Roland Barthes “Toys” and Gender

In Roland Barthes essay Toys, he discusses the way in which toys are made to reflect the adult world, conditioning children to become accustomed to their expected roles and responsibilities as adults. “The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all…” (53). He goes on to talk about gender roles in toys, using the example of the baby doll geared toward girls:

There exist, for instance, dolls which urinate; they have an oesophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies… This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her to her future role as mother (53).

By conditioning children to find joy in or adapt to certain activities at a young age, they are likely to continue to conform to these roles as adults. To further study toys directed toward girls, I’ve looked more closely at ads for the Easy Bake Oven from the 60’s,  ”Poochie”, a toy line from the 80’s, and current ads from Toys R Us.

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Beginning with the 80s toy, the slogan reads, “A Poochie girl says what’s on her mind.” A Poochie girl, however, can only say what’s on her mind with the use of her cute, pink and purple puppy stamps with sassy lines like , “You drive me crazy.” Although the ad appears to be a progressive attempt to enforce little girls to be comfortable with “saying how she feels”, it seems to actually enforce the idea that she must still somehow be contained. Not only does this exhibit the obvious gendering of toys and how they relate to adult life, but it exemplifies the other piece of Barthes argument:

He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him ready-made: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish (54).

In regards to this particular toy, the girl is not communicating what’s on her mind on her own, and learning how make her voice heard through her own discovery. She is instead given a pre-packaged set of “feelings”. This implies that she needs some kind of aid or excuse for speaking her mind.

Moving to the Easy-Bake Oven from the 60’s, this product sets the tone for the duties little girls are expected to have as women. The Easy-Bake Oven is the perfect example of a “ready-made”. It’s teaching girls to enjoy baking at a young age in a way that is simple, decorative, and fun. The cakes and brownies come in little packets that are as easy as add water, pour into the pan, and pop it into the miniature oven, then decorate.

The ad ends with a little boy coming along and eating the cakes and brownies which fill the table, replicating gender roles still common in the home at this time. The woman cooks and bakes, the man eats.

In regards to more current toys on the market, Lego Friends is a specific Lego line made for little girls. While they are advertising a toy which allows the child to build and create, the obvious differences between typical Legos, and these specific “girly” Legos, still creates division between genders. The set does not allow the little girl to build a car, a ship, a building, a plane, or super heroes, like Legos advertised to boys, but instead the pieces build a pink café. The main colors on the boxes designed for girls are pink and purple, while the boxes for boys are mainly blue. The significance of the café is that we are again brought back to a toy that prepares girls for tasks which require them to take care of others. The idea of serving is built into girls’ lives at a young age.

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