5 Ways Kids' Toys Are Shockingly Good At Teaching Sexism

In my experience, kids are pretty dumb, so it seems like getting them to buy something should be simple: Make it a bright color, attach a speaker that plays loud noises, and all the kids in the store will fall over themselves in an attempt to swallow it. Then they'll demand a 3 a.m. trip to the emergency room. So why do marketers insist on dividing toys based on gender to such an insane degree? And why, even though we're moving closer and closer to equality every day, are toys more gender-divided now than they ever have been? Are boys and girls getting more different? Just what the hell is going on?

Well, it turns out that this whole thing is more complicated than anyone seems to realize, because ...

#5. Boys And Girls Actually Do Prefer Different Toys

When I first started digging into this issue, I was pretty sure I was going to discover that this stuff:


... was a bunch of crap, that baby boys and girls had way more similar brains, and that this whole dichotomy was just the product of toy companies trying to brainwash kids into different camps for marketing reasons or whatever. Just because in my experience having conversations with girls, I've found that they're just as likely to be really into cars, video games, and blowing stuff up as they are to be into horses, makeup and France. So I was pretty surprised to learn that our childhood preferences for different trucks and dolls might actually be biological after all.

In a study of baby vervet monkeys (a type of monkey I refuse to Google, because I misread them as "velvet monkeys" the first time and now have a wonderful image in my head that I never want to lose), scientists found that when offered trucks or dolls to play with, female monkeys tended to prefer the dolls, while the male monkeys (to a slightly lesser degree) tended to prefer the trucks. Similarly, in the wild, baby female Kanyawara chimpanzees (a monkey I refuse to Google because I don't want to know I'm pronouncing it wrong) have been observed building dolls and pretending to raise them -- and while males occasionally indulged in this play as well, it was far more rare.

Even though this study is generally used to argue that boy-girl toy divisions are natural, to me the far crazier point is how the fuck does a boy monkey know that trucks are stereotypically manly? He's never seen Mad Max: Fury Road, right? Are we showing that movie to monkeys now? If we are I'm shockingly okay with it, but I guess I just thought I'd be among the first to know.

Warner Bros.
Actually a bad example because Charlize Theron drives the truck
in that movie, but you get my point.

The answer isn't clear, but it probably has something to do with what other studies have found: In humans, baby boys prefer looking at mechanical motion (gears, wheels, rigid shapes), while baby girls prefer looking at biological motion. A boy toddler will stare at a video of moving cars, while baby girls will stare longer at videos of moving faces.

So, yeah, female brains and male brains are different. Which, OK, you probably already knew that, but what's crazy is what we've decided to do with that information.

#4. The Way We Assign Gender To Toys Is Insane

Like I said a minute ago, here's where a lot of commenters stop reading and scroll down to scream about how these differences are natural and men and women should be segregated into different districts like in The Hunger Games (fun fact about those movies: I have no idea what they're about). The problem is that the way we've decided to assign these toys has virtually nothing to do with the inherent differences in male and female brains.

One study found that toys classified as masculine tended to be themed around fighting, aggression, and violence ...

You may not realize this, but "Nerfs" are actually modeled to look like guns.

... while toys designed for girls were built around improving your appearance and domestic duties ...

The difference between "fun" and "chores" is the level of pink, apparently.

Now, what do those things have to do with dolls and trucks? Kinda sorta nothing, it seems to me. So, even when we acknowledge the inherent difference between boys and girls, the toys themselves embrace an insane, perverted version of it. Like at the 2015 Toy Fair, where the "Boy Toy Of The Year" was a robot dinosaur that responds to your voice and hand motions, while the "Girl Toy Of The Year" was a toy checkout counter, with real working treadmill register.


That's right: We're giving boys a pretend animal, and the girls get a toy based on mechanical motion -- the exact opposite of what the goddamn science says their goddamn brains prefer. So even when the science backs up differences between gender, the people selling us the toys ignore it in favor of reinforcing arbitrary stereotypes. Why? Well..

#3. Stereotyping Kids is Good For Business

Let me give you one more example of a weird boy-girl toy problem. One of the coolest scenes in the new Avengers movie is when Captain America is fighting Ultron on the back of a truck, and Black Widow drops her electric Harley-Davidson out of the quinjet to go back him up. Is that... is that sentence gibberish? Okay, try this: "Scarlet Johansson drives a motorcycle out of a fighter jet."

Marvel Pictures
And she's not even wearing a helmet.

But when the toys based on that scene came out, they pretended that it was Captain America dropping out of the quinjet. To go ... rescue himself?

In the LEGO version she gets to drive the jet. In the action-figure version,
she's not even there.

This isn't the first time we've noticed Marvel ignoring women: Even the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has called them out on Twitter for not making Black Widow toys, Marvel Cinematic Universe Overlord Kevin Feige keeps dancing around the issue during interviews, and, most obviously, we're getting a movie about the guy who beat his wife before we get a movie with a female title character.

Why? Because Marvel doesn't care about marketing to women. Not because they're sexist (or, at least not just because of that) but because that's literally not their job. According to this anonymous insider article, Disney bought Marvel (and, we can assume, Lucasfilm) specifically to target boys. They already have the female market on freaking lockdown with the unstoppable juggernaut that is their Disney Princess "universe," and they wanted a way to get their greasy little demon-claws on the brains of teenage boys as well.

IgorIgorevich/iStock/Getty Images
"According to the enchanted rose, we're really moving the needle with our new key demo."

This is actually a really simple marketing technique called market segmentation: They corral you into your little group, and then hype up the stuff they want you to want, so you buy it. This is why the boy and girl sections in stores are divided: If they know exactly where little boys are going in a store, they can control what kind of hyped-up toys they see and control what they want to buy next. This is also why Avengers: Age Of Ultron had a Batman V Superman trailer in front of it instead of one for Pitch Perfect 2.

See, the people who sell us shit know that we only want what they tell us to want. So the more they divide us, and the stronger those divisions are, the more they can sell us. If they know what you like, they always know where you are, and if they always know where you are, they always know what to sell you, so they always know what you like.

And here's where it gets creepy ...

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J.F. Sargent

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