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Gender Bias: Holiday Gifts

December 21st, 2009 (10:53 am)
thirsty

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Law & Order: Criminal Intent score music

This time of year, we're surrounded by advertisements urging us to get gifts for our friends and family members. The ads targetted specifically to families and parents remind us to pick up the latest toys and gadgets for kids and often leave out books, performing arts, and other such hobbies and endeavors. Commercials and print ads that split up gifts for girls and gifts for boys clearly cater to different interests for different genders - but must we do this? Why can't there be a new basketball hoop or football on the two-page spread for girls' items, instead of clothes, jewelry, and undergarments? Why aren't there more items related to cooking and crafts on the boys' pages? Instead of cultivating this great divide between young girls and young boys, I'd rather there be a "cool stuff for kids and teens" section which displayed creative and timeless items instead of commercial and immaterial things.

I've chosen the example of a big-name retailer to explore in-depth. I am not affiliated with it in any way, shape, or form, nor should this be considered a negative piece about their products, stores, or company. Please note that this article is simply to capture my reactions to their gift recommendations, in hopes that I can encourage readers to think outside the box and not hesitate when they want to give or learn about something or do something that's not quote-unquote "typical" for a certain gender. Just say no to gender bias.

Disclaimed and affirmed, let's go.

Target has a Christmas section (their name, not mine - I would have called it "Holidays" or "Gifts for the Holidays") at their website where they recommend gifts for different genders and ages. The initial breakdown offers:

Gifts for Her
Gifts for Him
Gifts for Girls
Gifts for Boys
Gifts for Teen Girls
Gifts for Teen Boys
Gifts for Baby
Gifts for Couples

In two separate windows, I looked over the options for Teen Girls and Teen Boys. First, I was asked to narrow it down by age, tweens or teens, then by personality.

The options for teen girls:
Miss Outdoorsy
Creative Thinker
Fashionista
Techie Girl

The options for teen boys:
Active Dude
Mr. Techie
Creative Kid
Video Gamer

I clicked into Miss Outdoorsy in one screen and Active Dude in the other. Each screen had 32 items pictured and listed. The boy was offered a baseball bat, a caster board, a portable basketball hoop, a basketball, and weight lifting equipment for the guy. None of these things were recommended to the girl, though she was offered lots of hiking items as well as golf clubs, a bicycle, a tennis racquet, and inline skates. For the boy, Lazer Tag Nerf and the Wii games called Punch Out! and Sports Resort were recommended; for the girl, there were pieces of jewelry, a journal, a tote bag, and the Wii game Active Life: Outdoor Challenge.

The Techie Girl and Mr. Techie page were more similar, each with a Wii console, TVs, and iPods, but many of the items on the girl page were pink, while the items on the boy page were mostly white or black. The recommended watch, camera, TV set, messenger bag, netbook, audio cube, and Nintendo DSi on the girl page were all pink. Even the iTunes gift card on the girl page was pink, while the iTunes gift card on the boy page was blue.

Creative Thinker (girl) and Creative Kid (boy) were the next pairing. When arranged by Best Sellers, the top row for girls had gray suede boots, the pink Nintendo DSi console, a blue sphere chair, a purple iPod Nano, and blue leggings, while the same arrangement for boys had a black iPod Touch, PlayStation 3, a black Nintendo DSi console, a blue iPod Nano, and a recharging mat. I was very happy to see an adjustable drawing and craft table on both pages. There were various pieces of clothing on the girl page, but no clothes for on the boy page. The girl was also recommended a hair dryer, a purse, and makeup.

They recommended five books for the creative boy:
Slayers: The Motion Picture Special Edition
The Dangerous Book for Boys
Instant Art History (From Cave Art to Pop Art) by Walter Robinson
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Creative Edge (Exercises to Celebrate Your Creative Self) by Mary Todd Beam

The five books recommended for the creative girl:

Oh, wait. They didn't list any books for her. Not one book. Instead, there are DVDs of The Breakfast Club and Daria: The Movie, a Hello Kitty 3-piece body spray set, and a board game called Boys are Stupid.

Now, I've been trying to keep a pretty neutral tone while relaying these lists of items throughout this piece, but I have to say something right now: I doubt anyone could get away with making and marketing a game for boys to play called Girls Are Stupid. There's no need to have ANYTHING that puts down the opposite gender. I would not want to see a game recommended to kids (or anyone, for that matter) that put down a certain race or culture.

I have not played the Boys Are Stupid game (and I never will), so I cannot give it a proper review. I don't want to judge it unfairly, however, so let me share the summary from the website so you can make up your own mind: "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them-but first you need to collect the rocks. Do a wacky dare or answer an embarrassing truth to get 5 rocks and work your way home to win the game. The perfect slumber party game for girls of all ages. Also great for after a break-up or as an anti-Valentine's Day gift. For 2-4 People. Play Time of 30-60 Minutes."

I know that some of you are thinking, "It's a harmless game - get over it," but I ask you again to think of the scenario with a flip of genders: Would you think it was harmless if they were encouraging boys to throw rocks at girls, even if they were imaginary rocks in the context of this game? Do you really think it would be okay to market a game which encouraged violence towards young girls? I wasn't born under a rock (ha), so yes, I have heard the expression, "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them," and I've never, ever thought any part of that was funny or appropriate.

All right, final pages: Fashionista for girls and Video Gamer for boys. The names say it all: the girl page is filled with clothes, jewelry, and beauty products while the boy page is filled with games, game consoles, and controllers. Yes, some girls love getting all gussied up, but some love making touchdowns and blocking goals in the mud. Yes, some boys love playing video games, but so do lots of girls. Bethany and Robert might both turn out to be video game developers, or Bethany might pursue a job in sports medicine while Robert designs gowns and suits to be worn on the red carpet.

Back to the Fashionista and Video Gamer pages. There are two versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for the guys, as well as Madden NFL 10, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, and that Punch Out! Wii game again. They also recommend Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, a memoir-slash-travelogue-slash-pop-culture book by Ethan Gilsdorf which I hadn't heard of before now, to the boys, while the girls are recommended The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-Inch Heels and Faux Pas by Karen Robinovitz as well as the abridged audio edition of The Devil Wears Prada - adult titles, not young adult titles, yet again overreaching the age group.

I can't stress it enough: Pre-teens, tweens, and teens are at different stages in development and in society. Let's not encourage them to grow up too fast. Let them be kids for as long as they can be, as they should be, and ease them into the adult world rather than throwing them in too early.

But that's another article for another time. For now, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays - and hope that you encourage your kids to follow their hearts and realize their dreams, no matter what their genders or ages. If your teen son wants to wear a pink tie and skinny jeans, let him. If your teen daughter wants to take martial arts classes, find a reputable and affordable studio with an awesome sensei. If your kids show interest in something creative and active, support them. Help them learn more about all the different things they could do as hobbies or professions. Let them do what they love.

More to consider:
Just Say No to Gender Bias
More posts with the "gender bias" tag at Bildungsroman blog

Comments

Posted by: Kiba (kibarika)
Posted at: December 21st, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)

Wow.

I like to play video games while I wear pretty clothes and jewelry.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)

Awesome. :)

Posted by: A Deserving Porcupine (rockinlibrarian)
Posted at: December 21st, 2009 11:10 pm (UTC)

you know, I was recently looking at the December issues of two different parenting magazines. They both had gift guides, and luckily all the kids' gifts were split into age groups, but the adult gifts in the one were split into "gifts for him" "gifts for her" and "gifts for grandparents" or something; and in the OTHER they were actually split into categories by interest: "the entertainer," "the gamer," "the traveler," etc. And I noticed, not only that I wasn't remotely interested in anything in the "gifts for her" section and didn't think my husband would like the "gifts for him" and wondered exactly who "her" and "him" were in the first place, but on the other hand the interest-grouped gifts were ALL more interesting (even if the interest wasn't my own), just because instead of some vague gender-notion to aim at, they actually were thinking about things a more-specific person would like. If only that Target gift guide had just skipped over the girl/boy split at the beginning....

...also, why is it so dang hard to find a toy vacuum cleaner that is not pink and say "just for girls" or something like that? By the time I do, I don't think my son will be interested anymore...

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)

Discovery Toys had a little yellow push-toy that looked like a stand-up cleaner, and it made little popping noises when pushed along. You might see if they still make it or something like it!

Thanks for reading the article. I agree that grouping things by interest is better than by gender.


Posted by: Aurora (kilmata)
Posted at: December 21st, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)

When I was a kid we used to get a "Wishbook" every year, (from Sears of course) it had all of the toys/movies/video games any little girl or guy could want.

My brother and I would go through it, and make lists based on what things we'd like and then mom (and Santa) would buy us a few choice items from the list.

My list was always 1/4 from the girls side of the Wish Book, 1/4 from the boys side, and 1/2 from the scholastic catalog that was handed out at school. *g*

(And I was always annoyed when my brother received 'construction' type projects, and I got barbies)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)

Glad that your list had a nice mix. :)

Posted by: imcoolerthanu2 (imcoolerthanu2)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)

Such good points. I think these things are so ubiquitous that I don't always really SEE them, but it really horrifies me when I see children and teens stifling themselves to try to fit into gender roles. Thanks for something to think about.

And happy holidays to you, too!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)

Thank you.

I think we as a society, as a general whole, are so used to seeing these things that we don't consider them as anything but the norm, and that's a shame. Why can't boys walk down "the pink aisle?" Why shouldn't there be more little green army _women_ in the bucket of little army men toys? Why are we gifting four- and five-year-old girls with makeup kits and cutesy purses?

Happy holidays to you & yours! :)

Posted by: imcoolerthanu2 (imcoolerthanu2)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)

That's why it's a good thing we have artists, to help us see the things we've stopped seeing. :)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 24th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)

YES. :)

Posted by: Jacqui Robbins (jacquirobbins)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
Boys Are Stupid

This is appalling. Throw rocks at them?!

The gender bias is a source of constant frustration to my daughter. My latest rant on it is about kids' shoe stores: they're split into "boys" and "girls" sections. You can guess where all the decent athletic shoes are...

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Boys Are Stupid

Thank you for sharing my outrage!

I know exactly what you mean. My most comfortable pair of sneakers came from the boys' section.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 24th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)

Thank you!

I think the mix of siblings - different ages and genders - definitely contributes, in a positive way, to the different interests, toys, and crafts to which we're exposed.

Happy holidays!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: December 25th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)

Smokin' hot, LW! Sing it, sister!

~Lorie Ann

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: December 25th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)

Thanks, Lorie Ann! :)

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