In my recent holiday-purchase related travels, I have run into an interesting phenomenon: All the toys aimed at my eight-year-old daughter seem to be somehow themed to or powered by magic, while stereotypically boy-oriented toys tend to be more technologically-based. I don’t want to open a can of worms about sexism in the toy industry, but I find it interesting to try and figure out the WHY behind this strange dichotomy. Also, I kind of don’t understand how the Disney Princesses interact without a TARDIS, but that may be a separate issue…

The MD-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) wonders about where Arcee fits into this hypothesis, asking: Why would there be any expectation that magic or technological toys would be gender-based?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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11 Comments

  1. Praion
    December 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm — Reply

    I also think that there is Boy Magic and Girl Magic.
    Boy magic is learned by long studying of magic formulae and treats magic as physics/science

    Girl magic is much more emotional and might by witchy.

    Counter-Examples
    Twilight Sparkle uses boy magic while Wiccan uses girl magic (but(?) is gay)

  2. M. Walsh
    December 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    Perhaps girls have a more willing grasp of the abstract, while boys prefer things solid and definite?

    Or maybe, where a girl is content with a flight of fantasy, a boy is more interested in the cool gadgets he can use?

    Or maybe girls understand better that reality is an wretched void of disappointment and shame and find escape in concepts of magic and fantasy, where guys just want to wreck s**t with their tools?

  3. Frank
    December 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm — Reply

    M. Walsh +1

  4. Navarre
    December 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm — Reply

    I think it is an unfortunate reflection of the concept that males are problem solvers who use concrete mechanics to empower themselves while females are waiting for that magical reshaping of reality that will rescue them from their plight.

  5. December 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm — Reply

    It is kinda sad that I really don’t feel like I have an answer for this despite the fact I grew up very much a fan of “boy toylines”. What few girl toys I had been given by family members who insisted I should have girl toys (Barbie, MLP, etc) were used as zombie hordes attacking the combined forces of He-Man, Transformers, Thundercats, GI Joe, etc.

  6. B.V.K.
    December 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm — Reply

    Actually read an article today that showed that boys from 4th to 8th grade do better in math and science then girls do. (don’t get mad at me, its data from 2011 out of TIMSS) So if boys tend to grasp those concepts earlier than girls do it would make sense that their toys reflect that. Of course since most corporations wont go to the bathroom before they do a panel about it and field test the idea, I’m sure they are aware of that and make toys accordingly for those different demos.

    • December 13, 2012 at 1:44 am — Reply

      According to the latest findings of Social Psychology, the entire premise of boys being better at math may be more a product of expectation than natural ability. It’s a product of self-fulfilling Prophecy: a teacher assumes the male students will be better at math, and thus – without consciously doing so – focuses more on the boys. As such, they give male students a better education than the female ones, and when the boys end up doing better, it only validates the stereotype further in the teacher’s mind. Even though they engineered the result in the first place.

      As for the nature of boys versus girls toys, I guess there’s that mentality that girls would rather hear stories of knights and princesses, while boys would rather hear stories of space operas. But then that doesn’t explain why DnD was so popular among young men. I’ll need to think about this some more.

  7. Navarre
    December 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm — Reply

    But by that time the male child is 9 years old. Could it be that gender bias has already caused us to focus on the math and science abilities of males over females, thus causing the very development they are measuring?

  8. Shush
    December 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm — Reply

    My belief is this: Science Fiction Toys tend to have an Action/Adventure sub-genre to them and boys in popular culture are ‘supposed’ to like blowing things up. Fantasy Toys often have the social drama sub-genre and girls in popular culture are ‘supposed’ to like tea parties and the like.

    This doesn’t truthfully reflect what the individual likes in reality, but it’s a little bit of the perception of the thing that becoming the truth of the thing.

    They should both just be given dinosaur toys and allowed to stomp around like Godzilla.

  9. Josh "Spaceboot" Treleaven
    December 13, 2012 at 12:13 am — Reply

    I think it’s because the research does indicate a very small difference between boys and girls. There is a tiny grain of truth to the “boys = analytical, girls = emotional” theory, in that the average for each gender lies slightly apart. The thing that’s often missed though, is that variation between individual boys (or individual girls) is much greater than the difference between boys and girls.

    Anyways, along with the pseudoscience answer, there’s also the fact that toy makers, along with a huge portion of the business world, seem to want the simple and categorizeable answer. It’s easier to have two Business Unit Divisions: the “boy” division who also handle technological stuff, and the “girl” division who handle the fantasy and magic stuff. Rather than have four departments: boys who like magic; boys who like tech; girls who like magic; girls who like tech. And after we make that organizational decision, what other facets can we use to further divide our R&D teams, our marketing teams, etc.

  10. December 13, 2012 at 9:18 am — Reply

    It’s just lazy marketing. Harry Potter was a huge hit, girls tend to be readers more often than boys, and toy marketing dudes are still chasing last year’s fad. If The Hunger Games had had more of a technological bent to its presentation–instead of focusing on character interactions and relationships–the toy market would have followed. Instead, the marketing is Star Wars/Avengers/Sci Fi for boys and ponies, castles, princesses, fairies, etc for girls.

    Also: girls who like tech stuff can buy boy-toys without nearly the stigma that boys interested in fairies, fashion, and horses face.

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