Asking People To Think Is Not The Same As Asking People To Hate

Let’s redirect a thread that went off the rails last night. I asked for community members to caption a snapshot taken during a retail experience of two toys placed at eye level to young children.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

In short time people became upset claiming that I was hating on the toy company who makes the toys and “overreaching”. If I had asked the group to evaluate the toy company based on two products from their large line, I’d agree with that criticism. Except that is not what I did. I’m not taking a holistic look at this company because I’m asking my community to simply caption a snapshot – which by definition means a still from a moment in time.

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate. Asking people to think critically about what media and cultural messages a child might experience and ingest during a shopping trip isn’t an overreach. It is a necessity.

I choose all of my words very carefully here, I have to because I have such a large audience and I have to make sure every word counts and gets across the message I want delivered.

That is exactly why I chose the word “snapshot”. Because it is a moment in time, and that is what a young child would be seeing if he or she were in the store. From this snapshot a child in present time would see a boy playing with cars that do things and go out into the world and a girl at home cooking. That comprises the world a young child would know. That singular message alone reinforces ALL of the other gender stereotypes that young child will pick up and that presents our society with some very serious limitations and deficits.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most grotesquely impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most silently impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most effectively impacts our society.

With several commentors making impassioned defenses of the Hape toy company I looked carefully through their 244 page catalog and while there are really darling toys, their marketing is not. Some balanced photos yes, but hugely lacking in diversity and extremely gendered. It is such a shame, because their toys look fantastic. I’ve purchased their toys before and I don’t like or dislike them, I’m simply making an observation based on data present.

I did see some photos of girls building (Yay!) and boys and girls playing together (yes!), but I lost count of the gendered toy pairings I saw. In the first 148 pages no boys were playing house, while dozens of girls are playing house or caring for babies. Ditto for kitchen scenes. Not a single girls was shown holding a vehicle or tool (at least not in the first 148 pages). Most of the girls were wearing soft, pastel colors while the boys wore bold colors like green and red. I got so annoyed on page 148 when I flipped from a girl feeding a pink baby in a pink high chair to a boy building a red, white, and bold blue rocket that I closed the link. I went back and finished it, and yes I did see some boys in kitchens (and grilling, natch!) and boys and girls playing together, I’m not left jumping up and down and clicking my heels. Here’s why….

We should be a tish more keen to educational toy companies who do indeed produce great toys that come in boxes we recycle which make us believe the boxes don’t matter…..but this company is savvy enough to market to their niche one way in their catalog and turn around to use gender stereotypes on the boxes that go in the mainstream stores for toys that get seen by thousands more children and get sold to the masses that see the gender stereotype and buy it. As progressive parents you and I probably buy one of each for our whatever-gender child….but is that what the majority of the population is doing? No.

And that becomes a REALLY big problem down the line, and THAT is what gets my condemnation.

Also, I always have to ask this: If the boxes had photos that were racist instead of sexist, would some of you still be making the “adults, leave kids alone who just want to be kids” argument? I surely hope not. Are “kids just being kids” when exposed to adult sexist attitudes? And if not, is it then okay for me to question the marketing of these sexist attitudes to children? Even if that marketing comes from natural wood, European-looking toy companies?

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate.



  1. I agree that recycling the boxes is not enough…Sexist presentation is one reason I never take my two daughters (one toddler and one preschooler) with me to the toy store. I buy their toys based on thier initerests and give them already stipped of packaging.

  2. Mary Wlazlo says:

    Your fight against the oversexualizing is very good – I with you 100% on that. I am reading your book and one of the problems that I have is your take on “gender stereotyping”. I agree that there is unnecessary and harmful stereotyping, but you seem to want to throw out gender differences entirely, or at least minimize it to the point that gender differences are merely accidental, like my having red hair and your’s being brown. I think this is both incorrect and harmful to our sons and daughters. Gender differences are real, inherent, important and incredibly beautiful. Being different is not being less, right? African-American people are inherently different than Causcasians, as a people and as individuals. To say this, and to recognize their difference is to recognize and celebrate how unique they are – they have some pretty great qualities that Caucasians do not. Equality doesn’t mean sameness – that would be awful wouldn’t it? Its like walking through a garden and complaining that all the flowers should be equal – what does that mean to you??

    • Melissa Atkins Wardy says:

      Hi Mary –
      I think you should keep reading. When you are done with “Redefining Girly”, you can move on to books centered in current neuroscience research like “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” by Dr. Lise Eliot and “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine.

      • Mary Wlazlo says:

        I am familiar with the type and scope of Ms. Fine’s arguments as well as the many others of this type. These arguments, it seems to me, are consequences of a specific world-view of human beings and indeed all of nature. If Ms. Fine can argue that gender may be entirely accidental, then she must first espouse the belief that advent of human beings is entirely based upon chance (the theory of evolution taken in its full logical repercussions) and that there is no reason or rationality behind our nature. Therefore, nature does not follow any rules (because rules presuppose a purpose and an end) – it is utterly random and therefore any differences are entirely accidental – ie, they have no meaning. Now this is the argument that you appear to be leaning towards in your book (which I have finished). Do you think that human beings have no purpose then? Do you think that human beings can be known only through science? If so, that reduces us to the level of plants and animals. And if all of this is true, what is so wrong about our girls or our selves becoming sex objects or any kind of objects at all since we are merely biological substance living out our limited time on this earth? What makes us so special? What makes mine or your daughter so awesome?

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