I’m pleased to announce that the anthology Courts of the Fey, in which my
story “Hunting the Unicorn” appears, is now out. (For more about this story, see WW 2-16-11, “Breaking Off, Coming Back.”) The cover isn’t exactly to my taste – a bit too soft and Tinkerbell. Now that I think about it, that actually ties into what I want to wander on about today.
Although I didn’t indulge in Black Friday shopping, as an anthropological exercise, I did go through the advertisements. It’s always interesting to see what marketers are trying to tell us is essential.
Even more interesting to me is what advertisements tell us about how our culture views itself. Today I want to wander on about something that has been a peeve of mine since I myself was a little girl: What the toys sold to little girls tell little girls about their expectations for themselves.
First of all, there is the prevalence of pink. I’ve known very few little girls who select pink as their favorite color. Purple usually comes first, followed by the brighter shades of blue and green. Yes. There are girls who like pink, but they are usually fair-haired and look good in it. They should like pink. Moreover, they should be free to like pink.
However, the fact that little blond girls look good in pink is no reason for so many of the toys marketed to young girls to be colored pink. Is this any reason that even the backdrops for advertisements for girl’s toys are often pink – even if the toy itself is not?
Leading the trend for promoting pink is Barbie. Mattel has been suffering reduced sales figures for these dolls. They’ve also been horrified to find that girls outgrow their Barbies at younger and younger ages. Could this have anything to do with the pink? One ad shows an entire three-story townhouse, all in pink: walls, furnishings, floors, and all. There’s a little white and purple, true, but only as accents.
Okay. Barbie’s a blonde, but I don’t know a single blonde of my acquaintance who would decorate all in pink. Maybe if Barbie didn’t look like a baby toy, little girls would be more interested in staying with her.
Even where toys for girls show some interest in activity, the message is different for boys and girls. In the Target ad, the boy’s bike is red and black with a carry basket. The girl’s bike is pinky-lavender and white (with white tires). It has streamers on the handle bars and is provided with a baby seat. Let me tell you, this is one former little girl who would have begged for the boy’s bike. It says action and adventure. The girl’s bike says “plug up the leg holes in the basket if you want to use it to carry anything other than baby dolls.”
Glancing through other advertisements, I see two different ride-on vehicles presented in pink for girls. One is even called the “Pinkalicious” and is pink right down to the tires. Gee, those tires are going to look good once they’ve been ridden on outside a time or two. Maybe that’s part of the message. Little girls should only ride their toys inside on carpet to keep the pink or white tires clean.
In contrast, all the vehicles for little boys are done in what you might call “real” vehicle shades. Oh, and not a single pink (or even baby blue) tire in the lot. These are road ripping vehicles, steeds of adventure and excitement.
This brings to mind the old rhyme about what are little girls made of: “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Seems to me, the message little girls are getting through their toys is all sugar, no spice, unless maybe the spice is weak vanilla. This continues until they reach the age when they are supposed to dress provocatively and play with dolls that look like hookers, but I’ll save that topic for another time.
I think most of you have gathered by now that I don’t have any kids, so you might be thinking “What does she know about little girls?” Well, frankly, quite a bit. For one, I’m an aunt. I have two nieces, both of whom are wonderful, both of whom are definitely more spice than sugar.
This year for Christmas, I’m making one niece her “grown-up” stocking. (This
is a family tradition started by my mom.) When I asked what Rebecca wanted on top of her stocking (these parts are chosen by the recipient), her response was prompt: “Wolves and horses.”
Now Rebecca is far from the hopeless tomboy her aunt was. She likes dressing up and has had a distinct fashion sense since she was small. At age ten, she’s already showing an interest in jewelry. But she’s nonetheless full of spark and sparkle. So – as you can see from the attached picture – I figured out how to do wolves and horses for her.
And not in pink.
I’m hoping there are toys out there that say “spice” and not just sugar. Maybe you can recommend a few that are fun and not transparently educational. And I’m wondering, how do the boys feel about “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails”?