The Wal-Mart toy catalog; a gender critique

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The gender critiques I have been doing on mass market retail chain toy catalogs (click here to read the critiques on Target, Kmart and Sears) are beginning to reveal a pattern.   As a result, I have decided to do critiques of the Wal-Mart and Toys R Us catalogs as well.  Once I am complete, I will be doing an article that analyzes the results and what they may or may not tell us about the toy industry and  gender. 

In these critiques, I have  been looking to see whether the toy industry, by its marketing, is sending subliminal messages to children that may actually be bad for business.  As importantly, are we as an industry in sync with how today’s children see the world?  In other words, is the toy industry looking at 21st century kids through 20th century glasses? 

So how did Wal-Mart do?  It appears that the Wal-Mart toy catalog, like those of Kmart and Sears, is far more oriented towards boys than girls. 

By my count, the catalog contained 30 depictions of boys compared to 17 of girls.  In fact, once you leave the doll section, there are only 5 depictions of girls in the rest of the catalog as compared to 30 depictions of boys.   Not surprisingly, the doll section contains no pictures of boys.

Not only is the ratio of boys to girls heavilly skewed but the depiction of girls is sterotypical.  Take ride-on cars as an example.  There are 7 pictures of ride-on cars in the catalog and all but one is driven by a boy.  (The one with the girl is in the girl’s section while the boys are all on one page). 

And it’s not just ride ons; its vehicles of all kinds.  I counted a total of 10 wheeled vehicles on which one rides (bicycles, scooters, cars, etc.).   Of these 10, 9 were driven by boys and 1 by a girl.  Talk about an old school view of gender and toys.

So, how are girls depicted?  They are eating, feeding a doll a baby bottle, holding a stuffed animal, playing with a doll house, riding in a pink car, singing and modeling clothes.  How are boys depicted?  They are playing with swords, cars, construction sets, planes, guns, and on and on. 

If I were a girl, I believe the message I would be getting is that the Wal-Mart toy catalog is primarily for boys and that, as a girl, they think that I am only interested in traditional girl toys like dolls and stuffed animals.  Simply put toys that are active and challenging are simply not meant for me.  I would shop elsewhere.

3 thoughts

  1. Excellent post! I hadn’t looked at the toy catalogues that closely, although I am always screening children’s books for sexism.
    There is no reason why girls can’t be shown playing with cars, blocks, and construction sets. The cars don’t have to be pink either. This is a problem that is easily taken care of by Walmart, Toys R Us, and other retailers. It doesn’t take any money or additional time either. Is there any way to get Walmart’s attention directly on this?

  2. While I agree that more gender neutral advertising is an important move I always think it’s necessary to be careful not to lay an adult’s perspective over children’s as it will provide false data for marketing and advertising. If we’re discussing simple gender equality, we can simply review the layouts and count the appearance of boys and girls. If we’re measuring how to best entice children to become interested in a particular toy, I think the question to ask is: do the more subliminal messages being depicted effect the way children respond to visual advertising or is visual advertising constructed the way it is because of the positive response by the intended audience.

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