A recent trend shows some toy manufacturers following along with the social and political issues regarding gender. Gender is, in fact, a linguistic issue. Words are either masculine, feminine, or neuter. This isn’t as big an issue in English as it is in some other languages, but consider the pronouns he, she, and it. When referring to people, though, gender has traditionally just meant sex — male or female. However, some see biological sex and gender identity as two separate issues and don’t believe that gender is set in stone. For them, children born male can be girls if they feel like it and vice versa, and that’s assuming they stick to the traditional two genders. Seemingly on the bandwagon already, Mattel, producer of the iconic Barbie line of dolls, has launched a genderless toy that can morph into male or female with a supplied set of accessories. Hasbro recently introduced Ms. Monopoly, a game in which women make more money than men. Under pressure, the country of France has announced a gender-related “charter of voluntary commitments” for toy manufacturers and retailers to follow.
French Toy Departments
French officials claim that gendered toys – the Barbie series, Ken and Skipper, G.I. Joe action figures, science kits, and kitchen play sets – cause pain and suffering to the children who receive them. France has established guidelines on how to market, advertise, and display toys, as well as helping consumers find the best toy without attaching gender labels. Sales associates are now asked to inquire the child’s age – not preference or gender.
Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s secretary of state for economy and finance, spoke with the media and claimed that science-themed games and toys usually target boys while advertisers drive the sales of trinkets and domestic-themed products to girls – which results in “excluding” both.
In early September, the Ms. Monopoly board game hit store shelves intending to give girls and women a head start over boys and men. In the classic Monopoly game, each player was allowed the same starting bank and the same chances of receiving a windfall of cash or risk of financial punishment. The game did not have different rules for each gender.
Ms. Monopoly altered both the rules and added financial advantages for females only:
- Female players get a starting bank of $1,900 compared with $1,500 for male players.
- Girls also get $240 each time they pass “Go” on the board, while boys get just $200.
- Instead of acquiring property, the winner will have invested in female entrepreneurs.
Critics of the new version of Monopoly claim that the game sends the message that girls and women cannot get ahead on their own merits and must receive subsidies to level the playing field. Christine Sypnowich, feminist scholar and head of the philosophy department at Queens College, advised, “It’s unhelpful to portray women as needing special advantages. What women need is to be treated as equals with respect.”
Gender Neutral Doll
Mattel rolled out a gender-fluid doll this past week, which allows children to style the doll according to any gender expression, or to have it remain gender-neutral. The company’s iconic Barbie doll has often been criticized for promoting an unrealistic ideal for girls, but supporters say the doll has always been about promoting the idea that women can be anything they dream of being. In the late 1960s, Barbie was an astronaut and then, apparently, the sky was the limit. Barbie introduced to young girls over 180 careers, including scientist, first responder, physician, game developer, and yes, president. Creator Ruth Handler said, “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, a little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”
This new line of dolls presents more choices for children, but will the trend end as swiftly as it began? Perhaps toymakers will simply revert to what sells and not what social issues dominate the front pages of the global news. Only time will tell.