Gender Roles & Toys

Within Roland Barthes’ various “mythologies essays,” he narrows his focus in one of his essays, on the idea of gender roles related to toys within French culture. “French toys always mean something, and this something is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life.”(53) This type of gender oriented aim for the production of toys reflects across many cultures. I’d like to relate Barthes’ essay to the gender specific toy production through the Japanese industry. Even In japan you see toys specific to gender, preparing these kids, and conditioning them, for these various future  gender specific roles. Girl toys include the stereotypical baking and cooking sets, as well as realistic baby toys where you take care of the baby as you would if it were your own. Boys receive the more masculine, and once again stereotypical, gun toys, doctor/police kits, and many more career conditioning ideological toys. It’s no secret that these toys are made with a purpose, and that purpose is to engineer children at a young age for their imminent gender roles in society as they grow up.

I would like to compare two Japanese toy commercials, which illustrate just how gender focused the toy industry really is, even overseas. The first commercial demonstrates a fully equipped doctors office within an ambulance. This toy comes with a “baby alive”girl doll as well, and the purpose of the toy is to condition young girls to begin practicing taking care of children. The more female generated color schemes within the toy itself combined with the girl doll, only add to the underlying conditioning process.


The second video illustrates a “space ray gun” toy from the 60’s, which includes real sparks that come out of the barrel, loud noises, and “lots of action.” This toy conditions boys to begin practicing violence, and become geared towards these sort of ideologies. It’s hard to believe this sort of toy was sold to children. Barthes writes how, “French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all.”(53) These toys have more of an impact on children then companies realize.

The striking difference in ideological representations through the gender specific toys, is obvious in it’s intentions, but striking. I would like to include a picture of a girls toy in Japan that actually DEMONSTRATES child birth for young girls. Following that photo I want to include a more recent Japanese toy for young boys, which although extremely manly and incredible In my opinion, a very gender specific toy targeting the masculinity of young boys, furthermore conditioning them for violence and images of authority, and power.


The first toy is extremely shocking, in the fact that it is obviously too graphic, and realistic for young girls. For the picture below it, former president Barack Obama, can be seen wielding a pistol, katana, rapping into a microphone, and even fighting off Darth Vader. These are two polar extremes of the ideological conditioning amongst gender and toys, but if these pictures don’t demonstrate gender conditioning, I’m not sure what can. Despite the fact that gender specific toys are on the decline, and more gender neutral toys are being produced, the overhanging affect children’s toys have on children’s subconscious, and in this case Japanese children’s toys, is still very much an issue in subconsciously conditioning young children for their stereotypical adult roles. I want to provide an example as to how gender assumed roles and toys are drastically changing as the globe conforms to more accepting and universal ideologies. I think the picture will speak for itself so I will leave it without further explanation.


I want to conclude my post by including what I believe to be the most important quote in Barthes’ essay. “However, faced with this world of faithful and complicated objects, the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it:there are, prepared for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without joy.”(54) Barthes is onto something deeper here, outlining how toys today, are not only conditioning our children, but are setting them up for a lack of creativity. The real emotions, and experiences children should be undergoing are being stripped from them, and replaced by plastic toys cheaply made toys conditioning the minds of our adolescence.



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