Pretend Kitchens vs. Plastic Tools: Gendered Toys

By Hailley Smart

A wooden toy kitchen, photo taken by Bill Smith
A kid’s toy tool set, photo taken by El Cajon

When I walk into nearly any store, I can’t help but gravitate towards the toy section. This may be because I am an aunt of two adorable kids whom I love to spoil, and it may also be because I am very in touch with my inner child. But when I step into that laughter filled area, I see a clear divide between what toys are deemed suitable for girls and which toys are considered appropriate for boys. Now, I want you to think of yourself in my position, imagine how I find myself standing between the two isles noting the clear difference between them. To the one side my eyes are assaulted with every shade of pink imaginable with spots of purple and soft greens. On the other side I find stark blacks and greys, bold blues and dark greens. On one side is soft fabrics, on the other hard metals. To my left I will find a wide array of kitchen sets and dolls, princess dresses and ponies. On the opposite side of the isle is cars and tool sets, Legos and plastic guns. On one side hangs a sign labeled ‘Girl Toys’ on the other a sign reading ‘Boy Toys’. And it’s not just in physical stores, even on major retailers’ websites there is a clean split between girl and boy toys with no option of toys for all. But why is this the case? Has it always been this way, or can we fix it? Is this the way it should be, or is the separation harmful for both girls and boys?

Contrary to many beliefs, the idea of splitting toys across gender lines is actually a fairly new concept. As recently as the 1970’s, a mere 50 years ago, the idea of having toys separated into boys’ and girls’ sections would have been ludicrous. According to Elizabeth Sweet, an assistant professor of psychology at SJSU, “In the Sears catalog ads from 1975, less than 2 percent of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls”. In recent history, most toys could be found in a wide variety of bright and bold colors such as red, blue, yellow, and green. They were also advertised for all kids, showing both boys and girls playing together on the box. Toys were marketed not based on the gender of the kids playing with it, but what the toy could teach all children. Toys were separated within a single aisle based on whether they helped children develop social skills, fine motor skills, spacial skills, or emotional skills, attributes that are necessary for all children. In fact, the sorting of toys into gendered aisles didn’t become a thing till the 80’s and wasn’t as clear and prevailing of a split until the 90’s. So, the divide between girls’ and boys’ toys hasn’t always existed, but is it really a bad thing?

Studies have shown that the divide between toys can actually be very detrimental to young children. One of the primary ways that this is the case is due to the effect that marketing can have on kid’s interests. What is being advertised for kids to play with teaches them what is acceptable for them to be interested in. In a study completed by NPR, it was discovered that when computers were first released they were highly marketed towards boys, which resulted in a great decrease of women in fields like coding. This is because it was promoted that liking computers was for boys, so young girls were pushed away from being interested in going into computer jobs. This can also be seen on the reverse, where boys are pushed away from more ‘feminine’ jobs, such as early childhood teaching and cooking, due to toys like kitchen sets and baby dolls being marketed to girls. But the way in which interests develop isn’t the only way that dividing up the sections is harmful to kids. Many toys are designed to specifically target a certain attribute or skill. Professor Judith Elaine Blakemore at Indiana University said in an interview with the NAEYC that “moderately masculine toys have many positive qualities (spatial skills, science, building things, etc.) […] it is the same for some moderately feminine toys (nurturance, care for infants, developing skills in cooking and housework).” For example, Legos help young children develop fine motor skills, and for quite a while there was no girl equivalent to Legos to help young ladies develop these skills.

But what can we do about it? Many organizations are pushing for toy companies and sellers to stop dividing and marketing toys based on gender; the Let Toys Be Toys movement is one of these groups. They are a British group pushing for “the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.” On their website they give updates on what companies are doing to fix this problem, as well as giving recommendations of toys for every age group regardless of marketed gender. And many retailers themselves are working towards having gender neutral, or at least gender equal, marketing. This can be seen in Hasbro’s most recent string of commercials for their Nerf line, where both girls and boys are shown using their toys with no clear color divide, and Kirkbi, the owners of Legos, who have started promoting a wider variation of Legos for girls and Legos for all kids. The final thing that can be done, as consumers, is to look past the gender labels when shopping for toys. Ask the kid what they are interested in and shop based on what the toy can teach them. Don’t be confined to the rigid pink and blue, play kitchen and toy tool set, girl and boy divide. My nephew loves the color purple and my niece wants to grow up to be just like Bob the builder. Why should they be limited to only blue toys and only dolls?

An interview with a Female Deputy

Women in the law enforcement field are totally badass. I am taking a women, gender, and crime class, and it has been one of the most interesting classes I’ve taken. We learn about a variety of factors that play into the criminal justice system, as well as look at where women fit into the system, whether it be as an inmate, police officer, or attorney. An article reported the gender distribution within law enforcement with this statistic, “In 2018, 60.3 percent of full-time civilian law enforcement employees in the United States were female. Only 12.6 percent of full-time law enforcement officers were female, while 87.4 percent of law enforcement officers were male.” We have also taken a look at how the LGBT community fits into the criminal justice system as well. For a project, I had to interview a female practitioner within the criminal justice system in order to get a female’s perspective on the community. I interviewed my roommate’s sister, Katie Michaels, who has been a deputy sheriff since 2018. I was able to talk to her about the different factors that come into play while dealing with inmates. 

She had such an interesting perspective about the highs and the lows of her job. She said that the urge to help people going through a hard time is what drew her into this career field. She had different family members who were in law enforcement, and she loved hearing their stories about how they were able to make a difference and help. Michaels recalled a memory that answered my question about what the most rewarding part of her job was. She told me about a woman who came into the jail as a high school dropout and who had three children at the time- she has five children now. Michaels spent a lot of time in female housing.  helping where she could. She spent time helping this woman with her homework and always made sure that she knew she could ask Michaels for help when needed. This woman finished her GED and was later transferred to prison. Before she left, she told Michaels, “you made me into a better person,” she said that she was able to better herself by working on her education with the support of Michaels. While in prison, this woman will be working on college credit and pursuing a bachelor’s equivalent. This is a huge step, especially for someone who has been in troubled situations previously. 

Michaels explained that the revolving door was the hardest part of her job. I asked for clarification about the revolving door theory and she explained it occurs when someone is released and sometimes, within 30 hours, they are brought back to the facility. She explained that it is extremally hard to try to guide inmates to a path of self-improvement with the proper resources who are unwilling or unable to stick their guidance. In some cases, she mentioned that someone can be offered all of the resources available and they either don’t want the help, don’t think they deserve the help, or somewhere along the way feel failed by the resources and give up. All of these are factors which influence someone being booked back into jail. 

I was really interested about what being a female in the criminal justice system was like, so I asked her several questions about this. I asked her how/if being female influences her job? And she said yes in a lot of different ways. Michaels explained that inmates are more willing to open up to her compared to male deputies. She said that male inmates are more likely to prove their masculinity and macho-ness to other males than they would when dealing with a female deputy. I then asked her if male and females acted differently towards her when they were being booked into jail. She said absolutely, girls are snippy, aggressive, and make snide comments towards her during this portion of their stay. She also noted that women will eventually listen once a relationship is developed between them. Michaels stated that females are more likely to listen to a male deputy. She then explained that men are very quick to listen to her and she believes this to be rooted in gender roles, where men are not supposed to talk back and disrespect women. 

She said something that really stuck with me when I asked her if inmates ever tried to mess with her due to being female. Michaels explained that some newer male inmates will cat-call her while she is patrolling their living areas and some of the other male inmates will tell that guy to absolutely not do that. It stuck with me because it shows the level of respect that she has been able to develop with the people who are in jail. After talking to her about this topic, I realized that people like her are the ones who are making more of a difference than credited for. She explained countless stories of the programs they’ve developed in order to provide inmates with supplementary activities and self-development guides in order to better their future outside of jail. She thoroughly enjoys learning about people and providing support in any way she can. I think she is a great example of how powerful women are impacting those who need it. 

A workout without pressure

As a girl, sometimes going to the gym can be intimidating due to other fellow people working out. In high school, I didn’t go to the gym because I was always at sports practice with my different teams so I never had a need to go to outside of that practice. So, my first year of college was interesting. There are so many hidden rules and regulations that come with going to the gym. I quickly learned that there are sections that are dominated by men, such as the weight lifting area, where girls tended to stay in the mat sections and low-impact machines.  I started school at Florida State University, so the stereotypes are different and people tend to follow a more gender-role specific culture. I literally thought that girls weren’t allowed in the weights sections because I never saw them there.

The University of Idaho is much more progressive. Girls are in the weight section with no problem. With this comes an interesting feature of others being more in your business. As a woman, people (guys) really feel the need to come critique, suggest, and come to chat frequently during a workout. I’d like to say that this isn’t a problem, but unfortunately it is. I feel like because of the typical ‘gender-roled workouts’ being a thing, men tend to underestimate a woman’s ability to perform at a certain level. I have a really good guy friend who I lift weights with at the gym on campus and working out with him is a breeze. No one looks our way, we clean our machines and move on to the next thing. But the second he leaves me by myself, either to get water or to go to the bathroom, guys come up to me. They’ll ask the most random things and it’s so strange to me, like I’m sweaty, trying to work-out, and you’re bothering me because you’re trying to assert some sort of dominance over me because I’m in your space or something. 

So why does all of this matter? Due to the recent time change, falling back, it gets dark very early. I went to the gym by myself to run on the treadmill and then sit in the sauna. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon when I went to grab my jacket and backpack out of my locker. I realized that it was dark and I was going to be alone walking in the dark home. I noticed this guy in the gym staring at me. I figured it was because I was so sweaty after the sauna and went about getting ready to leave. I put my earbuds in (newsflash, don’t do that) and started walking to my house on campus. I felt this person speed up behind me and I whipped around to see why someone was on my butt. It was that guy from the gym on his bike trailing behind me. I stared at him and he rode passed me, only to make a U-turn and come back to me. He motioned for me to take off my earbuds so we could talk. I took them off and he made some weird comments about my work-out and I was just kind of looking at him like, “why are you talking to me and why did you go out of your way to be creepy towards me on this dark road behind campus”. His final phrase to me was, “why did you act like I was going to attack you?” and I was so scared at that point. Who says that? 

This is not set in stone, merely just a proposal that I’ve heard people talking about, but the university is thinking about dedicating a certain time where only girls can use certain areas in the gym. Blocking off time, in the day light, that would allow women to feel secure using the equipment without the pressure of having a guy come up to them to add some sort of awkwardness to their workout. This would allow women an opportunity to work out in an area with other women. I talked to my older and younger sisters about this and at first, we were thinking ‘why do we need separate time, girls are strong enough to handle their own’ which is very true. We could do it and have been. But on the other hand, some people make it so difficult to just have a workout without being chatted up or questioned if they know how to do something properly (or even being followed home after). This would be a huge step for us to get rid of the pressure of trying not to make eye-contact so some random person doesn’t have the opportunity to say something snarky. The staff have been proposing different ideas, so hopefully they can come to some agreement to make this possible. 

Working Moms are not a rarity

I recently watched a show that really spoke to me. The show is titled, ‘In a Man’s world’ and it’s shown on Bravo. The premise behind the show is to expose how people react differently to men and women in similar situations. Le’dor, the focus of the episode, put on prosthetics and professional makeup to undergo a full body makeover to look like a man. She was completely unrecognizable as a man, she named her male alter ego “Roy” which I’ll be referring to later on in the article. 

            Le’dor wanted to pursue a career in politics. Her family dynamic shifted while she was campaigning for the position she wanted, she said that her house fell apart because ‘mom’ wasn’t there to make everything perfect. Her biggest opponent was a woman whose campaign centered around the fact that her children were already grown and out of the house, therefore she would have more time to dedicate to her community compared to Le’dor who still has two young children at home. She lost that election to the woman who no longer had children living in her home. This experience led her to explore the idea of mom bias. The mom bias, otherwise known as the maternal wall bias, is a form of discrimination that working mothers endure. 

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Military family dynamics

My dad is in the Navy and we have moved thirteen times in the past twenty-one years I’ve been around. Moving frequently is something that has always been a part of my life. My parents were very good about keeping all three of us girls excited about moving to new places. These moves made me, personally, more social and eager to learn about the new duty station. My sisters had difference perceptions of moving; it took them longer to adapt to the new place, so by the time they had, we were ready to move again. The added stress put pressure on my dad to strategically pick a new place to live that would equally benefit everyone in the family. Overall, we are a strong family, so moving didn’t affect us as much as it does other families.  

sun set back ground with the silhouette of a place and soldiers in a line getting into the plane
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I Don’t Want to Do It All

By Kate Ringer

She rises early while her husband stays in bed. She is naturally beautiful, but by the end of her morning routine, her hair and makeup are perfect. She’s wearing heels with her

Ivanka Trump is often seen as a woman who has a perfect work-life balance.

blazer and skirt, her hair in a sleek ponytail. When she wakes up the children, breakfast is already on the table, and the lunches are packed with a note written on each napkin. Once the kids are on the bus to school, she begins her workday as a marketing executive. She’s a cool girl, and she fits right into the corporate world of men. At 5:00, she picks up the children from their after-school camps, and soon enough a wonderful dinner is waiting for her family on the table. “Thanks, Dear,” her husband says as she does the dishes; he settles into a comfy armchair to watch tonight’s game. She helps the children with their homework, reads them a bedtime story, makes sure they’re washed, and tucks them into bed. Before she goes to bed, she finishes up the project that is due at work, applies her anti-aging cream, and makes love to her husband.

How many of us have dreamed of this life? It’s this ideal of being the perfect woman, it haunts you. I know that this is approximately what I pictured as I entered my teens and looked to adulthood. I know better now. I’ve always been an ambitious woman, but I don’t want to do it all.

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The Impact of Rape Culture

By Makayla Sundquist

Trigger warning: This article discussing rape culture and violent acts, it may be troubling for survivors. 

“A rapist is always at fault.”

“When someone is raped, it is the fault of the rapist.”

 Yet, American society tends to belittle the victim with accusatory remarks, placing the blame onto the victim. This societal blame is fueled by “Rape Culture,” a term coined in the 1970’s to describe the normalization of sexualized violence in everyday life. “Rape Culture” is the belief that sexual violence is a way of life. You don’t believe me? You say, “I think that rape is bad, so I don’t fuel rape culture…”

Hold on there.  

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Schools & Gender Inequality

An illustration of a little boy playing with a toy car and a little girl playing with a doll.
Gender Stereotype

By Brianna Love

I had just started my junior year of high school. It was my first year in a public school, for I had been practically raised in a private Christian school. Due to the fact that I went to a private school, I had always worn school uniforms. Therefore, I didn’t know what was “acceptable clothing” to wear at public schools. I had worn a tank top, ripped jeans, and flip flops. It was nothing I would consider “sexy.” I didn’t think it was distracting. However, the campus security stopped me on my way to class. They took me to their office and said that the tank top was a violation of dress code and I had the option to: (1) call a parent and wait for them to bring me something else to wear, (2) spend the rest of the day in their office, or (3) have a parent take me home. That didn’t seem fair to me. My education was being inhibited because my shoulders were “too distracting” to the men in my classes.

Ever since then, the question haunts me…

Why is there a double standard between males and females when it comes to dress code?

This was a big issue for me because the reason behind the rule that they gave to me was that it “distracts the male students from their education.”

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A Picture of the American Sex Worker

A diverse group of protests advocating for sex workers rights. Front group holding a sign that says “sex workers rights = human rights.” By Rosemary Anderson

As I write this article, I want to make it known that the sex industry is not always positive for women and girls. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, sex workers around the world have a 45 to 75 percent chance of experiencing violence during their careers.

When sex workers do experience violence, they are not protected by rape shield laws and are not eligible for compensation funds.

Many see sex workers as objects, non-human, and second-rate members of society. This makes sex workers even more prone to being victims of violence.

Women are forced into sex work without their consent, others are forced into sex work because of financial situations, and some choose sex work as their profession.

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A Post-Heterosexual Vision of Love


A comic about gender being performative

By Olivia Comstock

Every part of our lives is stereotyped and put into boxes – our class, our education, our gender, our sexuality, and our love. This is frustrating and wrong because love should be the most free, open, and genuine part of life. Instead, it is limited by strict normalized gender roles and heteronormativity. These place implied expectations and create assumptions based on one’s role as the man or the woman in the relationship. Because of this, the possibilities of what love can be are limited. Openness, comfort, and self-love on the individual level also create these characteristics in a relationship. However, these traits are stifled by what is considered “normal” and people’s attempts to conform to it. There is potential to expand the possibilities of how people love through looking at the queer community and through a vision of a post-heterosexual world. I acknowledge that this is a very broad topic. I am only going to do a brief survey of how I think queerness could help us move beyond the boundaries and institutions in place today, but I am aware of the infiniteness of this topic.

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