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Miles of Aisles of Sexism

By Sudie Hofmann

A visit to several chain toy stores at the Mall of America and suburban shopping centers in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul metro area taught me a powerful lesson about how toy manufacturers operate. I began by recording the categories of toys in the girls' and boys' sections. The boys' section was dominated by weaponry. Using Myriam Miedzian's powerful critique included in her 1991 book, Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence, I observed that boys' toys have become even more "lethal" since 1991. But the language used on the packaging now justifies the use of force or violence in the name of being a "peace keeper," completing a "mission," or being a "superior defender." The text used on the war toys Miedzian observed was seemingly more honest about being the aggressors. For example, the Rambo 81 mm Mortar Thunder-Tube Assault declares the "army will stop at nothing to control the world" and the motto for the Rampage Transformer is "those who conquer act: those who are conquered think." Madison Avenue now encourages violence during playtime in the name of peace and justice.

The colors commonly used on the packaging are black, red, and deep yellow to provide images of flames. Jagged letters suggest lightning, the icon for speed and power.

Words such as "bashing," "kicking," "deadly," and "assault" are standard fare used to promote these children's toys. Toys such as Power Brutes, Battle Arena, and Big Brother (whose box states, "Get Ready for the Real Confrontation") can be purchased at just about any discount or toy store.

Kaybee Toys committed more than one third of one aisle to Power Team Elite, manufactured by Hong Kong-based M&C Toy Centre; featured were about two dozen action figures with guns, scopes, grenades, Humvees, and an A-F Combat Helicopter. These toys offer children a particular perspective: Patriotism and superiority are the ultimate goals, and aggression and training for war are justified through a simplistic lens of "us" versus "them."

In addition to the war toys, the male area offers word games, chess, and other challenging board games. Boys — and presumably their dads — are prominently featured on the boxes of Pavilion's Backgammon and Chess Teacher. Planetariums, globes, interactive world maps, atlases, 3-D Dino Adventure, Legos, science kits, and GeoGenius fill the shelves.

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