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Toy stores are places where the gender of different children is being shaped – be it femininity, masculinity or gender-neutrality – according to the current ideas of society and culture about gender. It is therefore evident that toy stores are actually catalysts to the ongoing ideas about a certain kind of gender. In terms of gender-neutral toys, toy stores can be seen as a channel for interaction or equality between the sexes, although this is only seen some of the toys intended for toddlers and teens, and the toys that are digital/computer-based such as educational toys and consoles.
In most toy stores, there are clear divisions and may even be separated and placed on opposite ends of the store. There are also sections where it is not clear whether or not the intention is for either gender. The toy stores are also divided depending on the age of those who are going to buy them. Usually, the age is progressive as one goes deeper into the store from the most simple of dolls and balls for one-year olds to the complex digital, computerized toys that can span from the age of seven and up.
Looking at the store itself, the general theme of a certain section can actually point to whether or not the section is intended for boys, girls or neither gender. It is seen in many ways including the color scheme of the section, the featured toys and, sometimes, even the salespersons manning the section. However, the toy stores aren’t explicit in their customers in terms of labeling a section either for boys or for girls. Most of the signs in the sections are only implicit in the themes that they take. Gender neutral sections are often filled with toys that are educational and electronic gadgets.
Also, gender neutral sections often have neutral colors such as white and silver as opposed to the gendered colors of pink and blue. They are also often seen in the middle of the gendered section. In terms of packaging, some of the toys are explicit in their intended customers by showing either boys or girls playing with the toys they are selling printed on the boxes. Gender neutral toys are often printed with both a girl and a boy on the cover, cooperating or looking very intrigued as they play or tinker with the toys.
Other gender-neutral toys have neither child involved but only a feature of the product without any action that denotes the culture’s (in this case, America’s) notion of femininity or masculinity. The colors are neutral – often just a white background – and does not feature any actions that could be seen as either soft (feminine) or hard (masculine). A gendered toy’s packaging, on the other hand, has an implicit message conveyed on the box. Action, competition, adrenaline, and the macho effect are often portrayed in the boxes of boys’ toys in the boys’ section.
On the girls’ section, flowers, happy homes, cute and sexy themes seem to dominate the shelves; often, older themes of make-up and fashion are being made as toys, as if pushing for girls to be women at a younger age. Going further into the connection of age and gendered toys, there seems to be a pattern concerning gendering them with respect to age. This is not to say, however, that other toys that don’t fall into these two categories are not gender neutral. There are also toys, most belonging to sports, which are gender-neutral.
Toddlers usually have gender neutral toys intended for two things. The first involves amusement in the form of dolls and other soft items that they can chew on, throw, fall on and hit without causing them any harm or danger. Some of these toys may be gendered but many of them are not. The second is to educate them. These educational toys are completely gender-neutral as toy-makers consider the minds of either sex of the children as capable of processing basic information that they should learn, such as knowing what a cow is and what sounds they make.
And since toys are not exactly limited to children, some toys that can have adults as audiences as well, such as game consoles and sports-oriented toys, are gender-neutral and are only gendered when it comes to the accessories and other things that they append to these toys. Some examples include the game cartridges. Because of gendering of the majority of toys in the formative years of the child, the idea of femininity and masculinity are instilled in society in an ongoing cycle.
The current society’s ideal of masculinity are seen instilled in children in the early stages, dictating and instilling ideas on how girls and boys should be and how they should grow up to be. This forces them to conform to society’s current ideas of them aside from possible biological and other external influences that dictate children from their earliest years. Although gender preference may change in the later years, the influence of toys given to children – even if it is “feminine” toys given to boys – is a factor in how these children grow up to be.