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29 Responses

  1. herong
    herong September 22, 2009 at 7:04 pm |

    This resonates very deeply with me. Magic wands that sparkle, combs that magically change Barbie’s hair color, My Little Pony’s with magic symbols on their heinies, magically growing hair doll (very creepy), etc. I can see the translation to “womanly toys” as well, especially earlier in the 20th century: dish washers, microwave ovens, electric ovens, etc. None of these things were marketed with explanations of how they work, they were marketed as magical devices that saved time.

  2. Meg
    Meg September 22, 2009 at 7:08 pm |

    As a young child, I particularly liked things that *didn’t* have moving parts, much less batteries (I was a Grand Champions/My Little Ponies girl), but I quickly became into “making things.” I learned needle-and-thread pretty quickly, and by the time I was 10 or so, my mom let me use the 1930’s Singer Sewing machine. I don’t know if that counts as a “toy,” and it’s certainly not modern, but it was electric, with a foot-pedal. I also got into making little, um “fairy furniture” from stuff in the woods out back.

    I also liked to take things apart and put them back together again, but then again, those weren’t toys either. Usually old fans, and things made of wood or fabric. And I cooked and gardened.

    Gee, I’m not sure my anachronistic childhood helps here. I will say I never liked video-games, largely because when my brother lost at his he’d get mad at ME for some reason. I just knew they made him grumpy, so it wasn’t until I was a teenager and discovered strategy games on the computer that I got into that sort of thing.

  3. Michael Hussey
    Michael Hussey September 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm |

    I see some of this today, working in a moderately technical field for an internet provider, in adults who do not understand how their ISP is separate from their email client is separate from their computer tower is separate from a dot-com.

    I know someone who says he can’t bookmark after I showed him how to. He said his computer blocks him from posting pictures on his Myspace profile. (Which is untrue.) He is just to lazy to apply himself to learning how to use technology. Bookmarking and uploading photos are Internet 101.

    Young girls use computers. I don’t see any playing video games. I wonder is this because of a lack of interest or there are no video games geared to girls?

  4. La Lubu
    La Lubu September 22, 2009 at 8:44 pm |

    It’s all good until something goes wrong and the user is completely dumbfounded about how to fix the problem because they have little education about how it all works.

    Hey! Quit talkin’ about me like that! ;-)

    In all seriousness, I think it’s more than a lack of education when it comes to computer tech stuff (although that plays into it—especially for those of us who are so old we graduated from high school before computers. I didn’t get to use a PC until I was over 30!). For me, it’s how my brain works. I’m highly visual-spatial, which is about as useless as it gets in front of the computer screen. I used to print off everything I thought I would need access to in the future, because I had no idea where it would go when it was “saved”. (quit laughing.) It took me forever to get the concept of “files” and how they were organized. In my brain, the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, and you can see that shit. Out of sight, out of mind. I had to rewire my mind to think in a different way, since I could no longer rely on the physical concreteness of space/place.

    I’ve heard the same thing from a lot of other visual-spatial people (the trades are full of us!). Anything can seem “magic” when it’s foreign to how your brain works (via nature, nurture or some combination thereof).


    I agree that toys are marketed to girls this way (to a degree that they aren’t for boys), but….I haven’t seen my daughter’s curiousity or enthusiasm for wondering why things work the way they do dampened by this. Of course, she’s almost ten, and skeptical as all hell.

  5. Rikibeth
    Rikibeth September 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm |

    What about Simon? I certainly played with that, and it didn’t seem especially gendered.

  6. Molly (the artist formerly known as Alexis)

    I remember as a kid wanting Creepy Crawlers (a craft toy where you poured neon goop into a cast and made plastic bugs) super bad one Christmas. My grandma got me a dollmaking over that worked on the same principal because it was a “girl” toy. Fury followed.

    But yeah, I remember the Creepy Crawler commercials coming from a “mad scientist” angle and the dollmaking oven packaging was more of a “make fashionable new best friends with MAGIC” angle. Basically supporting your argument.

  7. squirrely
    squirrely September 22, 2009 at 10:19 pm |

    Lite Brite! ’nuff said.

    It doesn’t involve batteries, but it does relate to engineering: That game “Mousetrap” which I always wanted but never got because my parents were against board games with lots of fun, cool stuff on them. No pop-o-matic bubbles for me.

    My first little electronic keyboard…I rocked that “samba” backbeat…it wasn’t girlpink or boyblackwithstripes – it just looked like a keyboard.

    I was too old to have one myself, but I remember Tamagotchi pets being popular with everyone…

    BUT I think toys have gotten way more gendered than they were when I was growing up in the late 70’s & 80’s. And way more technical. Basic Lego sets, how we miss you.

  8. Happy Feet
    Happy Feet September 22, 2009 at 11:24 pm |

    I was too busy cringing over “bleeding-edge”. Though if it was supposed to be a play on words – boys…violent action toys… then it might be clever…

  9. kate
    kate September 23, 2009 at 12:11 am |

    My childhood was a bit unusual I must say. When I was really little my brother and I played with whatever was around the house or that my older siblings had, such as my older brother’s models, or my sister’s modeling clay or the junk that was outside in the backyard.

    When I moved to my tradtional, middle-class father’s house that changed somewhat although he learned quickly that my lack of cultivation in traditional toys caused me to be totally unimpressed with a cry-baby doll he gave me the following christmas.

    So what followed was that my younger brother and I essentially had the same cache of toys and since dad wasn’t about to make my brother a sissy, I had mostly boy-toys. My brother and I played for about a year with a kid that had every boy-boy imaginable, including an entire set of GI-Joes (you know the original ones with knuckle type joints and fuzzy crew cuts and a plethora of outfits. They were boy Barbies basically. The kid had every set-up for them imaginable.

    BUT, they were GI-Joe, who had an important mission to save the world and every accessory had went to that purpose. Big difference with Barbie and her fashion sense world.

    My brother and I also played imaginary games of “Dick and Tom” — we were explorers who went into the deep sea (the living room rug), the Sahara and into the tundra (the store room) with Great Purpose.

    I also had an old tin Dodge truck that I painted with some left-over latex paint and a scooter that my grandfather gave me that I “overhauled” with my dad’s encouragement (oiled the wheels, fixed the stand brake, sanded and repainted).

    I think my upbringing was engineered by a parent who had his own conflicting relationships and feelings about women. These contradictions were not anything I had a hard time with until puberty. Until then I was content with playing with biology and chemistry sets, toy cars and imaging myself as a male, not because I wanted to be one, but because females, in my mind, just weren’t supposed to be doing the things I imagined doing.

    No surprise that social restrictions on my right to do what I really want have always really rubbed me pretty raw, much to the surprise of many who apparently have internalized these injustices far earlier than I.

  10. Medea
    Medea September 23, 2009 at 5:39 am |

    That’s true. Magic was a huge part of my childhood games and toys. My little male friends liked games that would involve some sort of magic–talking dinosaurs and demons–but they didn’t think about it in quite the same way.

  11. slashy
    slashy September 23, 2009 at 7:06 am |

    I definitely agree that ‘girl toys’ were marketed as ‘magical!’, and that this hugely plays into teaching girls to be less brave & curious about the word, about mechanics & objects & how things work.

    I don’t think that stopped me from getting really excited about figuring out how the hell they worked, though. I have fond memories of eviscerating several moving + speaking soft toys to discover the battery pack, voice box & jointed mechanical skeletons inside. Way more interesting than some stupid talking teddy bear (as far as I was concerned).

    I don’t think my parents were ever very impressed by my toy evisceration skills, though.

  12. Jadey
    Jadey September 23, 2009 at 7:21 am |

    So what we’re saying is that ‘girl’ toys are actually more technologically advanced than ‘boy’ toys? :D

    More seriously, though, I did try to think of technology or engineering oriented toys that weren’t specifically boy-typed, and didn’t come up with a whole lot more than what’s already been mentioned. The other other thing I can think of are some computer games that encourage the creation of mods–a friend of mine got in some early computer graphics skills by creating skins and whatnot for games like The Sims and Creatures.

    The availability of photo and video editing technology and internet distribution platforms has done a lot for the promotion of technologically creative projects by women, but I still think that that’s something that women and girls find more by accident and on their own rather than having it handed to them as toddlers. I can’t think of many young age bracket toys for girls that promote technical interests. (Although, the last time I was in a toy store, the biggest science kit box had a picture of a little black girl front and centre, and it was cheesy and commercially-motivated, but it made me smile. Especially after the WALL O’ PINK that was the doll aisle.)

  13. Comrade PhysioProf
    Comrade PhysioProf September 23, 2009 at 8:36 am |

    Shrinky Dinks?

  14. Monica Marlo
    Monica Marlo September 23, 2009 at 9:50 am |

    Arthur C. Clarke would be so proud of us discussing this! :)

  15. chocolatepie
    chocolatepie September 23, 2009 at 9:54 am |

    Young girls use computers. I don’t see any playing video games. I wonder is this because of a lack of interest or there are no video games geared to girls?

    I was interested in computers from a very young age, but we couldn’t afford one until we received a second-hand one as a gift when I was 10 or 11. I quickly became the primary tech, and have remained so to this day. Interesting fact: my dad is the technologically-handicapped member of our household.

    And I call shenanigans on no girls playing video games. It all depends on your social circle. I and ALL of my female friends play video games. I begged for a Super Nintendo but my mom thought I’d never leave the house if I had one, but come 1996, there was one waiting under the Christmas tree. I’m only a casual gamer, but I do enjoy video games a lot, and many a college evening was spent with beers, takeout, and the Playstation.

  16. chocolatepie
    chocolatepie September 23, 2009 at 9:55 am |

    Young girls use computers. I don’t see any playing video games. I wonder is this because of a lack of interest or there are no video games geared to girls?

    I was interested in computers from a very young age, but we couldn’t afford one until we received a second-hand one as a gift when I was 10 or 11. I quickly became the primary tech, and have remained so to this day. Interesting fact: my dad is the technologically-handicapped member of our household.

    And I call shenanigans on no girls playing video games. It all depends on your social circle. I and ALL of my female friends play video games. I begged for a Super Nintendo but my mom thought I’d never leave the house if I had one, but come 1996, there was one waiting under the Christmas tree. I’m only a casual gamer, but I do enjoy video games a lot, and many a college evening was spent with beers, takeout, and the Playstation.

    That being said, I’m an only child, so I didn’t even have a young male influence to “make” me be interested in stuff like that other than my male friends.

  17. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan September 23, 2009 at 10:48 am |

    For me, it’s how my brain works. I’m highly visual-spatial, which is about as useless as it gets in front of the computer screen.

    I’m pretty visual-spatial too, but I have a fine time with computers. I think a lot of it comes down to this idea my dad likes to talk about, with “digital natives” vs. “digital (immigrants, I think is the other one?)” If you grow up with this stuff, even without formal computer/tech education you have a much better grasp of how to use it and what to do with it than people who didn’t have that kind of immersive upbringing. I don’t own an iPhone or even a particularly fancy phone, but if you handed me one I’ll bet I could figure it out a lot faster than most older people might, just ’cause I’ve been around them and seen peers using them and the technology seems very familiar.

    Also, I second the “girls DO play video games!” sentiment! I mostly play computer games, and not often online (the assholes who do all that Xbox live/Halo crap are toxic little bastards so I avoid the hell out of them.) Both my little sisters love to play games as well. I would argue that girls aren’t perceived as gaming because there aren’t huge advertising campaigns aimed at the public talking about girls gaming (like there are with boys and men) and that girls and women are less likely to be indulged if they want to play for extended/uninterrupted periods of time — female students know they can’t just screw off and play GTA all day like their male counterparts often do.

  18. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan September 23, 2009 at 10:50 am |

    So what we’re saying is that ‘girl’ toys are actually more technologically advanced than ‘boy’ toys? :D

    Sufficiently sophisticated, clever and complex men are virtually indistinguishable from women. :D

  19. AJD
    AJD September 23, 2009 at 11:04 am |


    Simon doesn’t seem gendered… except that it’s called “Simon” (and not, I dunno, “Jeanette”).

  20. Aja
    Aja September 23, 2009 at 11:38 am |

    Sort of off-topic, but when I was a kid, my EBO was a really ugly orange color, now they’re pink. I also had a kitchen playset, which was some crazy mustard yellow color. Now, I see that a lot of those are pink too. I had a lot of toys that were the kid version of grown up things, and they were all very basic, orange, red, white, etc, and at the time, didn’t seem to be marketed to any particular gender.

    Now, it seems that whatever girls get is painted pink, so that things that would otherwise be neutral are now “for girls”. (And I’m not arguing that kitchen playsets and EBOs aren’t gendered, just that now there seems to be a particular push to let consumers know exactly how gendered they are, if that makes sense.)

  21. Rhiannon
    Rhiannon September 23, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    I had a Teddy Ruxbin… it was pretty neat and obviously techy, I mean you could hear the little gizmo’s and whatnot whirring as it moved and talked so, not much hiding that. Don’t remember what the ads were like or if it was gendered.

  22. Twyst
    Twyst September 23, 2009 at 11:57 am |

    Rock Polisher/Tumbler!

    Legos! Mechanic! Tinker Toys! umm… that is all i got off the top.

  23. fresca
    fresca September 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm |

    I spent my early childhood in the south, and at the time my father was a reporter for a local news station. He’d take me to work with him, and I was totally wide eyed and facinated with the teletype machines (yeah, I’m that old), the reel-to-reel video decks, and all the “high-tech” goodness of a mid to late 1970’s television studio. One of my early memories is dad bringing home a big cardboard box which I combined with some empty tape reels and a magic marker to make my very first “computer”. Strangely enough, I work as a sysadmin now. Thanks, mom and dad, for letting me choose my own toys, and letting my tomboy flag fly proudly…

    And, as a tomboy, I did play with a lot of boy toys, but there were a few I remember that could be considered neutral – Viewmaster, Lite Brite, and, while not really a toy, my beloved Commodore Vic-20 computer I bought after enduring a heinous summer of babysitting :-)

  24. PLWH
    PLWH September 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm |

    Lincoln Logs… and I think if the girl is really interested in and curious about the inner workings of her toys, she’ll try to explore it and see whats up with it. Like when it finally breaks. Also, parents are a factorr in determining what a child has and what toys they play with. If the parents feed into that crap, it falls on them and it’s not the toy manufacturers. They’re business is to sell sell…

  25. Maladydee
    Maladydee September 24, 2009 at 2:48 am |

    I always tried to figure out how the ‘magic’ worked, like feeling around for the battery pack inside the doll, and such. I remember this one ‘tea party’ set my sister and i had, with biscuits and cups that would change colour in warm water, so it looked like you had tea in the cup and jam on the fake plastic biscuit, and I remember playing around with that trying to see if it was just warm water that did it, or if cold water would work, and eventually finding out that it changed colour with warm hands. Same thing with mood rings.

    For gender-neutral toys, my sister and I would order stuff from the scholastic book-order forms our school handed out once a month, and we would always try to get the science-y toys when we could, like dinosaur models and this neat paper that changed colour when you exposed it to light, so you would put things like leaves or rocks and stuff on top of it, and it would leave the shape of the shadows on the paper. None of that stuff seemed very gendered to either of us, but it could be because it wasn’t really marketed, aside from being in the catalog. Also, we are in Canada, and I recall that around that time folks really had their radar on for stuff like treating girls differently in schools, so that probably factored in to how the scholastic folks marketed their stuff.

  26. Dyssonance
    Dyssonance September 24, 2009 at 5:04 am |

    I’m going to go at it from a different angle, if you all will tolerate me for a few moments of time.

    When I was a little girl, I was treated like a boy — and sorta kinda punished for not being such. But then, hey — they didn’t know any better (not htat anyone does now, either).

    SO for me, I saw that I was supposed to want the techy toys, but I wanted the magic. Because magic was always much cooler to me.

    SO I cheated as best I could: When I got the GI Joes, I enjoyed fantasies with them — usually involving feats of impossibility without magic. Like riding a motorcycle off a building scaled about 35 stories high.

    Mostly, however, I played with Lego’s, and did as I was bid, while wishing every night to wake up and have them be all the more enjoyable for the girlishness of them.

    I always wanted an easy bake oven. I settled for a not so easy bake one and a cookbook. One of the best presents ever.

    Life as a transgal — you spend a lot of time looking in and seeing it, and wishing that it could be you. And by the time you could enjoy it, the days of it have passed you by.

  27. Jackie
    Jackie September 25, 2009 at 1:28 am |

    I’ve heard that the “Magical Girl Hero” is a trope in a good deal of Japanese Anime aimed at kids. The characters fly around with a wand, and hit bad guys with the wand. I don’t know what to make of it, but at least it’s doing more than sitting around being a Disney Princess.

    I think Nintendo has done a decent job of marketing video games to women. Sure, they do offer pink as the main girl color system. However, they have a variety of games aimed at women, not just marketing to them with something mainstream or generic.

    I was really angry over PSPs patronizing ads for Hannah Montanna, first the ad says in huge text “Girlz Game Too!” like, no kidding! We needed PSP to tell us that? You know Nintendo has numerous ads showing women, not just girls, but women playing their games. Leaving that to make a statement on it’s own, without having to lower themselves to “OMG Girlz Play Video Gamez!” type of advertising.

    Secondly, they had a lavender console that went with the game. Now, lavender is my favorite color. Shallow as it may be of a reason, I almost was going to buy a PSP just for the color. I know I know, maybe after thinking about it, I’d look at the games and then decide if I really wanted the system. Well, turns out you only get the lavender system if you buy the Hannah Montanna game. So what does this say to me? It says:

    “We at Playstation know that only a few girls play video games, and those girls are between the ages of 10 and 13. We’re offering them this game only for the holidays, and then will forget those female gamers for the rest of the year until the next holiday season. Where we will again try to sell them some novelty game based on whatever is generally popular with girls, because we know all girls follow trends, and only weird girls would not care about trends.”

    Yeah, I was so in a rant about this with a guy, who wondered why Nintendo wouldn’t sell it’s licensed games like Mario and Zelda to other game companies. I told them that Nintendo is superior to those other companies, because they take the female gaming market seriously. They wouldn’t try to pander to them with a Hannah Montanna type of game, whenever the holidays come around. They understand that female gamers are just as unique as male gamers, and have a variety of interests. That this is true generally for gamers, and Nintendo is superior to other companies who keep putting out cookie-cutter games.

    So what I really was saying, is that Nintendo laughed at his suggestion to port their games to other systems, because they put in the time and effort to create unique and engaging games that appeal to everyone. Why should they be giving a handout to game companies who still believe their main market is male gamers. They’re smart for saying, those companies should learn how to swim in the competition by themselves. If they’re getting steamrolled by Nintendo, it’s for a reason.

    I hope that wasn’t too off-topic. I mean, it does deal with women and technology. I just get so rambly when it comes to women and gaming, cause I’ve been gaming since the 80’s and still run into the same type of crap sexist thinking that exsisted back then. “Oh girls only play cute games made for kids. They don’t require any skill” or “LoL, like a girl could ever beat a guy in a game”

    I now only buy Nintendo products, because Nintendo is the only company that has had the good sense to take gamers that fall outside of the assumed male-only market and take their desires for what they want in a game seriously.

    As far as colors go, I’ve noticed pink is going out, and lavender or light purple has become the new girl color. I mean between the PSP and an ad I saw for a Shark cleaning appliance that came in a lavender sort of color. So I don’t know if this is companies trying to appeal to a new generation of women, by moving away from a color that is identified with negative stereotyping of women and girls.

    When I was a girl I never played with dolls, well that’s not entirely true. I did have a few Barbie video games or computer games. Yes, I will claim, “It was the 80’s!” on this one lol.

    I’m wondering what you think of the Disney Fairies and Pixie Hollow. It does play into the magic for girls trope, but I think it gives an alternative for girls who want to do things and help others, rather than sit around and be pretty like a Disney princess. Not that Disney princesses aren’t helpful, but for the most part they do play into major female stereotypes. Most notably, “The entire world will end unless I get my prince!” one.

    I really like how they created Fawn as the animal talent fairy. They did a really great job of having her behave genuinely tomboyish. They even had her say at one point during the Tinkerbell movie, “Well, duh!” with such a sarcastic tone. I was like, “OMG, that’s so me…uh when I was 13″ LoL

    So I see things moving forward in a lot of ways regarding how companies regard women. Maybe in some cases it is two steps forward and one step back. However, there are plenty of things targeted at girls, that I would’ve really appreciated when I was growing up. I think the only tomboyish female character I can think of from 80’s cartoons was Rainbow Brite. Which according to Playmates Toys they’re planning to bring back. Hopefully they won’t change it too much.

    The new Strawberry Shortcake shows are really good, even though yes, lots of pink. I’m not too fond of The New Care Bears, although I’ve heard that they’ve changed the focus on the show to be more about the Care Bears helping children like in the original, which really was the most inspiring part of the show. Really, I only liked Care Bears because of Beastly, which I’ve discovered that the series of Care Bears which had him in it were re-released by Lion Gates in 94 I think.

    I also wanted to point out, that one of the most notable things about Nintendo concerning their view of women, is that the leader of the Mushroom Kingdom is a princess. They’ve had Peach become less of a “save me Mario!” type and more in charge. In the most recent Mario & Luigi game, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. After Mario defeats Bowser in the castle, Peach uses some form of telekinesis where she points at Bowser, then quickly moves her hand to the right and throws him out of the building! I really was impressed by that, especially given all the trouble Bowser has caused Peach since well..forever.

    However, that does also play into the magical girl stereotype, doesn’t it?

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