Today, children are constantly exposed to so many different types of toys; everything from the most basic dolls and action figures, all the way to the most complex computers, IPODs, and video games. However you might ask: How is it decided which toys each of these kids play with? There are a number of factors that go into this decision. In the case of Alexandria and many other kids, factors such as socioeconomic class, age, and gender play major roles in what children want in toys.
Alexandria Bellamy is an 8-year old girl from Manchester, England. Growing up in a lower-middle class area just outside Manchester, Alexandria is a gymnast and has been doing gymnastics since she was 4 years old. Her parents own a small store in the city of Manchester that has been struggling with a weakening economy. Therefore it is difficult sometimes for her family to afford some higher price luxury items. Alexandria has said that her main wish this year for her birthday is a new Barbie doll. So I decided to give her what she wanted and get her the “Barbie Collector Generations of Dreams Barbie Doll” from Toys R Us for $59.99.
There are many factors that can determine what toys children play with. One of these factors is the socioeconomic class of the family that the child is a part of. In Chapter 4 of his book Identities and Inequalities, David Newman explains how social class effects the way in which children grow up. He states, “Some families have greater access than others to the economic resources that are associated with a comfortable childhood: lots of toys, a nice house, and access to a good school,” (Newman 128). Along those lines, some children that grow up in wealthier families will have more access to luxury items and more expensive toys that some other children may not have. Some of these include video games, IPODs, and other electronic items that tend to cost more. On the other hand, children growing up in lower-class families will tend to play with more basic, less-expensive toys. Some of these include dolls, action-figures, and board games.
Alexandria’s situation agrees with these ideas on the effect of social class. Since Alexandria is part of a lower, middle-class family, she has grown up playing with Barbies and other dolls. Her parents cannot afford to be purchasing electronics for Alexandria at such a young age. Newman also explains how children like Alexandria see extra opportunities and things given to them. He says, “middle-class children take for granted the right to be involved in activities such as organized sports and music and go on class trips,” (Newman 129). Alexandria has a similar outlook on life as these middle-class children that Newman talks about. She takes everything she gets for granted and doesn’t complain when she cannot have something. On the other hand, if Alexandria was an upper-class child, she would more likely be asking for bigger and more expensive toys and would take nothing for granted. This shows how socioeconomic class can factor into the types of toys children, including Alexandria, play with and ask for as gifts.
Another major factor that determines what toys children such as Alexandria have is gender. Toy companies tend to target each of their toys to either boys or girls and rarely both. For example as I was shopping online at Toys R Us for Alexandria’s gift and I noticed that they have separate links to “Boys’ Toys” and “Girls’ Toys”. This shows that toy companies use hegemonic thinking when looking at masculinity and femininity. For example, according to this hegemonic thinking, girls tend to like dolls, playing dress-up, and toys like that. On the other hand, boys tend to like “manly” toys like action figures. Toys R Us, by separating their toys into these two categories, associates themselves with the hegemonic representations of gender.
Alexandria, with her toys, goes along with this hegemonic representation of femininity. Her favorite toys to play with are Barbie dolls. She likes to dress Barbie in a number of different outfits and play “pretend” with her dolls. In her article “Hetero Barbie”, Mary Rogers tells us how young women think as they grow older and how Barbie relates to that. She states, “As they get heterosexualized, (girls) pay increasing attention to the size and shape of their bodies, the range and contents of their wardrobes, the styling of their hair, and the making up of their faces. Barbie epitomizes, even exaggerates, these families mandates,” (Rogers 94). Barbie gives these girls a chance at a very early age to do these things that Rogers talks about without having to actually do it on themselves. Young girls like Alexandria enjoy playing with toys like this, which is the main reason toy stores like Toys R Us can get away with separating their toys into “Boys” and “Girls”.
Another smaller factor that affects what toys children play with is the age of the child. We usually see younger children using their imagination more, playing “pretend” with their toys. Then as they get older, it takes more to stimulate a child’s mind. Therefore later on, they usually play with toys that are more sophisticated and more complex such as video games and computers. Alexandria, as a young girl, goes along with these beliefs by playing with Barbies and other dolls that are very easy to play with. At the same time in order to get the most out of them, these toys require the user to use their imagination.
Children in the modern era are constantly exposed to so many different toys, games, and other forms of entertainment. They are exposed through many different outlets such as advertising, school, friends, and mainly their family. All of these outlets factor into the child’s decision on what toys the want to play with. However the main factors that go into this decision are those of the child’s socioeconomic class, age, and gender. Alexandria has gone along with the hegemonic representation of all three of these factors and therefore is seen as the “typical young girl” in the toys she plays with.
Newman, David. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media. Identities and Inequalities. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005 (106-145)
Rogers, Mary. “Hetero Barbie”. Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003
Image Taken from:
Toys R Us. Barbie Collector Generations of Dreams Barbie Doll. 29 May 2009. http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3544724