While shopping for Eric, my 11-year-old boy, I looked at the ways in which action figures are marketed to girls and how that compared with how they are marketed to boys. What I noticed was that not only were there ten times as many action figures for boys as there were for girls, but also that the boys’ toys had violent and competitive overtones. By enforcing ideas of hyper masculinity, these toys are not only socializing young boys to be violent and fiercely competitive, but also supporting the notion that the gender identities of boys and girls are disparate and inflexible.
In order to find toys specifically for Eric, I checked off “8 to 11 years old”, “boy”, and “action figures” in the Toys “R” Us search box. The fact that the site had demarcated separate toys for girls and boys illustrates the construction of gender identity by Toys “R” Us within the context of consumerism. As I was looking over the “boy appropriate” action figures, I realized that there was an abundance of toys that had been “pitted” against each other. Many of the figures were advertised as “versing” another. For example, one of the pictures in the collage shows “Superman vs. He-Man”. There were also many wrestlers and UFC fighters who, by virtue of their jobs, compete against others physically. Messner explains that, for boys, “it is being better than the other guys—beating them—that is the key to acceptance” (129). These toys reinforce the message that competition and winning are important in constructing a masculine identity.
In order to see that this is a specifically male message, one just needs to examine the action figures that are marketed to girls. The first two columns of the collage show the girls’ toys, which are a clear departure from those intended for boys. There were neither “A vs. B” toys nor any toys that came with weapons, except those that were within a historical context (i.e. the medieval archer). The weaponry that came with boys’ toys was both sophisticated and excessive. The action figures, which were exclusively male in appearance, were often equipped with automatic machine guns that were as large as the toy’s whole body. These weapons are meant to project an image of “toughness” and masculinity to young boys. The violence and conflict that are inextricably linked with such weapons are thusly linked with ideal notions of manhood. Katz argues that, “the physical body and its potential for violence provide a concrete means of achieving and asserting “manhood”” (351). He also points out that, “Guns are an important signifier of virility and power and hence are an important part of the way violent masculinity is constructed and then sold to audience” (357). This shows that both the muscular body of action figures and their excessive arms are both tools meant to cultivate an ideal image of masculinity. When these notions are coupled with the emphasis on competition within the context of marketing, they provide dangerous messages to young boys about what it means to be a man.
Katz, Jackson. "Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity." Title Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003. 349-358.
Messner, Michael A.. "Boyhood, Organized, Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. Ed. Estelle Disch. McGraw Hill: 2008. 120-137.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-2864064dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-4803004dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-5412089dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-5672195dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-5745072dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-5914142dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-5933637dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6337434dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6355230dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6387692dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6565518dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6735451dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://TRUS.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pTRU1-6937777dt.jpg.
Photograph. Toys "R" Us. Web. 5 Aug. 2010.