Critiquing Critique: But Can We Deal With the Weasel First?

So, I watched this video, which discusses the toy aisle and the ever increasing gender binary that rears its head therein.

Now, I agree with most of what the video says.  Pink isn’t the problem.  There is nothing bad about having pink and pastel Legos (in fact, their existence makes it possible for Lego fans to live out their dream of making a full scale rendition of Candyland Vs. The Zombies, and there is nothing wrong with that).  There is nothing that makes dolls and frilly things ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than toy planes and plastic dump trucks.  It is embedded societal values and views of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ in regards to gender that are the problem.  The toy aisle is in fact a symptom of this.

But saying that we need to focus on the big picture and ignore the issue of gender coded toys is a bit like saying, “Well, you’re being chewed on by rabid weasels, you really need a rabies shot to stay healthy.”

You’re right. I’m definitely going to want that rabies shot, because I really don’t want rabies.  But can we first do something about THE RABID WEASEL CHEWING ON MY LEG?!

The steel clad gender binary of the toy aisle is a symptom of a greater issue but is ALSO a problem in its own right.

Now, I’m doing my best to look at my past not with the rosy glasses of nostalgia, but as honestly as I can. And I will say that yes, there has always been gender coding of toys. There was always the pink aisle full of Barbie and the aisle where they kept the action figures and the hot wheels.  But along with this, there was a large section of the store that managed to be gender neutral, where they kept the tinker toys and the puzzles and the plastic dinosaurs and grow your own crystal kits. There was space that anyone could run screaming through with their embarrassed parents hot on their tails.

And I know there wasn’t pink and blue aisle backings in every Target and Walmart across the country to make the gender binary absolutely, insultingly blatant.  And this is harmful, not because pink is bad, but because it shames children for liking things outside of their ‘approved’ gender binary.

And don’t tell me that kids don’t notice.  My niece figured out the basics of gender binary by the time she was three.  Which is to say, she figured out that Mommy was a Girl and Daddy was a Boy and she herself was a Girl.  It’s true, the more subtle complexities escaped her.  But there is nothing subtle about PINK aisle and BLUE aisle.  It is and is meant to be a simple and obvious coding to tell children where they belong and what to get mommy and daddy to buy.

The result is a system that shames boys for liking My Little Ponies and princesses and shames girls for liking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and robots. It makes them uncomfortable to like what they like and opens them to mocking from their peers if they choose to transgress anyway.  It builds a rigid gender binary in at a young age, a gender binary that IS part of the problem of ‘female=weak’ and ‘male=strong.’  Check out this great Sinfest to see what I mean.

The thing that really gets to me about the video that started this rant is that the hyper gender coded toy aisle is a problem that has concrete solutions that aren’t even difficult to implement.  Solutions that could help with the greater problem of ‘male=good’ and ‘woman=bad.’  All you have to do is take down those awful blue and pink backings on the toy aisle.  Make them all white again.  Or hell, make them all blue, lots of girls actually like the color blue. Or make them green for all I care.  The point is, make the gender coding a shade less obvious which makes it more comfortable for children to get the toys they actually want, regardless of the whether its a baby doll or a foam samurai sword.

And if you want to get REALLY wild, let’s do away with the gender separation of the toys altogether.  Put the Barbies and GI Joes next to each other, put the easy bake oven next to the microscopes!  There’s no reason NOT to do this except for preconceived gender notions.  When you get right down to it, G.I. Joes aren’t that different from Barbies.  They’re all just models of humans that are used to act out imaginative situations.  And cooking actually requires a lot of science, so why can’t the cooking stuff be next to the microscopes?

Sure, if we did that, there would be a period of disorientation where it was a little harder for parents to find toys.  But, give it a little time, and everyone would get over the notion of looking in only color coded one aisle for the right toy for their son or daughter.  As things are, stores are actively telling their customers that they only want 50% of the population in any given aisle, which limits the number of sales they’re getting by half the population.  This doesn’t seem like a good strategy for profit, so you can’t use the ‘economics’ argument to over turn this suggestion.

So, back to the original argument. There is nothing wrong with pink. But dismissing a concrete issue in favor of discussing the theoretical does not make us progress either.  We need to continue discussing the larger issues to analyze where they come from and we equally need to take action against concrete problems whenever we can.

Now somebody help me get this weasel off of my ham bone, huh?