28 October 2007

Tonka: Built for Boyhood!

I've got toys on my mind. No, not toys for grown-up ladies, you naughty freaks. Toys for kids. Specifically, girl toys and boy toys.

Gender-specific toys.

Our favorite Big Ass Belle recently posted about "girl toys" by PLAYSKOOL. Meaning, of course, pink and flowery toys that revolve around, what else?


Lynette's Girl Toys post brought to mind a Tonka commercial I saw recently, advertising their toys which are "built for boyhood". Yep, Tonka is Celebrating 60 Years of Boyhood! It turns out Hasbro is the parent company of both Tonka and PLAYSKOOL.

That's right, PLAYSKOOL, of Rose Petal fame, and Tonka, built for boyhood, wedded together to helpfully model gender-appropriate play. How precious. The commercials for PLAYSKOOL's Rose Petal Cottage include this sugary sweet melody:

I love when my laundry gets so clean,
Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!
In Rose Petal Cottage, my home,
A place of my very own!

So "taking care of my home" is the dream, dream, dream PLAYSKOOL wants for Teen Demon and the Bohemian? Because they're girls? I'm sorry, but washing socks and mopping crusty bits off the floor isn't exactly what I dreamed of for them while watching them sleep in their cribs.

It's sure as hell not what they're dreaming of for themselves. I know this because of the dirty socks and crusty bits on their floors.  No interest.  They could a Rose Petal attitude adjustment, come to think of it ...

At Hasbro.com, we learn that the Rose Petal Cottage
empowers preschool girls to use their imagination inside and around their very own play space, featuring everything they need to role-play alone or with friends.

From baking muffins to washing clothes to caring for their dolls, girls now have a place where they can set their imaginations free.
"Everything" a girl needs to set her imagination free? Is there no one in their marketing department without a penis? See, this is what happens when there's no diversity in hiring, people.  Maybe a toy kitchen is one thing to set imagination free.  And guess what, Tonka, my son loved the hell out of his toy kitchen.

And Tonka. Here's what their current commercial has to say about our future heads of households:

Boys! What can you say? They're just built different.
And now ... they can play their way!
It's built around what he does naturally. It's a shape sorter - or not!
Then, it helps him learn to walk. And chase!
Then [it's] his own sweet ride - from baby to big boy. All in one toy.
Let's face it; boys are built different.
And Tonka's got the blueprint.

Built different?  (Also, differently*, Tonka.  Adverb.)

So ... boys "naturally" exercise their minds and bodies by sorting shapes, running and chasing, while girls need nothing more than a pink playhouse to serve as "an entire world where your little girl can play, discover and explore."

Entire world?

Trouble with that is, the world they want my little girl to discover and explore is comprised of only a laundry room, nursery and kitchen. Probably she'll be expected to clean up after Tonka-boy, since he's shown tracking mud all through the house in his commercial, while mom smiles indulgently.

I find this purposeful gender-based marketing very disturbing. The unspoken gender expectations are ingrained so deeply within our society, it's virtually impossible to avoid them. So when toy companies purposefully SAY things like "boys are built different" and "taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream", it leaves no doubt in kids' minds as to what's expected of them. What is "normal".

When toy companies purposely perpetuate gender roles, that pisses me off, because they're making my job harder as a parent.

If my little boy believes certain activities are more suited for him, likewise he will develop the belief that other activities and expectations are more suited for the girls and women in his life. Not only will he feel comfortable playing with trucks or light sabers, he'll also feel comfortable expecting the girls in his life not to do those things.

Tonka has told him that trucks are "built for boys". If I do nothing to balance the messages Tonka and PLAYSKOOL are sending him, he may one day feel comfortable with his mother, sisters, or wife in their Rose Petal kitchens, making that sandwich for him while he's out in the living room watching the game.

Um, no.

Male Offspring knows that females are all about watching the game. He would no sooner expect me to hit the kitchen before half-time than he would expect me to sprout wings and fly.

So, what about little Suzy, careening her Tonka truck around the living room? What about the little boy who loves playhouse tea parties and hates mud? How do they feel after seeing these commercials? Especially little Johnny. Society can deal with a tomboy, but a girlieman? Not so much. Chances are, Johnny will soon learn to keep that shit under wraps and play with the damn truck. At least when people are watching.

Both of them are getting a clear message about what it means to be a "normal" girl or boy.

My kids had gender-specific toys, sure.

Teen Demon was a wild hellion in her day. She loved her Little Tykes kitchen, and her pink doll stroller -- pink is still her favorite color -- and the girl bakes like, well, a demon. But, she also rode her Tonka truck like demolition derby time. She personally brought out my appreciation for that whole Tonka Tough thing, before Male Offspring ever came on the scene. She had a toy tool belt that she wore everywhere. With pink hiking boots. She didn't take any guff from little boys.

Yes, Male Offspring loved him some trucks and 'dozers. Tonka would've loved to have his rough-and-tumble boy-behind in their commercials. He was all about the boy toys. They probably would've cut scene, though, when he came clacking onto the set in his sisters' dress up clothes, sporting a pink tutu, white gloves and pearls with a purple straw hat. He adored the pastel pink Little Tykes Cottage. Especially talking on the toy phone, which should've given me some warning as to the boy's future cell phone addiction.

So yeah, my kids loved their girl toys and boy toys. Not like you can really avoid it. Nevertheless, according to Tonka & PLAYSKOOL, my kids were a bit confused as as to proper play for their respective genders.

Well, fear not - no more fretting over ambiguous gender behavior! Tonka, in order to help you navigate the gender divide, has helpfully provided Parenting Advice for Boys.

(Hey, Tonka, I'm pretty sure you meant to give parenting advice to parents of boys, not the little tykes themselves, right? How much do you pay your editor?)
Anyway, if your little darling sports a penis, don't worry, Mom, help is on the way:

Little boys can seem like alien creatures, especially to Moms who were raised as little girls! So to help you speak "boy language," here are some tips from Lawrence Cohen, PhD, Playskool Advisor and author of Playful Parenting.
Heavens! How did I ever manage to raise Male Offspring without learning to speak "boy language"? No worries - Doc Lawrence has tips to help clueless moms decipher their little boys:

(Yes, this shit is actually up at the Tonka site )
9-18 months: During this stage, your son will be learning all about himself, including what it means to be a boy... you can keep the emotional connection going by having your own truck that rolls alongside his (or sometimes gently crashes into his!).
My own truck? Are you sure, Lawrence, because ... I'm a girl. I'm "built different".

2-3 yrs: This is also the stage where "boy humor" begins; this type of humor--filled with jokes about body parts and bodily functions ... seems to be a product of some combination of boy biology and boy social training.
So fart jokes come from "boy biology"? What does that even mean? Is there a gene for fart jokes?

3-5 yrs: Some mothers try to eliminate every expression of aggression from boys’ play, but that doesn’t work--and besides, if we got rid of all aggressive stories, we’d have to exclude stories from Shakespeare, the Bible, and even history books!
The Bible? How'd that get slipped into a toy site?

And get this:
All Ages & Stages: Recognize that your son is absorbing all sorts of information from TV and movies, including many messages about what is expected from boys and men. The media -- and our own expectations -- can give boys the wrong idea that there is only one very narrow definition of masculinity.
No shit, Lawrence! Media like ... Tonka commercials and this website, asshat! How did they not catch that?

I call bullshit, Tonka. This guy should not be giving parenting advice. You should not be paying him.

So ...

---What if ... all types of play were presented as a choice for all kids? Without the frilly pink or tough blue packaging.

---What if nobody thought a thing about Johnny having tea party with his teddy bears, or playing with playhouse dolls?

---What if Suzy could play Pop Warner football or collect model cars instead of Barbies ... without being called a tomboy, without folks assuring her mom she'll "grow out of it"?

---Maybe then, Johnny grows up to be a sous chef in some fancyass restaurant. Or an awesome stay at home dad who knows how to fix a furnace and connect with his kids. Maybe Suzy fixes cars or runs a corporation.

---And maybe, if that were the case, taking care of a home might truly be seen as an option for both genders, not an expectation for one. In which case, it would probably be valued a lot more than it is now. Then role models - and advertising - for kids would be a whole lot different.

Maybe then Suzy feels OK being a cheerleader ...
... and a football player.
And maybe her brother grows up thinking his sister is pretty cool, and not necessarily girlie ...

...because he remembers
carrying that cheerleader's
football pads.

Yes, as a matter of fact, that was a shameless excuse to post cute pics of Teen Demon and Male Offspring. But there is a related point:

Teen Demon recently found out that her school no longer allows male cheerleaders. What? Apparently, there used to be guys on the football/basketball cheer squad. (Teen Demon cheers for wrestling - because the football/b'ball squad is a bunch of Barbie-bitches. According to her.) But the advisor - an adult - decided she didn't want guys on the squad about three years back.

What's sad is Teen Demon actually knows a couple of guys who would like to cheer. And, she said, it would actually make a better cheer squad, on account of the awesome stunts they'd be able to do with guys in the mix.

Male Offspring was in the room during this conversation, and he didn't snicker or make faces. What he said was, "That sucks. If girls can do wrestling and football, it's not fair that guys can't cheer. That's just dumb."

No, son, it's not fair, and it is dumb. I'm glad the kids were bothered by this, rather than thinking "cheerleading's for girls". If it were up to Hasbro, however, that would've been a different conversation.

And that's what's pissing me off about these commercials.


  1. So point A) Fine looking (take after their Mamma obviously) and obviously exceptionally bright kids- (again- well look from whence they came) Strong work Mom!

    B) As noted Miss Thing looks at the commercial and after asking if it really was a parody- wanted to know if there was a pool boy optional version. That's my girl!

    I went to great lengths to go totally gender neutral, and to some degree they both went along gender lines no matter what I tried to do.So I pretty much decided to go with the flow either way, But, hey they both kick ass and take names, and both are genuinely compassionate humans. I'm just hoping it all works out in the long run.

    You are totally my hero girl! Whenever I get totally disgusted with the school system, or question the way we're raising them I look to you and your three amazing offspring.

    You're doing an amazing job- and it is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

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  4. Guess I was lucky, even though we're talking the 50s, my parents didn't push anything on me. I wanted to play with puppets - I played with puppets. I wanted a Disney Theatre set so I could stage plays - I got that Disney Theatre set one Christmas. At 6 I wanted to go to the ballet and opera - I was allowed to go. My first Broadway musical at 8 (Roadshow Company of Lil Abner with a muscle hunk called Peter Palmer, must Google and see what happened to him.) I don't honestly think my parents ever thought of these things as a "gender" issue.

    Slightly off topic but not really: Every May the Metropolitan Opera came to Toronto and played Maple Leaf Gardens, the huge hockey arena. Tickets went on sale in April and the cheap seats (the Greys - up in the rafters) cost $2.00 - a lot of money in those days. When it came to Opera my father preferred Grand Old to Grand but every year he would take me. The deal was that I had to pay for the tickets out of my allowance. Starting in December I'd save every penny including birthday and Christmas gifts. Math was never a strong subject but I always had a bad feeling that come April there wouldn't be that need four dollars and 25 cents (money order and stamps.)But every year when the tickets went on sale and I opened my piggy bank there was always exactly four dollars and 25 cents.

    And God love her, my mother - who was a tailor of no little skill - made me a white dinner jacket when I was 14 to wear to the opera when they finally played in a proper theatre. Guess she figured if I was going to play Mr Dressup I should do it in style.

  5. Willym: What a wonderful story! That's great how your parents handled that - tying budget skills and delayed gratification with the reward of something you loved so much. How good of your dad to take you, even with tastes leaning toward "Grand Ol'" style - HA! And the dinner jacket - I bet you looked quite the dapper young man.


I've got a fever ...