The literature I read for this term paper project on Gender Gap reinforced my belief that there are in fact gender specific toys. According to the articles, the boys have superior toys and a larger section in which to choose them. Boy’s toys are more likely to have batteries and moving parts, which make them more technical. Some people believe that more technical toys are marketed towards boys because of their possible future job, which could be in the fields of science or technology. On the other hand the girls toys require far less batteries, and are much less diverse than the boys. Dolls and play kitchen sets dominate the toys specifically marketed towards girls. The article points out that the girls department in a toy store is very easy to pick out due to the color of pink dominating much of the merchandise. On the other hand, the boy’s section, which doesn’t employ a dominating color as in the girl’s section, is known for its loud noises that the toys make. Also, boy toys have advanced greatly over time but girl’s toys have remained almost intact with minor differences. An example that was brought up was the Easy Bake Oven, which has not had many innovations in its long existence.
In order to observe how people and children shopped for toys, I went to the Toys R Us in Nashua, NH, on a Saturday afternoon, because I thought it would be busy. Upon first entering the store I was in the infant/toddler section. This section was not divided by sex. Many of the toys were neutrally colored and marketed towards both sexes. Occasionally there would be a pink toy, which was specifically for girls, but overall there was a uni-sex feeling in that section.
The next section is what I would call the educational section of the toy store. The toys in this section are things like board games, Lego’s, books, school supplies, arts and crafts supplies, computer software etc. While most of the merchandise in this section did not depict a direct separation of the sexes, there are a few special cases that I noted. The first one was the school supplies. The row of school supplies was divided in half, with one side marketed towards girls, and the other towards boys. Much of the supplies had themes to them. Some of the female themes were Barbie, and Brittany Spears. The male themes were things like the Hulk, and the Power Rangers. The building blocks, such as leggos, and the miniature scale models were almost all boy themed. The Lego sets, showed pictures of astronaut, motor cycles, cars/trucks, and tanks. The models were mostly of cars and planes, specifically but not limited too, fighter planes, and planes of war. The arts and crafts section was specifically marketed towards girls. Much of the merchandise was paints and kits in which you could design your own purse or t-shirt. The section containing board games was not divided by sex, but rather by age. There were sections of games for adults, and sections for children. Adult board games were often trivia games. While a few gender specific board games were there, the majority of games would be just as likely to be played with by a boy or a girl.
The next section was unmistakably the girl’s section. About 90% of the merchandise was pink or had a pink box. There are a variety of different dolls. Some are Barbie dolls, or similar looking dolls. There are also a large section of baby dolls, most of which are female. The dolls were almost always smiling. The other type of toy that comprised the girl’s selection is the kitchen/house ware toys. This includes toys such as play ovens and stoves.
On the other side of the large isle, opposite the girl’s section, was the boy’s section. Unlike the girl’s section, there was not a dominating color. There is barely any, if any pink in the boy’s section however. I did not notice an abundance of noise coming from the boy’s section. The toys in the boys section were much more diverse than the girls. There are countless types of action figures available from various themes such as professional sports, military, movies, and television. A lot of the toys in this section had stickers that said, “try me”, or “press here to test”. The action figures ranged in sizes from as small as a few inches, to as large as a foot or more. The action figures typically did not have smiling faces, rather they had no expression or expressions of aggressiveness and rage. To go along with the action figures, there are many accessory packs, which are usually weapons. Along with weapons for the action figures them selves, there is also toy weapons for kids such as swords and guns. Another category of toys in the boy’s section is the tools and construction toys. The toy tools are very realistic and some times even display real tool brand names on them such as Home Depot. The constructions toys are mainly vehicles that are specific to construction, such as dump trucks and cranes. The sporting goods section is just an extension of the boy’s section. Most of the equipment was marketed towards boys, such as baseball, basketball, football, and hockey equipment. The few products in that section which would appeal to girls are roller blades, and scooters.
After going through the various sections of the store and noting the toy types, I began to focus on the customers. I witnessed what I perceived as a father shopping with his two sons and one daughter. The father was paying attention to the younger of his sons, but I noticed something about the other son and the daughter. They were both riding tricycles. The daughter was riding a pink and purple tricycle with tassels on the handlebars and other various decorations. The boy was riding a red tricycle with chrome high lights and much less decoration than the girl’s bike. The second interaction I witnessed was a father and son who were walking through the boy’s section. The father had to repeatedly tell the son “lets go”, because the son would start playing with the toys, and at one point sat down in the middle of the floor to do so. In this case the father was trying to leave, but the son would get easily distracted while surrounded by the toys. My next interaction took place in the girl’s section. A mother and father were shopping with their son and daughter. The mother and the daughter were just walking down the isle looking at the merchandise, while the father and son were waiting at the end and showed no interest or awareness of the toys present in the isle.
From the articles and my observation in the toy store I have come to a few conclusions. First, there are gender specific toys, and the ways the toys are marketed seem to increase the gender gap. All of the toys that the article claimed to make children smarter, such as building materials, were marketed towards boys. The boy toys had much more moving parts, and often required the ability to manipulate objects well in order to use them. On the other hand the girls section is teaching the girls how too cook, shop, and take care of babies, which is the traditional role of the woman.
My second conclusion is that boy’s toys are much more entertaining than girl’s toys. While walking threw the store, I had no interest in playing with any of the toys in the girls section, and quite a bit of interest in the boy’s section. I further reinforced this by the lack of customers in the girl’s section. It was by far the least populated area of the toy store. Also, by the amount of girls that were shopping in the boy’s section of the store. At one point I saw a girl, who might have looked like a tomboy, purchasing a laser tag set.
The variety and selection of the boy’s section dwarfed that of the girl’s section. The girls section had two main categories of toys: dolls and cooking toys. The boys section had many more categories and it physically took up close to twice the floor space of the girls section. This leads me to believe that either boy’s play with toys more than girls do, or that girls choose to play with boy toys rather than girl toys. Another piece of evidence that led me to believe that boys play with toys more than girls is the fact that the boys section of the toy store was much messier than the girls section. Boys are more likely to grab things off the shelf and start playing with them right then and there rather than the girls. Some types of toys seem to be exclusively marketed towards boys. For instance the video game section (previously unmentioned) is marketed almost if not all towards that of boys. I could not find one video game that I would consider a girl oriented video game.
From my study I feel that the toy companies are not putting the effort and attention into designing toys specifically for girls. It is basically an equal rights issue in my mind. Girls are being unfairly treated in the toy market, and are sometimes maybe forced to play with toys designed for boys, because they do not happen to like the few boring toys that are designed for girls. The toy industry is thus increasing the gender gap.
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