As a young white guy to an older white guy,
This is an open letter in response to Ben Radford’s article over at Skeptic XX about this video. Read Rebecca Watson’s response here.
Ben, I think I understand, you’re defending the status quo; as skeptics, we all do that sometimes. We tell people that modern medicine works; that the government really isn’t out to kill us all. In “Riley on Marketing—Anatomy of an Internet Sensation,” you’re arguing that when it comes to children’s toys, the status quo is to be expected and, in addition to that, you don’t really see this as a problem. Perhaps, as a young white guy, I can explain why it is a problem and why its worth complaining about.
Ben, let me just say…we (men) get all the best toys. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but I’m younger so I’ll remind you.
Girls toys are pink and inarticulate. They come with different sets of clothes, but they can’t move their arms. (This has probably changed but I was a child in the nineties, it was true then.) The fictional characters they represent are babies, rich fashionistas, princesses and rock stars. But Barbie, the iconic female toy, has may different professions, one might point out. True, but these professions if anything, heighten the idea that barbies is simply a body to dress up. To my knowledge they have yet to build a barbie aircraft carrier despite giving barbie a career in the navy; Barbie castles, condos and houses abound. Barbie is primarily a body to dress up, a fashionista.
Of the four major types of female toys, only one is a productive profession. Princess is simply a fantasy and the other two are blatantly regressive; actually come to think of it, the princess is usually pretty regressive as well. Baby dolls come from an era when girls were expected to be future mothers, and little else.
Boys’ toys are very different, and in general they’re better. For one thing, there’s a hell of a lot more of them. Since the invention of GI Joe, boys have gotten to play with dolls too, they’re just called ‘action figures.’ Of course, these dolls articulate at every joint, making them much more fun to play with. They come in many (overlapping) professions: movie/television character, soldier, or superhero to name a few. Its hard to categorize the toys boys play with, there’s so many of them.
Returning to toys that aren’t dolls, many of our toys are gun facsimiles. Nerf Guns, water guns and laser tag are all boys’ toys. Additionally, where girls get magic wands and fairy wings, we get plastic swords, and ninja costumes. Remote controlled cars, and Hot-Wheels add even more variety. Variety of form includes variety of color. While a boy’s toy can be almost any color, except pink or purple, girl’s don’t get much choice. Its pink, or a pastel shade of blue or green, if they’re lucky.
Ben, we boys get the better toys, and the four year old Riley is complaining about this, not just the fact that the girls’ toys are all pink. Boys’ toys are more varied, more active, and they come in more colors.
Maybe Riley doesn’t want a wonder woman action figure, maybe she just wants a baby doll but in some other color than pink. They problem is not that toys are pink or even what the toys are. The problem is that toys are unambiguously gender segregated by color. Girls do not have an inherent attraction to the color pink. In fact that tradition is only fairly recent. If you don’t believe me, just read Ben Goldacre.
No one is suggesting “a sexist marketing conspiracy,” but we are suggesting a self perpetuating cycle. People buy pink toys (and clothes) for girls, because girls like pink. Girls like pink because everything marketed and manufactured for girls is pink. Manufacturers make pink toys because people buy them. Repeat. Marketers are not malicious, they’re simply perpetuating a cycle.
The only way to break the cycle is to bring attention to the unfairness of it, and demand variety just like Riley (and her dad) did.