I haven't been in the market for toys recently, but, it's that time of year, and I found myself in the local Toys R Us. While trolling through the overstuffed aisles, I was presented with a color-coded crossroads...pink or blue?
The store was segmented by varying degrees into pockets of cotton candy pink, electric fuchsia, baby boy blue and bold navy. Each aisle color-coded the merchandise into its strategically-marketed, gender-specific category: boy or girl. These stereotypical hues have been employed since I was a child and for many, many years prior*. We've become accustomed to directing our browsing and shopping habits based on gender, and color serves as the guide.
And while the color itself does not present a hugely controversial issue, its the content paired with the color that I find a bit more insidious, calculated and discouraging
Barbies occupied an entire aisle bound in petal pink boxes. Tea party box sets and fairy princess costumes beckoned with domestic intent and the promise of the day her prince would come. Across the lane, masculinity was abound. Monster trucks exploded from their fearsome, dark packaging and superheroes awaited alien invasion assembled in neatly stacked rows. Army green men, royal blue matchbox cars and bins of balls, bats and helmets fulfilled the boyhood dreams of conquest, adrenaline and glory.
But my moment of zen came in the Lego aisle.
As a girl, I struggled with balancing the fondness of dolls, ponies and dress up with the desire to be one of the boys...throwing the football, catching frogs and climbing trees. Legos were one of my favorite toys. The simple blocks offered limitless creativity and possibility. They were objective and neutral. Fun for everyone. The dismay I felt while walking the Lego aisles came with the complete dissociation of boy versus girl themes. The macho-packaged sets touted superhero thrills, castle adventures and epic worlds at war. Meanwhile, the soft pink boxes showcased girlfriends keeping house, shopping at the mall and frolicking on horseback at the ranch. The received message? Gender roles, expectations and marketing haven't changed much in child's play since 1953.
However innocent and innocuous toys may seem, these themes DO influence the perceptions and identities of future generations. Their world views and social constructs are shaped, in part, by play. Would a boy freely wander the "pink" aisle and choose an item specifically packaged for girls? Would a girl feel empowered to select a blue box and explore the masculine contents within?
In a future world, I hope so. Or perhaps we can opt to reject definitions of gender by pink and blue.
* Extracurricular reading on the history of girls & pink