The 2011 Target Toy Catalog; a gender critique

Richardglobalheader (4)
As those who read me know, I have been researching the relationship between gender and toys.  Particularly, I am interested in how the toy industry markets to children and whether that marketing actually has an impact on how children see themselves, their abilities and their opportunities.

Some charge that the toy industry, by positioning girls as nurturers (think dolls and toy dust pans) and boys as aggressors and builders (think weapons and construction), sends a strong message to them as to their roles in life. 

In addition, by marketing based upon gender, it is possible that we cause age compression.  Forcing children into stereotypical roles in a world that is rapidly evolving (cooking shows now feature testosterone fueled chefs and women run companies) may cause them to see toys as fantasy play and therefor stuff for small children.

However you feel about the subject, I find it interesting to regularly take the industry’s temperature.  Last year I reviewed the Toys R Us catalog and noted that all 4 depictions of boys and girls in ride on vehicles showed the boys driving.  A further check of the internet was unable to find any pictures from any company of girls driving boys.

So, this year I thought it might be interesting to take a walk through the new Target catalog and see how girls and boys are presented Vis a Vis the toys depicted.  So, here we go:

That’s certainly a girl on the cover and she is doing the nurturing thing, welcoming us with a wonderful wreath.  On the back cover we see a girl holding a stuffed dog (nurturing) and one boy with a dinosaur and the other with a gun (perhaps to shoot us in honor of the season). 

I did my due diligence and was unable to find any depictions girls and boys together in ride on vehicles.  I did, however, count all the forms of vehicles depicted (a total of 15) and found that 12 were ridden by boys and 3 by girls.  Apparently, boys do most of the riding in this country.

The catalog depicted 8 toys that I would characterize as aggressive (a Thor Hammer, a rifle, etc.) and all depicted boys playing with them.  This was not surprising.  What was surprising, however, was that of the 3 musical items depicted, all were played by boys.  Aren’t girls rock stars too?

The girls section, as we have come to expect, only depicted girls.  I guess you still can't put a boy in there with all of those dolls, cooking sets and books.  Yes, there was a picture of a girl reading a book.  Later in the catalog, there was a full page devoted to books and that also depicted a girl.  I guess only girls read.

Not surprisingly the construction toys pages featured boys.  No girls allowed! 

One refreshing note, however, was that the technology area looks pretty gender free with lots of boys and girls.  Technology is new school compared to toys so perhaps that is why the stereotypical gender reflex is missing.

One final note, there were pictures of 3 real dogs and no cats.  What's up with that?

If you have a chance to look through the catalog, please write in and let us know if you agree, disagree or see something that I have missed.





15 thoughts

  1. I grew up in Sweden, a progressive country in the seventies, I as a boy were given toy-dolls and doll houses to play with. I would not do the same for my children.

  2. As the mother of five and ten year old girls, I can attest that print catalogues in and of themselves are influencing young children’s ideas of gender-appropriate play, not just strategically reflecting or using pre-existing notions of same in those little brains.
    I love this idea from the commentator above:
    ” It would be a great experiment if these ads were shot using adult models instead of kids. Imagine the backlash if we showed men holding toy guns and women playing with kitchen sets. Perhaps then we could put an end to the pink ghetto.”

  3. If you have not seen my Toy Industry rants, here is a semi repeat.
    The toys industry is committing slow but sure suicide by avoiding the main stream video game and entertainment business.
    Play patterns have dramatically shifter to two major categories that most toy companies seem to be afraid of.
    1) Tweens! Especially evident in young girls. They are emulating teens moving down in age to 7 years old. They are spending money on.
    a) Fashions, music and entertainment
    b) video and like games (now 40% of this market)
    c) sports, title nine has changed the sports world. Women tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics, soccer, especially beach volleyball (almost like watching a Victoria’s Secret show.
    2) Boys toys are fast become non-gender specific toys driven by sub 10 year old girls.
    Reviewing their websites, the major companies seem to be asleep and keep pushing thes SOS in advertising.
    Any debates, counter comments or arguments are totally welcomed.

  4. Great post my man.
    With over 30 years of experience I had the most interesting conversation with my 8 year old grand daughter.
    Poppi, why are there boys and girls sections in toy stores? Try answering that question.
    Ashley: Why do you ask. Dodging the questions. I have to go back and forth at Toys R Us to look at trucks, construction sets, Barbie, Hot Wheels, video games and other stuff. How come?
    Poppie: Ashley how should it be arranged based on you are your friends. Ducking the questions again.
    Ashley: By categories she said. Brilliant marketing mind she understood categories. Vehicles in one place, dolls and accys. in another, video games in another etc. No need to categorize by boys or girls.
    Ashley is a very nice looking, extremely smart, very active, athletic and social (all grand parents say the same thing) 8 year old.
    When she fell off her bike and scraped her knees she was not crying. She said, “big girls don’t cry”
    Why do I bring up this one instance? Ashley has a lot of friends and I like to get to know them. They all think the same way. If you have not seen this major change in the behavior of 30 and below women you are blind. They are not asking for equal rights they are JUST DOING IT.

  5. Isn’t the ideal world gender blind, so it doesn’t matter who’s playing with what? Does pointing out this stuff help or hinder progress towards breaking down of gendertypes? In an ideal world, this article should be unnecessary. (On the other hand, boys are boys and girls are girls. Does that make this article unnecessary, too?)

  6. There was so much pink in the catalog I looked at. Everything seemed to be for girls. Most of the hobby/craft kits are aimed at girls-jewelry etc.

  7. Couldn’t agree more, Richard. In many ways, the toy industry (and retail industry) has experienced massive change, but as Lorrie has pointed out, it still clings to traditional stereotypes in fundamental ways. It would be a great experiment if these ads were shot using adult models instead of kids. Imagine the backlash if we showed men holding toy guns and women playing with kitchen sets. Perhaps then we could put an end to the pink ghetto.

  8. What struck me most looking through this last weekend was how PINK all the girls’ pages were, and how black, green, and red the boys’ pages were. It still astounds me that toys are so gender-based, even today.

  9. Loved this one Richard, I agree.
    But perhaps you looked through the wrong catalog this year.
    For gender x toys, check out the Ugly Dolls with their new thirty foot Toys “R” Us boutiques and sharing of major space with both Star Wars and Barbie on the cover of the Big Book.

  10. In the boardgame sector, most catalogs and websites showcase the box cover and components rather than an image of people playing the game. For an example of this sort of presentation, see the 2010 Christmas Catalog from boardgame wholesaler Publisher Services Inc.:
    Two boardgame companies I know of that buck the trend are Canadian publisher and distributor Outset Media ( ) and American publisher Buffalo Games ( ). I’m happy to report that the catalogs of both companies appear to emphasize inter-gender and inter-generational play with no significant gender stereotyping I can detect. Some games are clearly targeted at different age groups, of course, and the photos reflect that but not in a way that strikes me as inherently ageist or stereotypical.
    Follow the links above to check out the catalogs for yourself.

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