd years.


Of course, women still handle the brunt of these housekeeping, home-tending, child-raising tasks, but they also go to work, run their own business, pursue side jobs, and generally have to multitask while doing a load of laundry and simultaneously setting the dishwasher to start up when the washing machine cycle ends.


Many women’s lives have expanded beyond being a spouse or a mom. They have to be outside-of-the-home working professionals, and then inside-the-home working moms after six o’clock.


Toys that used to be manufactured for the subliminal training of daughters are no longer relevant. In truth, with the projected downturn in marriage—fewer and fewer people are doing it—more and more folks are going to be living alone or apart from their lovers. EVERYONE is going to have to learn to cook meals for one, turn on the washing machine, run a vacuum, and dust. It’s not gender specific anymore. It’s going to be the way life is.


Knowing this, I think the young upstart who started this petition is 100% on target. Boys have often grown up to be master chefs, and it’s sad to imagine a tiny little Wolfgang Puck having to hide in the corner of his family basement, furtively playing with his sister’s Easy-Bake Oven. Or imagine Chef Gordon Ramsay secretly stealing his sister’s Barbie dolls and lining them up around a toy stove, yelling and cursing at them, screaming about their incompetence. All the while, he must have been scared silly that his burning desire to be a five-star chef would be discovered.


Obviously, some of the world’s leading restaurateurs are male, and if young boys are uptight about openly playing with a pink stove or purple microwave, stripping the offensive color away will only lead to even better chefs and more creative male cooks of the future. (Plus, they won’t have that pent-up aggression like Gordon Ramsay, who obviously still carries a lot of rage about not being able to sauté openly as a child.)


The crusade for de-classifying toys as either “boy” or “girl” offerings is being embraced in Sweden. The Swedes’ 2012 Toys R Us holiday catalog has been all over the press because of its inversion of who should be playing with what, where, when, and why!


In the advertising done for the Scandinavian market, the Toys R Us agency posed boys and girls in a hodge-podge of hands-on play. There are tween girls, with hair pulled back into tight ponytails, taking aim with a Nerf assassin gun. There are young boys feeding babies with bottles, and boys and girls sharing a game of “Medieval castle under attack by flying dragon beast.”


Some folks are horrified by this. One of my friends sincerely said, “This is the end of the world as we know it.” Actually, it’s not. Rather, it’s a reflection of my own personal world, which I know quite well. (And I proceeded to explain this to her in a gentle, goodwill toward mankind/womankind way.)


If you’ve been following my blogs, you know my two children (a boy and a girl) are often swapping toys. My son, Tommy, has the patience to detangle Rapunzel’s tangled hair; while my daughter, Jane, has the eagle eye of a U.S. Marine sharpshooter. They both love playing together and with each other’s toys. They play dolls together, army together, Legos, stuffed animal family, and all other mind-bending, make-believe games. They don’t worry about which toy was bought for whom. Why should they? Like crica-1980s Cyndi Lauper, they just want to have fun!


Boys have grown up to be eminent hairstylists—Vidal Sassoon and Paul Mitchell immediately spring to mind. And both of those men were married—that’s a caveat in case people fear that playing with a toy blow-dryer is part of some secret gay agenda.


Women are in the military these days, as well as on police forces, in the FBI, in the CIA, and other security details that require training and certification in guns and weaponry. It’s not some sort of sci-fi depiction of a brave, new world where women are armed and dangerous. It’s the real world we live in.


Look at the two top heroines at the movies this year: the most successful female characters were Katniss from “The Hunger Games” and Merida from “Brave.” They both share an incredible ability with an archery set.


I think it says a lot about where we are today: in 2012, the Disney princess who is inspiring girls wears a long gown, sports a mane of fiery read hair and has a bow. But the bow’s not on her head—it’s carried at her side, along with her quiver of arrows.


Children today are not limited in their future goals or roles. Neither should their toys!

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