Sometimes I Really Hate Advertising

A friend of mine just sent me an email she got from Ebates.

[Text: Boy's Shoes. Keep Them Active. Make sure your boys is comfortable for all of his activities, indoors and out.]

[Text: Girl's Shoes. Show Them Off. From the school yard to the birthday party, find the perfect pair for activities and comfort.]

I am doing my best to raise my children in an egalitarian way, but I often feel like I am swimming upstream. I mean, really? Really? Boys shoes: “Keep Them Active.” Girl’s shoes:  “Show Them Off.” Do advertisers not realize what sort of messages this kind of thing sends? And really? Did they have to mention parties in the ad for girls’ shoes?

Some people insist that boys and girls are really innately completely different. Do you know what I want to say to those people? Let’s try actually raising children in a gender neutral fashion and then we’ll see if that’s so. Because until then, all I see is advertising and popular culture and societal messages yelling at boys and girls “you’re different! you so are! you over there with penises, you like sports and guns! really! and you over there without penises, you like dolls and parties and clothes! we promise!” As long as children are bombarded with this sort of messaging, how are we supposed to have any idea what’s nature and what’s nurture? And beyond that, children’s brains are still developing! These sorts of messages are literally shaping their brains.

I have to say, there are moments I want to go off the grid and raise my children in complete isolation. Those moments generally occur when I’m standing in a box store looking at the children’s toy aisles. Pink, pink, barbies, pink, purple, baby dolls, purple, purple, doll houses, purple, pink. Blue, grey, guns, green, grey, Star Wars, grey, black, legos, grey, green. I struggle to even find gender neutral bike helmets! Bike helmets!

Or maybe I should just move to Sweden, where toy companies are deliberately working to challenge gender stereotyping in their toy catalogs – sometimes even swapping the genders completely.


In case you’re wondering, American conservatives aren’t too happy about this sort of thing. Here’s how Focus on the Family responded to Sweden’s gender swapping catalogs:

Whatever the motivation, Glenn Stanton, director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, believes the idea that kids are born into this world genderless is “laughable.”

“Gender is not a cultural construct; it’s hard-wired,” he said. “This is an old, failed experiment rooted in ideology.”

Okay then, Glenn Stanton. If boys are born hardwired to like guns and girls are born hardwired to like dolls, hows about we stop telling them what they’re supposed to like or not like and just let nature take its course? No? I thought not.

But seriously. I am so freaking tired of advertising telling boys they’re supposed to be physically active and telling girls that they’re supposed to like parties and showing off their looks. Enough already.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Sam

    Glenn Stanton needs to spend five minutes in the toy department at Target and then try saying that gender roles are hard-wired. I was shopping for Christmas presents for my nieces, and it was literally the “Pink aisles” and the “Earth tones aisles”. It upset me enough to write a similar blog post.

  • Ruby Leigh

    I totally agree with what you are saying here.
    However, I’m pretty sure those first two ads are not from Amazon , might just want to be careful. Amazon is probably capable of such things… but it looks like those specific ads are from ebates (might be off though).

    • Libby Anne

      It said Ebates Amazon, and the link goes straight to Amazon, so I naturally assumed that Ebates is a coupon service run by Amazon. Am I wrong? I’m happy to amend it if so. I hadn’t heard of Ebates until my friend forwarded me the email she had received.

  • vianne

    Yes, the e-mail is from Ebates*; I received it this morning as well. I was utterly appalled & fuming mad. So glad to see this post, and I completely agree with you!

    *{Ebates is a site which offers a certain percentage cash-back if you shop through their links to various stores.}

    • Libby Anne

      Fixed. Thanks!

  • Malitia

    My experiences are not universal (I was child in Interesting Times both personally and historically (the Iron Curtain fell when I was 9 and I happened to live on the eastern side)) but my almost perfectly gender blind upbringing resulted me becoming well… a female geek (tabletop role-player, comicbook nerd, retro gamer, etc.). :D

  • Jayn

    I want to introduce Stanton to my 3-year-old niece so she can proudly show off her motorcycle shirt. She still likes some of the typical girl stuff (although her sister is really into princesses and fairies) but is also rather into cars and bikes.

    For me the double standards had an interesting effect–I felt I had to do everything. I needed to do girl things because I was a girl, but I also needed to do boy things because boys were better and I wanted to be the best person I could be. As an adult I’ve wound up with an interesting blend of ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ hobbies, which explains the crochet Mario baddies lurking in our apartment.

    • Christine

      Did you know that there’s a pattern available to crochet a companion cube?

      • Jayn

        Yup. And Pokemon, cthulu, Mass Effect characters, I even found a rather large one for a Lego minifig with moveable arms.

    • Karen

      Stanton would hate both my sons, whose best friends are girls, and he would really, really hate my 11-year-old, whose favorite TV show is My Little Pony.

      • Niemand

        OTOH, I’m pretty sure my daughter would like them both.

      • Anonymous

        To be fair, boys and men who like My Little Pony are not quite as unusual nowadays as they used to be. All thanks to this great person.

        Well, okay, her and the whole Studio B crew, who all universally kick ass. But Lauren was arguably the driving force.

      • Karen

        Thanks for the information on Lauren Faust. I’m sure that’s why Aaron follows the show, as he intends to be an animator when he grows up.

      • Anonymous

        That could quite possibly be one of the reasons (of course, it probably also helps that the show is genuinely witty and has likeable characters). Friendship is Magic is one of the most gorgeously animated Flash cartoons ever, and I say that without any sarcasm whatsoever. If you ever happen to catch an episode, pay attention to the little details of the animation – walk cycles, facial expressions (which, in particular, are a goldmine for funny screencaps), even just little throwaway movements; it can be amazing to see the results of the production crew’s attention to detail.

        Just one random example of the show’s smooth animation:

      • Anonymous

        …right, so apparently images can’t be embedded in the comments. Here it is.

      • reynard61

        Well he’d really, really, *REALLY* hate me then because I’m a 51-year-old man who builds plastic scale model kits, has ridden a motorcycle, listens to Classical Music, dabbles in computers, *and* not only loves MLP:FiM; but has decided to worship Celestia and Luna as personal deities because the mythology behind those two characters makes more sense to me than the mythology behind Christianity.

        Haters gonna hate, but Ponies gonna PWN!

  • ki sarita

    I don’t mind color gender differentiation if it is limited to that. It doesn’t interfere with the kid’s development and interests.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      …but it trains children to perceive certain toys as being for a specific gender.

      • ki sarita

        true. you don’t often find pink guns being sold. (although I’m against toy guns in general, just using this as an example).

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Modded Nerf guns are fun for all ages!

  • Niemand

    I’m always particularly amused by the quasi-scientific claim that a preference for pink is “hard wired” into women. There are all sorts of articles about women seeing pink better than men and yada yada…

    But there’s one problem. The “pink for girls” meme is extremely new. In fact, originally pink was considered the color for boys: A mild softening of the masculine color red, suitable for a boy. Blue was a girl thing, associated with the Virgin Mary. The switch happened, more or less accidentally, when the fashion for color coding infants and small children passed from France to England.

    There’s nothing particularly “natural” about girls preferring pink, except insofar as adjusting to one’s culture and following its rules is very natural for a highly social species.

    • E

      I will never get tired of seeing those Swedish ads. They’re terrific.

      • E

        Shoot, how did this get posted up here. Sorry; it was meant to be its own comment.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Don’t forget ‘breeching’ for boys at a certain age. Before that point, all genders wore dresses!

      • Niemand

        And men used to wear “dresses” (togas). There’s nothing particularly masculine about having cloth around your legs.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I adored pink when I was very little but now I far prefer colors like green and blue. (I am a redhead and they look good on me.) Did I lose my ability to see pink or am I just slowly turning into a man?

      But yeah, this kind of evo psych bullshit that utterly ignores any kind of historical or cultural context is everywhere. I’ve also seen claims that blond hair is the beauty ideal for women because lighter hair is correlated with youth and so men subconsciously see lighter-haired women as fertile baby-mamas. Leaving aside all the other many problems with this idea, all you need to do is go back about a 100 years to when every young woman aspired to look like the dark-haired “Gibson girl,” who was held up as the female ideal of beauty. Of course, that would require actually caring about history and, in general, thinking that the humanities might have something of value to say about humanity, which is not something that’s going to happen among evo psych types any time soon.

      • Leigha

        I’m the exact opposite–I strongly disliked pink as a kid, all the more so because I was “supposed” to like it because I was a girl, but I started liking it as I got older because I learned it’s by far the best-looking color on me. I figured I might as well learn to like it.

        And all of that has a bit of a “we have always been at war with Eastasia” kind of feel to it, doesn’t it? “We have always liked our girls blonde, skinny, voluptuous, and wearing pink.” Yep, that’s why there are old ads telling girls to buy products to fill them out so they won’t be so gross and skinny!

    • Andrew Ryan’s Caddy

      It’s funny how the things that are considered absolutely hardwired and universal for men and women change according to the time and culture. There’s a hilarious part in Medea where Jason complains bitterly that all women care about is sex.

  • Arachobia

    While these are from Ebates, Amzaon itself is pretty much the same (Pink, purple and dollies for girls,; blues, greens, earth tones, lego, star wars for boys)…

    In general, toy companies and advertisers that mix this formula up tend to be minor exceptions. Most of the time, their attempts to justify this are circular arguments at best…

  • Beth

    It seems to me that gender differences are both innate and culturally conditioned. For example, it’s a fact that men are taller than women on average. That’s a gender I don’t think that can be considered due to cultural expectations. I suspect that there are other innate gender differences but I think that cultural conditioning is the major driver on aspects like color preferences. The ebate ads are simply echoing (as well as reinforcing) our cultural expectations about boys and girls, whether those differences are innate or not.

    Interestingly, I think that gender differences in children’s toys are more emphasized today that was the case back in the 60′s when I was growing up.

    • jose

      That’s a sex-based difference, not a gender difference. Haircuts are a gender difference, and clothing and favorite TV shows. Don’t mix them up.

      • Beth

        I’m sorry, but I’m not sure what difference you are referring to for this context. Could you explain please?

      • sidhe3141

        Beth: To put it in really oversimplified terms:
        Sex is what’s between your legs. Gender is what’s in your head.

    • Nicole Youngman

      Hi Beth–social scientists make a clear distinction between “sex” and “gender.” Sex is strictly biological–almost everyone has bodies that are very clearly male or female along with the accompanying hormones, etc. Gender is the way we’re *taught* to behave according to the sex of our bodies–girls are supposed to love pink and Barbies, boys are supposed to love camo and guns, etc. Gender roles are *completely made up* by societies while sex is something evolution came up with as a really great reproductive strategy.

      • Beth

        Thanks for the explanation.

      • Borealis

        Is it that clear to social scientists though? There are so many different ways of trying to talk about these things; I have a hard time seeing any of them as conclusive because there just seem to be too many different concepts being juggled for the number of words we have to label them. Which definitions get used tends to depend on the needs of the particular group trying to talk about them.

        Everyone’s dismissing Beth’s usage, and I agree that it’s imprecise, but how exactly should she have said it? I think the word she is looking for is something like “what it is to be a cisgendered man/boy or woman/girl in any given social context”–something that encompasses both the biological and the social. And we really could benefit from having a word that means that. If gendered traits originate, by definition, in socialization and sexual traits in biology, then its very difficult to talk about traits that seem to line up with people of a particular sex+gender without claiming to know their origins. And what if a trait arises from a complex interaction of biological differences and cultural ones? We would really benefit from a less precise term that would allow us to talk about these things without taking a position in the nature vs. nurture argument (especially since the answer to that question seems so often and in so many contexts to be “both”). There are good reasons not to use “gender” as that term, but it’s the closest thing we have, as far as I know, so it’s really hard to avoid.

        The second problem with this definition is that it leaves out the experience of trans people. Trans people have a gender identity that does not line up with the socialization they have received, so for them at least, gender must be distinct both from socialization and at least the most outward and obvious aspects of biological sex (though how they express that gender identity is certainly highly culturally influenced).

        The distinction that I tend to make is that gender is psychosocial and sex is physiological and hormonal (so yes, between the legs but also, perhaps, in the brain). “Gender Identity” is then either completely distinct from either sex or gender, or is an aspect (or suite of aspects) of physical sex which can be aligned with more obvious sexual characteristics in a variety of ways.

      • jose

        if their identity explicitly involves stuff like long hair, eye shadow, breast implants or lipstick, then they are just as mistaken as those who say women are hardwired for cooking and cleaning.

        These are women.

  • Jen Eash

    I love those ads from Sweden! I wish they were the same here. Another thing that we’ve found in our house is the fact that our daughter absolutely hates pink and purple. Hannah wears mostly boy clothes because the girls clothes departments are like an explosion of pink, purple, bows, and obnoxious sayings like “I’m a spoiled princess!”

    She does like to play with “traditionally girl” toys, such as dolls and teasets. We did find her some primary-colored dishes and play food, which she loves. She’s dressed any dolls she has in my son’s old baby clothes because we can’t find any boy clothes for dolls anywhere (at least, not anywhere close and affordable!). She also treats her Spider-man, Captain America, and Ironman action figures as her babies–I would love to buy her some of the cool cribs and stuff for her babies, but you can’t find a play nursery anywhere without pink (again, I’m sure you could special-order something, but I’m taking about just your average Wal-mart or Toys R US). It would be great if stores would just sell some gender-neutral colored “girls” toys, but I guess those just don’t sell.

    And even as I’m typing this, my son is reading over my shoulder and saying “but that’s how it’s supposed to be! Hannah is wrong! She’s supposed to like pink and purple and wear girly things. Girls aren’t allowed to like Spider-man.” But what about girls who do like Spider-Man???

    • The_L

      As a little girl, I played with My Little Ponies, Matchbox cars, Lego blocks, stuffed animals of all kinds, Play-Doh, and superhero action figures.

      With the exception of the ponies and stuffed animals, I never got any of the toys I actually liked as gifts from even my own parents. I got Barbie. I hated Barbie. The other toys were all my brother’s, and he always got more of them at birthdays and Christmas.

      The fact that I played with his toys more often than I played with my own may not have occurred to other relatives who didn’t see me as often, but you’d think that my own parents would have noticed. And they never did. Your daughter is so very lucky to have parents who notice and care that she doesn’t exclusively go for stereotypically “girly” colors and toys, even if Spider-man has become her “baby.” :)

      Also, some of those annoyingly-pink toys can be rather easily spray-painted. Then Hannah will have a toy that’s unique–because nobody else will have a toy just like hers. Boy clothes for dolls can be found on Etsy, and if you know where to look, patterns aren’t too hard to come by to make your own. :) If you have a crafty bent, it’s easier to accommodate the non-traditional youngster. Or you could go on eBay and search for “fits Bitty Twin” if your dolls are 15″ baby dolls–the “Bitty Twins” are 15″ dolls, one male, one female, and a lot of the “boy” outfits are pretty gender-neutral!

      • Christine

        I thought that using baby clothes for dolls was pretty normal. I mean, you don’t get really boy or girl choices unless it’s a big doll (it’s all pretty much just baby), but they’re often cheaper than doll clothes.

      • The_L

        Christine: How big are the dolls you guys had?! None of the dolls I had as a kid were big enough to wear clothes that an actual baby wore, unless you altered them (which my parents would have refused to do).

  • Christine

    The reason that stores market that way is because it works. Girls do prefer pink. Why? Because they’re told that they’re supposed to. So they develop a very real preference for it. I don’t like that they market like that, but I can see why they do it. I, obviously, try to support products that don’t market pink/blue/gender-neutral options, but that’s not always possible. What really ticks me off is that a lot of pink toys are objectively not as good. If the “boy” version is in rainbow colours, and the “girl” version is in different shades of pink, girls are having an inferior product marketed to them.

    • Anat

      But before girls were told they were supposed to like pink they didn’t. The color coding isn’t that old and wasn’t as blatant just a few generations back.

      • Christine

        It wasn’t as blatant even one generation back. The fact that everyone gets ultrasounds is a mixed blessing. While you’re there, you might as well ask the sex. You have to deliberately not find out. And marketers took advantage of that. It’s perfectly normal to gender everything your child owns before they’re born. A cousin explained that they registered for the big items so that they could be used again, as if there was nothing insane about deciding that you were going to buy all new clothes for the second baby if the sex didn’t match.

        I see nothing wrong (although I understand that many people do) with declaring that my child is a girl. But all that means is that I’m still comfortable putting her in dresses (even though she’s a toddler now), and there’s a lot more nooks and crannies to clean when I change her diaper. I wish people would stop gendering babies and toddlers.

    • Carys Birch

      Among my friends in elementary school, I was ridiculed for liking pink. Because BLUE was obviously the superior color, for everyone. It seems obvious, looking back, that the group of girls I associated with picked up on the fact that boys were treated better than we were, and were trying to adjust their preferences/behavior to get into the “in” group.

      Whereas I, habitual nonconformist that I am, insisted on liking what I LIKE, rather than what I’m supposed to like. And what I like are warm colors, always have. Pink is good, red is better, blue is… meh.

  • Sam

    I was watching It’s a Wonderful Life this Christmas, like I do every year. At one point, Tommy, George and Mary’s son, is in the background playing with a toy vacuum cleaner. And this was 1946!!! I feel like a lot of parents wouldn’t “let” their son play with items that simulate housework, even though Tommy was clearly having a blast.

  • Nicole Youngman

    I am so with you on this one–I have a long-haired 9yr old boy and this stuff has driven me crazy since I was pregnant (well, since before then really as I’ve pretty much always been a feminist, but once you have kid(s) of your own it’s even more annoying). A few years back when he was about to start kindergarten we went shopping for a new backpack and he fell in love with a shiny satin-blue one with Tinkerbell on it–her eyes opened and closed, etc. We let him get it, thinking that hey, he’s 5 and his school is pretty progressive, who will care? Hoo boy were we wrong–the kids gave him shit about it from day one. He wanted to keep it for a while, but eventually it was too hard even though his (female) teacher was super-supportive, and he asked for a Spider-Man backpack instead. Since then we’ve told him that “some people believe in girl-things and boy-things, but Daddy and I don’t, and it’s up to you to decide what you like or don’t like.” So we try to let him negotiate gender-role stuff however he feels comfortable. Here’s another toy-advertising example that I use in the sociology classes I teach–exact same toy, marketed in very different ways:



    • Libby Anne

      Just watched the videos. Oh. My. Word. No. Just, no. I feel like I need to go watch G.I. Jane now or something!

    • cjmr

      My kids (1 boy, 2 girls) have Zhu Zhu pets but with NO accessories. They all play the demolition derby “boy” version of ZhuZhu play. I don’t think they’ve ever seen a commercial for them, though. We use our DVR to skip over the commercials in everything.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Those look like they would be played with a few days, TOPS, and then abandoned. They offer very limited play possibilities and require batteries, which is a big no in my toy buying book.

    • The_L

      That could not be more obviously the same toy. Both have spinning hamsters; both have costumes that you put on the hamsters.

      In the “boy” version, everything is dark colors, the spinning is “fighting,” and the costumes are battle sets.
      In the “girl” version, everything is pink, the spinning is “dancing,” and the costumes are fantasy ballroom attire.

      Seriously, I’m not seeing any non-cosmetic differences here. I’m also not seeing anything about this toy that I would have wanted to play with when I was a kid. You can’t have much of an adventure when the toy is on a track–the only good toy-on-a-track fun you can have is setting up your Hot Wheels to crash as spectacularly as possible.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Love the red kitchen! I would totes get that for my future child. My husband thinks that it would be reinforcing gender roles, but I told him that boys like playing house too.

    I think the most gender neutral parents I’ve ever met are in the SCA. Lots of female fighters who go head-to-head with males as there is no separation of gender in SCA combat. Some of them even win crown tourney! A close friend’s daughter loves her dolls as well as her shield and sword. Many men in the SCA also do sewing and other work that is considered feminine.

    • machintelligence

      I fear that it is now lost in the comment threads, but one commenter said that their daughter wanted to be a princess for Halloween, so they bought her a gown and tiara. She thought they were OK — but where were the weapons? You can’t be a princess without a sword or battle ax.

      • LadyCricket

        I want to be a princess too.

        Specifically, Princess Mononoke.

      • Hilary

        I tried to be Princess Eilonwy for Halloween once. The Prydain Chronicals, anyone?

        I loved Princess Nausicaa and Monoke. If you really want some amaizing Princess action, get the manga for Nausicaa, of the Valley of Wind. The anime is good for what it is, but the manga will blow you away.


  • luckyducky

    One of best parenting decisions we’ve made is to get rid of the television. The kids still watch videos on the computer so it isn’t as if they don’t see anything at all though we limit it to PBS as much as possible and the kids don’t see much in the way of ads and commercials. Though the paper inserts come weekly, the kids rarely see them before they hit the recycling. We shop mostly as a small neighborhood grocery store a friend owns (not supermarket but grocery store) and avoid big box stores like the plague, so the kids are largely unaware of the latest and greatest. They aren’t immune but it takes a lot of the pressure off both in terms of the rigid gender stereotyping but also consumerism.

  • Steve

    At least the shoes aren’t pink :)

    • Ibis3

      They have bows though.

    • Leigha

      No, but they look like Uggs (the go-to fashion for teen girls everywhere, for some reason), and they appear to be purple, the secondary “girl color” (though it’s hard to say, it may be grey). I don’t really understand why so many people have such an intense hatred of Uggs, but I do think it’s weird how they’ve become fashionable (they’re boots, and expensive and not overly practical ones at that) and that girls wear them year-round, even though you only need boots when it’s snowing or raining. Moreover, since they ARE so fashionable, I can’t help but think pushing them for young girls is part of the greater trend of trying to get young girls to care about and wear the same fashions as older girls. It’s one thing if they naturally want to emulate what they see their big sisters/cousins/neighbors/girls on TV wear, but I’m not fond of advertisers pushing for it.

      • Christine

        I don’t know about other people, but I have an intense dislike of anything that’s not very practical, and Uggs look so very uncomfortable (and not durable, although I think they’re more durable than they look) that it’s hard to not hate them.

  • Meyli

    I’m tired of this to.
    My boyfriend knits. He made himself and I mittens, which we wear all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’vehad to insist that YES he made them! NOT ME.
    I tried knitting – i’m not patient enough.

    • Uly

      Hilariously, knitting was originally considered a male pastime, something for fishermen to do as they whiled away the hours on their boats.

      • Christine

        I’d always heard it was controlled by the guilds. It paid too well for them to let women in on it.

  • Iris

    I didn’t read all the comments as I don’t have much time so apologies if this has been said before. I’d like to point out a couple of sentences:
    “you over there with penises, you like sports and guns! really! and you over there without penises, you like dolls and parties and clothes! we promise!”

    So girls are basically (lesser) boys, people without penises? And here I thought it should be “You over there with the vulvas*”
    Libby, did you phrase it like this on purpose? In case you did – anyone else noticed it?
    In case you didn’t I’m asking everybody to take a minute to think about this: Why are girls described by the lack of a penis (instead of having a vulva)? Why not the other way round?

    *Mostly. Not intentionally excluding intersex, transgender people etc. but it would get too confusing here

    • Noelle

      The clitoris is the female equivalent of the penis, biologically speaking. Vulva to scrotum. Ovaries to testes.

      Females don’t lack penes. They have the same thing, different size, called something different.

    • Libby Anne

      Yes, it was intentional. I paused there and thought about which to use. I went with lack of penises for two reasons – first, technically the clitoris is the equivalent of the penis, but everyone usually uses vagina when doing the contrast, and I didn’t want to have to decide which and either have people pointing out the anatomical incorrectness or risk confusing people if I went with clitoris (since the point here wasn’t to get into that), and second, I felt using lack of penises would just emphasize the very sexist nature of all of these messages. But I do think you’re the only one to pick that up and address it!

      • Rae

        I also think it’s a good way to put it in that often young girls in particular don’t really know what they have “down there”, just that they don’t have the part that boys have.

      • Leigha

        I noticed the way you worded it, and it made me realize how much less awkward it sounds to say someone has a penis than it does to say someone has a vagina. There’s something sort of cringe-inducing about using the word “vagina” in everyday language, yet “penis” gets tossed around fairly casually (at least among liberal young adults). That seems noteworthy to me as well. Why are girl parts so much more awkward to mention?

      • Iris

        (Ok, so I’m a bit late replying again…so what :P)

        @Libby You’re right that using clitoris would have been confusing – I didn’t think of the different parts in the biological way myself, obviously. Just goes to show people need to be taught proper anatomy & biology and to use the right terms. So, good choice of words :) although I think it is weird no one else pointed it out. But I have to admit, ever since I started regularly reading feminist blogs (Including yours. I love it) I have developed extremely heightened sensibilities towards sexist messages. A year ago I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed either.

        And I agree with Rae and Leigha – female anatomy is often left out, even when the parents have best intentions. I really can’t say my parents were prude and they answered all my questions truthfully no matter what or what age I was. Unfortunately they didn’t answer the questions I didn’t know to ask so I saw my “lady bits” for the first time when I was about 16 and it was actually quite a shock. The manly parts were just way more obvious.
        And yes, saying vagina or vulva instead of penis. I’m now training myself to use the former two as easily as the latter. (I’m from Austria, german-speaking. But it’s just as cringe-inducing here). I mean these are medical terms! Nothing wrong with them but I still have to somewhat force myself to say them (but it gets easier every time)

  • Lane Emerson

    It’s interesting how Stanton responds to the ads saying that “gender is hard-wired”. He doesn’t say “boys’ love of guns is hard-wired and girls’ love of dolls is hard-wired”, although that’s what he’s clearly implying. In his mind, culturally gendered preferences and actual gender identity are so inextricably linked that there’s no point in even delineating the difference. No one ever said anything about changing what gender these children identify as, and yet this is where his mind immediately jumps. This really demonstrates how deeply he is missing the point.

    As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that gender IS hard-wired. People are generally born with an innate sense of where they fit on the spectrum in terms of identifying as male/female. It just so happens that the hard-wired gender does not always match the genitalia. ;) Clearly that angle is not on Stanton’s radar…

    Also: “This is an old, failed experiment rooted in ideology.” Projection much?!?!

    • Anat

      Also the way gender is expressed is culture-dependent.

  • Shari

    My son was really into doll houses until he was probably about 7. He also played with tea sets and a few other girly toys. At the same time, he loved matchbox cars, castles, knights and dragons, so he was into a little of everything. When my daughter was little, she inherited “boy toys” because that was what we had. She was quite content playing with them, but she did play with them differently. For example, instead of having cars race or smash into each other, they would drive up to each other and say, “Let’s go to the mall!” I’m not making that up! I’ve never been a girly girl but she certainly is, at least in the appearance of things. She likes things pink and pretty, but she also likes hunting, fishing and (lately) playing video games that are very typically boy’s games like Halo and Assassin’s Creed. I’ve always just tried to teach my kids that neither boys or girls are “better” and there is no one way they are “supposed” to be. I hope I’ve done OK at it.

    • Andrew Ryan’s Caddy

      As a girl who loves AC to death and has plenty of girl friends who do too, I want to give your daughter a high five.

  • Korou

    Hi Iris – I think Libby phrased it like that not to be sexist herself, but to point out the sexism inherent in the ads.

  • Katherine A.

    This is like that post you made on the Vision Forum. The “beautiful girlhood v. courageous boyhood” post. CP catalogs that you mentioned have very gendered toys too. I believe that these mainstream ads are a reflection of what people are thinking. Ad-makers do whatever they think will make the most money and they comply with public demand. What needs to happen is that people need to start seeing that not all boys like weapons, cars, etc and that playing with “girl” things will not turn them gay; also not all girls are about barbies, dress-up etc. They need to see that their kids won’t be punished for their interests. They need to see not only is it valid for Billy to like trucks and Jenny to like tea parties but that it’s also equally valid for Johnny to like dolls and Molly to like toy guns. Then people will ask for different things. Like what happened with the Easy-Bake oven. The company saw there was a demand for a gender-neutral toy and they changed.

    • Ibis3

      Ad-makers do whatever they think will make the most money and they comply with public demand.

      I don’t think it is public demand, though. Maybe it’s just the people I happen to come in contact with, but every parent I’ve heard discuss this in the past couple of decades has been angry at the gender ghettoization of toys and clothes for kids. They don’t necessarily notice the advertising, but they sure notice the pink aisle.

      • Leigha

        I think it’s both. I don’t recall things being quite so sharply gendered when I was a little kid, 20 years ago. I had toy cooking stuff, but there were no pinks and purples (mostly reds and whites). My best friend had an entire toy kitchen, and again, it wasn’t pink. It was mostly realistic colored, except I think the sink and stuff were yellow. I had Barbies, but very few had pink or purple clothes. A lot had blue clothes. My bike helmet was white, with a penguin on it. I had a normal-colored baseball glove, white skates, basically everything was in realistic colors. Now it seems like not only are types of toys gender-specific (which was true before), but also all girls’ toys come in either pink, purple, or the occasional teal (or sparkly). And then there’s the boys’ and girls’ versions of things. If you walk down a toy aisle, you’ll see a toy in normal colors (say primary colors), and then next to it you’ll see the “girls’ version,” which naturally has a modified title to illustrate that the other toy is the basic one and this is the special girly one, and it’ll be in pinks and purples, maybe with some butterflies or something added in.

        Anyway, my point is, it’s circular. They make pink stuff, people buy pink stuff, so they make more pink stuff. At this point, nearly all the girls’ toys are pink, so nearly all the toys bought for girls (unless they specifically buy boys’ toys) are pink. So the companies make a lot of money off of pink, and make more. The problem is, as much as people complain about the pinkification, they still buy it (largely because, if they want to buy a doll, they have no choice). As long as they keep buying, retailers will keep selling.

        Also, when you said “every parent I’ve heard discuss this,” that demonstrates a strong bias. Parents who don’t care if all their daughters’ toys are pink likely aren’t discussing it.

  • Flora Kitty

    There is an excellent book related to this topic called “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. It is worth reading.

  • Karen

    Growing up, I loved Barbies, and I loved Greek and Roman mythology. My Barbies lived on Olympus, and were Hera, Artemis, and Athena. They wore toga-like garments (Mama could never quite figure out why her supply of dish towels kept disappearing), they went on hunts, they commanded armies.

    I couldn’t have “real” boy’s toys, but I discovered a good stick and a garbage can lid let me battle invisible enemies behind the woodpile where Mama couldn’t catch me at it.

    And oddly enough, I loved the color pink when I was a toddler; somewhere before age 10 or so that changed to an absolute hatred of it, and purple. We weren’t on amicable terms again until I hit my twenties.

    So I ultimately rebelled against all this girly-girl fostering by choosing engineering as a career. It wasn’t a bad choice, though I’ve moved on now. But at the time it devastated Mama, who was raising me to be her classic girl.

    • Kate

      You sound like you would have been fun to play Barbies with. Sometimes my burgeoning interest in ancient civilizations came into play with my Barbies: I “mummified” one with Kleenex and built a couple mausoleums out of Jenga blocks.

    • The_L

      I never thought of doing that, but then I never played with Barbies alone. Barbie was always forced on me, and I always “played with” Barbie with my mom or cousin. Mom always wanted to dress her up, or comb her hair. My cousin was my age, and wanted Barbie to do “teenage” things, but neither of us knew what teenagers did, really; so a lot of “Let’s go to the mall!”* or “Let’s look at boys!”** or “Let’s go to the beach and catch some sun!”***

      I just wanted to have adventures in exciting and exotic places, spontaneously develop awesome superpowers, and help some lost kids find their way home. But I was never really allowed to associate Barbie with any of those kinds of adventures, so I still can’t really bring myself to like her. She’s pretty and all, but no. (I also never had any of Barbie’s friends, or a Ken doll like my friends had. It was half-a-dozen of Barbie herself, and one Skipper whose head broke off after a couple months. This gave play sessions kind of a freaky clone feeling.)

      * When you don’t wear brand-name clothes, and your mom doesn’t go to toy stores much, there’s not much reason to like the mall as a kid.
      ** What, just look at boys? You mean the people who are just like me and do the same stuff I like to do, but have different plumbing? Bo-ring. Call me back when I hit puberty.
      *** I maintain that the sort of person who just lies there and gets a tan, but doesn’t bring a book or music, doesn’t play in the sand or water, and doesn’t look for seashells, may as well have stayed at home and gotten a tan there.

      • Anat

        My daughter had one or two Barbie-style dolls back in the day, she used it (them?) as the adult character in whatever story she had her toys play out – the mother, the teacher, the doctor, whatever.

      • Christine

        My mom enjoys basking in the sun (she does it in the middle of winter too, so I’m reluctant to call it tanning) anywhere, but she especially loves beaches, even though she just sits there. I don’t get it myself. (She normally does a little bit of swimming, but that’s incidental to her enjoyment of a nice sandy beach as a place to lie in the sun).

      • Leigha

        I always used mine to make up stories, and I used to get so annoyed anytime I played Barbies with anyone else (which, as an only child, wasn’t terribly often). They always did it wrong. They were all, “La la la I’m Barbie” and I was all, “Noooo, we’re playing boarding school/doctor/whatever and you’re supposed to be [insert complex task I wanted them to do here].” Usually I’d give up pretty quickly after that.

  • Rae

    I think another interesting thing about this is the way they constructed the sentences themselves – with the boys, it’s “keep them active” with the “them” to be kept active is implied to be the boys. But with the girls, the words are “show them off” with the implication that you’re showing off the shoes.

    • The_L

      Or are you showing off the girls? Either way, the girls are passive, rather than active.

      • Leigha

        That’s something I didn’t notice until I started reading Sociological Images, and now I see it EVERYWHERE and it annoys me. What annoys me even more is that if I try and point it out to someone else, they tend to look at me like I’m crazy and tell me to calm down, it’s no big deal.

        I hate being told to calm down. And it IS a big deal. It’s not a big deal in the way that starvation is a big deal, but it’s still important.

  • Kate Monster

    To me, one of the underlying problems that shows up every time there’s a conversation about gendered marketing is the way that it’s more or less considered socially “okay” for girls to like stereotypical “boy stuff”, but not the other way around. A girl who likes Legos or robots or paintball or the color blue? She’s cool! She might be called a tomboy, but there’s no real harsh judgement in the term nowadays in the general public–certainly not as much as the name calling that rains down on a little boy who expresses an interest in princesses or Easy Bake ovens or purple glitter. How many literary heroines of kids/YA books and media fall somewhere on the spectrum of “liking dude stuff”? How many of the villains of those same books were girly-girls, too obsessed with the traditional “girl stuff” (clothes, makeup, boys, gossip, cheerleading, etc) to be worth our interest? It’s not just that, socially, we tend to gender just about everything that’s marketed for kids. We gender those things, and then we say that one set of things is preferable. We praise girls for not wanting to be princesses and not wanting to be too “girly”. Even in the comments here, I see people talking about hating all the girly clothes/toys/stuff because it’s so pink and glittery and precocious, etc. People are proud when their daughters don’t “fall for all that”. Even as adults WHO KNOW BETTER we tend to think of “dude stuff” as cooler and more interesting. We think that “dude stuff” is better than “girl stuff” when it isn’t. It just has a different appeal. We think of being active and building things and playing Star Wars as being the BETTER thing, whereas the pink tea sets and dolls get looked on as symbols of cultural bullshittery, when it’s not the pink, etc. that’s the problem–it’s the fact that those things are thought of as being for girls, and only for girls, and the only proper choice for girls that’s a problem.

    It’s not about saying “Comfortable, active shoes are preferable to party shoes to show off in”–or, it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing inherently better about running shoes than party shoes. There’s nothing inherently lesser about wearing shoes that are sparkly and flashy and that you want people to look at. I have shoes I wear to be active, and shows I wear when I want to show myself off. But I need BOTH KINDS OF SHOES. In fact, I need more kinds of shoes than those. I need shoes for walking, and shoes for going to the gym, and shoes for work, and partying shoes, and those little roll-up flats to wear once the heels on the party shoes start to annoy me, and flip-flops for summer and warm boots for winter. All of those shoes are equally good and useful. All of them are good. Marketing should be about what things are fun, not what things are fun FOR GIRLS vs. what things are fun FOR BOYS, because….well, obviously. But we also need to curb the impulse that I see all the time to say, “Girly stuff is lame/horrible/too pink/way less good than boy stuff.” Because that’s basically the same old crap just repackaged, and it hurts the girls and the boys who like playing doll house and princess unicorn.

    • Kate

      I wish I could “Like” this comment. I completely agree with you. The reasons you state are why I tend to stay away from conversations about “girl toys”, Disney princesses, etc..

    • jose

      You describe the difference yourself: dude stuff is for doers, while girly stuff is just for looking pretty. This difference is even bigger for adults: high heels, painful and harmful, but pretty. So yes there is something inherently better about running shoes: they don’t give you long term health problems. And then you have the extreme version of the prettiness paradigm in foot binding, literally crippling women to have them comform to a standard of prettiness. Different degrees, same mentality.

    • Christine

      The problem is that there are inherent problems with how the girl stuff is done. I agree that we need to be careful to not just say “that’s not as good because it’s girly”, and this is why I shop both sides of the consignment store. (Yes, I think it’s wrong to buy branded clothing, especially for kids. But both the Mario & Barbie shirts were on discount, and it would have been more wrong to buy only the Mario one, even though obviously I object less to Mario) This is why I support stuff like Goldie Blox, as stereotypical as it is. There are still problems. For babies, there are toys and girl toys. I don’t want to be a part of reinforcing the idea that being male is the default. And if the “girl toy” takes a set of rainbow stacking rings, and redoes them in shades of pink, there is no way to argue that it’s just different. You have removed one of the fun parts of the toy. Besides, if the pink ones are only for girls it’ s quite immoral for other reasons to have one – if you have a boy in the future you are either going to require him to play with an inappropriate toy, or you’re going to buy new versions of all the toys for him.

      For older kids, it’s less a problem that the toys are different, and more a problem in what the differences are. Toys marketed to girls encourage being pretty, being sweet and otherwise being passive. Boys get told that they should be active and explore. So now, all of a sudden, boys are allowed to be kids and girls aren’t. If my daughter wants to have sparkly shoes that’s one thing. You’re right – they’re fine. Except when they’re supposed to be her running shoes. When girls grow up thinking that an unscuffed pair of running shoes is inherently better than a scuffed pair, there is something wrong.

      I object to toys and/or marketing in terms of what it is teaching. Is it teaching excess consumption? (Barbie, gendered toys, cheap crap that will break or be out grown in a year). Is it teaching passiveness? (the older Disney princesses, clothes that are pretty to the point of being impossible to play in)

      TL;DR: Dolls are fine. Princesses who wait around to be rescued aren’t.

      • Anat

        TL;DR: Dolls are fine. Princesses who wait around to be rescued aren’t.

        My daughter went through a stage where on the playground she’d pretend to be ‘stuck’ in the climbing structure and call some boy to ‘rescue’ her. Any boy would do, even one half her age. I was really worried for a while, but it got old after a while. (When I asked her about it in later years she was embarrassed.)

      • Leigha

        Why would sparkly running shoes be a problem? And unscuffed running shoes ARE inherently better than scuffed ones, at least when you’re buying them. You aren’t supposed to buy used shoes because shoes conform to the shape of your foot, and hopefully they aren’t selling scuffed new shoes. You can run just as well in sparkly running shoes as non-sparkly ones. I think it’s neat that we have such a wide variety of shoe styles that people can get ones in their favorite colors and patterns, be it sparkly pink, fluorescent yellow, or plaid.

    • The_L

      I don’t remember which book it was (Flowers for Algernon?) but I read a book in high school that had a “Dear Abby” letter in it. This mom had made her son a male doll (I think the book itself pre-dated G.I. Joe) with little soldier and sailor outfits–very butch, “manly” stuff. And people were calling the kid gay. The line that stuck in my head to this day was “Why is it that when a girl plays with toy trucks, people call her a darling little tomboy, but when a boy plays with dolls, people say he’s queer?”

      It was the first time I’d really noticed that double-standard, and it bothered me. I finally realized why everyone wanted me to play with dolls instead of Matchbox cars, why nobody bought me Lego sets even though I played with them way more often than my brother did, etc.

      When a girl does “boy” things, people openly pretend to approve, but show silent disapproval in the form of giving gendered gifts and encouraging toys that further stereotypes. When a boy does “girl” things, people don’t even pretend–disapproval is so swift and total that you don’t notice the double-standard growing up, because you can’t even name a boy you knew growing up who liked “girl” things. Nobody allowed the boys to like them long enough for you to notice.

      • Leigha

        I don’t know what book it was, but it definitely wasn’t Flowers for Algernon.

  • HelenaTheGrey

    Ultimately, I think people like Stanton are just scared of the consequences of a world where there was real gender neutrality. I have to admit, having come to this blog because of the sexual compatibility/purity culture posts, and being a Christian still living amongst the conservative Christian sorts, I haven’t given much thought to gender issues. The pink aisle has bothered me for a long time, because I do believe it teaches our girls that they are somehow lesser…not as smart, not as tough, only as good as their looks, etc. But from the same token, the idea of giving my son a doll or letting him wear a pink sparkly outfit would never have crossed my mind as acceptable. I don’t know why…I am still struggling against it. I imagine though, that conservative Christian sorts would be afraid for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the whole societal acceptance of “gays” is terrifying to them. I’m not sure I understand this because I’ve never really agreed with it, having had many gay male friends from a young age. But I think somehow they think that if society accepts different sexual orientations, the gays will start coming out of the woodwork and their children will be exposed to “the gay” and might catch it. I don’t think there is much that scares a conservative Christian more regarding their child than the idea that said child will “choose to be” a homosexual. So, naturally it would follow that “feminizing” boys or making it acceptable for boys to do “girl things” would be a huge threat. Plus, I do think that on a more acceptable note, parents don’t want to see their children be hurt or made fun of. So it is somewhat natural to not want your kid to gravitate towards things that will cause that to happen. I don’t know…I saw it with my husband when I told him I didn’t want to circumcise our son. He bristled a lot at first and some of that came from his sincere worry that our boy would be made fun of because of our decision. The reality is, we’ve already had to defend our decision against a number of well meaning, but ignorant people and that is difficult. We could have succumb to societal pressure and just done it even though we didn’t agree, but we chose not to do that. But of course, most people will never see our son’s penis or know about it…it is hard to hide the pink sparkle shirt from the group of kids at school. Sorry for the ramble…it is past my bed time.

  • Judy L.

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m agreeing with something spouted from the maw of Focus on the Family: “Gender is not a cultural construct; it’s hard-wired.” But I suspect Glenn Stanton doesn’t extend this idea to transgendered children who insist that their gender is different from what their biological sex suggests it should be. Gender is hard-wired, but gendered activities/play/colours/roles are not. Hate groups like Focus on the Patriarchy, uh – I mean, Family, promote strict gender identity and behaviour and support abusive ‘reparative therapy’ for children and adults who don’t fit within those strictures.

  • TheSeravy

    One of my twin cousins enjoys drama and my uncle is freaking out because he is worried that his son will grow up gay and have since enrolled him in more manly activities to “man” him up. Some posters have already commented on this but hetereosexuality is intimately tied to masculinity in western society. There is something very freudian here as it’s a more recent phenomenon within history. Maybe even a backlash against femininsm? Since patriarchy says that men are superior, wouldn’t it be better to have intimate relations with other men outside of procreative purposes?

    Interesting to note too is the cross-cultural similarities in Debi’s rhetoric; in chinese culture for example, there is a saying “you marry a chicken, you follow the chicken. You marry a dog, you follow the dog”; basically, whoever you marry, you obey them regardless of how bad it gets. forever. Same line of thinking to make women subservient to men. Very revealing how insecure patriarchy everywhere is that it requires such brute absolute obedience.

  • Tonya Richard

    In the early 90′s, I got my 2 year old son a play kitchen with dishes and food for Christmas. You see, his father loves to cook and he wanted to do what his daddy did. He loved that play kitchen and so did his younger brother. At the time I was enmeshed in the super conservative evangelical community and a lot of people thought what I did was wrong. I didn’t give a shit. I thought they were being ridiculous. I even encouraged my sons to play with dolls and they would pretend to breastfeed them just like mommy. Both boys are very much manly men now that they are 20 and 18, so obviously this didn’t “make” them gay….what a shock, huh?! They do both know how to cook, and are very loving with their younger brother and sisters. Fundamentalist Christians can be such idiots! I am glad I always had a little bit of the rebel in me, it kept me from becoming completely batshit crazy like the rest of them lol

  • David K

    Just chiming in, as the parent of two boys. There will never be an equal distribution of boys who like dolls within the male population. Just like there will never be as many women who like cars and things like that as who don’t. Monkeys (who aren’t exposed to our culture) do the same thing:

    With that said, there should be no problem with boys or girls doing whatever they want. In my mind, gender neutrality isn’t about having a 50/50 split of behaviors, it’s just allowing people to be who they want to be. I think Sweden has gone a bit overboard, because they’re enforcing the “equality” and basically forcing that 50/50 split. In at least one case they’ve even removed free play because that ended up with the kids reinforcing the gender norms and learning how people relate on their own, instead of having kindly adults micromanaging every aspect of their interaction so that it’s “proper”.

    I’m for gender neutrality. I just don’t want it to be forced, because that’s just as bad as it is now, just in the other direction.

    • Uly

      And would you happen to have an explanation as to why any monkeys would prefer trucks when they don’t even know what vehicles are?

      The last comment breaks down some of the problems with the study. At best, it says something no more descriptive than “men are taller than women”. That is a true statement as far as it goes, but that tells us nothing about the height of any individual person, and if you took a group of people and divided them in two groups by height the odds of getting all the men in one half and all the women in the other would be little better than chance.

    • Joy

      “In my mind, gender neutrality isn’t about having a 50/50 split of behaviors, it’s just allowing people to be who they want to be. ”

      I agree. I grew up in a family where there was only light reinforcement of traditional gender roles. As a girl whose interests were nerdy and bookish, with sidelines in crafts and cooking, my usual interests didn’t hit up against the gender boundaries much, but when they did it was in our evangelical church, and I complained and still do. Why are girls discouraged from woodworking and boys given opportunities? Why did our girl’s scouting type clubs not involve hiking, camping, etc. when the boys regularly did such things? The damage comes when gender is made a barrier to pursuing our interests and skills (no matter what our gender). The only thing I have done to reinforce traditional gender roles in my family is discourage my son from getting toy and clothing items that were color- or style-coded feminine. He is “different” enough being nerdy and socially awkward, doesn’t care enough to mind about styling, and the last thing either of us needed was for him to be beat up MORE by other kids…

    • jose

      That study is, in itself, really bad in which their methods don’t support their conclusions, and then the bad has been overblown way out of proportion by the popular press like most “controversial” articles. I strenuously recommend getting the original paper and reading it to see for yourself what they really did.

  • Truthspew

    Excellent post. I never really put a lot of conscious thought into it but you’re right on. It’s always been in the back of my mind, recall the debacle with the Queasy Bake Oven. And I now see that Hasbro is marketing an EZ Bake oven geared toward boys.

    And that’s the other thing, purple is considered a feminine color? I know purple as indicating royalty but that one about it being a girls color is a new one to me.

    • The_L

      Purple is being marketed to girls lately, as an alternative to pink. Presumably, this is because even the parents need a break from all that pink everywhere, and purple is close enough that it still reads as “feminine” to a lot of people.

    • Leigha

      Most things lately that are marketed towards girls are either pink, purple, or teal/baby blue (despite blue being a “boy color”). It’s also not usually a deep royal purple, but rather a light purple…kind of like the background of this website, actually.

      And I don’t believe they’re making an Easy Bake GEARED towards boys. They’re making one less obviously geared towards girls, so boys won’t feel like it’s not for them.

  • Katherine

    My five year old daughter is a hoot! She loves making mud pies… in her best dress. Her favourite shows are My little pony, and Adventure Time. She loves barbies and bikes, and wants to grow up to be either a princess or a helicopter pilot (or perhaps a princess who is a helicopter pilot). She just doesn’t see why she should have to fit into either a “girly” or “boy” box. And if that is the way that she is happy, then that is the way that I am happy.

    I’ve tried to never push anything on her, although there is media exposure. It is hard to try do do what is best, so I just try to take a “hands-off” approach.

  • Chris

    Excellent post. I hate gender-differentiated toy marketing.

  • Ms_Morlowe

    This all pink all purple thing for girls is pretty new, right? I mean, I’m in my early twenties, and I do not remember being surrounded by that much pink as a child– and I loved pink! As a child, I persuaded my parents to paint my room light pink with dark pink freaking bows as decoration. But my toys? Clothes? Accessories? I had a green bike and an orange and purple helmet and red and yellow rollerskates. When did this happen?