The Power of Toys: How Feminists Can Change the World

Why can I never find any minion (Despicable Me) or Olaf (Frozen) toys? Is it because stores don’t know where to put something that defies gendering? One of the reasons why I loved the minions is because they performed gender rather than having a solid sex/gender. They could pick and choose based on clothing and behavior, although stereotyped actions always made it obvious. And although a male actor voices Olaf, it could easily have been voiced by a female. The physical snowperson body could be any sex or gender, although the reference to “snowman” provides a choice/option for it. So why does this matter?

Children can be born with a variation of intersex, male, or female sex types but learn gender. Gender is created by society through individuals, the media, school systems, and a variety of other factors. For example, historically men wore heels before women and pink was not originally a “girl” color. For more information about when popular gender stereotypes arrived:

Dominant gender ideologies are spread through the media and individual attempts to “keep up with the Joneses,” often changing depending on culture, location, and time period. While many enjoy the organization of gender in society, helping people “find their place” and form their identity, what if you don’t easily fit into the male or female categories?

Common forms require you to check male or female, with few providing an “other” option, which can also be a demeaning term. Some intersex children are given surgeries after birth, with parents and/or doctors choosing a sex for them that they may or may not feel comfortable with later in life. Transgender, transvestite, tomboys, metrosexual boys, and other “nonconforming” individuals are often ostracized because they cannot and do not want to conform to the restrictive binary of male or female. Even deciding which bathroom to use and finding college housing can be difficult because of the lack of gender-neutral options.

When feminists state they want equality between men and women we should really say we want equality between all genders. I often catch myself referring to “male” and “female” sexes/genders, rendering already marginalized groups invisible. This is a mistake that many of us make, but cannot afford to anymore. Learning to be more careful with language is the first step:

Feminism needs allies, which appreciation for multiplicity and plurality and intersections with other interest groups can provide. So what can we accomplish together? Stereotypical gendering that perpetuates ideas like boys shouldn’t cook, clean, and play with dolls and girls shouldn’t like tools, science, or dressing up like male superheroes is harmful and restrictive. Children should be able to grow up liking what they want to like, and we as adults should support those decisions whatever they may be.

Although some companies like Goldie Blox have already received some attention, other gender-flexible advertisement and gender-neutral products are largely unknown:

Along with pushing for and creating gender-neutral toys, these companies are also creating toys to more accurately reflect the beautiful diversity of children around the world. With initiatives for more diverse race, religion, sex, and gender representation for toys we can teach the younger generations to be more open-minded and free them to pursue the options that are best for them, leading to future progress.

I want to be able to walk down the toy aisle and pick out a unisex toy or pick out a pink and blue outfit for a child. I want to be able to see children in dance and tai kwon do without worrying about whether or not they’re being teased. I want to walk down the street without thinking: Is that a boy or a girl? Because it doesn’t matter whether I can identify someone’s sex, gender, or sexuality. It matters that we are making the world safer for everyone, making it easier for identity formation to take place, and making sex and gender equality a reality. When more people ask for gender-neutral options, possibilities are more likely to be provided and laws protecting individual rights passed. It is up to us to make a difference and support those seeking equality.


About Margaret Sloss Women's Center - ISU

The Margaret Sloss Women's Center promotes equity on the Iowa State University campus. Through a feminist lens, the center advocates for individuals and groups; provides support, referrals, community and programming; and maintains a safe space in the Sloss House.

Posted on July 3, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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