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Jewish World Review March 14, 2000 /7 Adar II, 5760

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Consumer Reports



Celebrating our differences -- I HAD SUCH A CHUCKLE reading The Wall Street Journal the other day over breakfast. No matter what militant feminists say, truth will out eventually, even if it takes three decades. The article that caught my eye was titled, "Why Girls and Boys Get Different Toys." Uh-oh.

It appears that toy companies continue to market girl toys and boy toys, despite all these years of brainwashing about how gender differences are the result of nurture, not nature. You know why? Because that's what boy kids and girl kids want.

Hello? Flash from the front: Boys and girls are different.

The Journal piece quotes Fox Family Channel president and CEO Rich Cronin: "We've come a long way from the '60s and '70s when everyone said boys and girls are the same, their tastes are the same, their entertainment should be the same. Boys and girls are different, and it's great to celebrate what's special about each."

The article goes on to say: "Behind the shift is something marketers and child development experts have been noticing for a while. Boys seem to be starting to act like boys, and girls like girls, sooner than they used to. Boys start to be fascinated with battle and competition, while girls are more interested in creativity and relationships."

How many thousands of years have human beings been roaming the Earth, and the experts are just "noticing" things?

I am reminded of a television program I saw a few years back on gender behavior in very small children. I think it was on the Discovery Channel. They were dealing with very, very young children, and they gave each one of them a doll -- not one that looked like a real human baby, just a plain old doll. The girls hugged it and talked to it and related to it. The boys threw it or beat it up. We're different, and that show demonstrated how different we are, from very young ages.

Now, obviously, this doesn't mean girls can't be electrical engineers or boys can't become telephone operators. Do you remember the first time you called information and a man answered? I do. It felt really strange, because I was so accustomed to hearing a woman's voice when I dialed 411. But just because we have certain expectations about roles doesn't mean people can't hold the jobs they want or that they won't be good at them. However, that reality in no way suggests that there are no important gender differences. I believe affirmative action in the area of gender has resulted in jamming many people into roles that are unnatural for them and undesirable for the rest of us.

Anyway, back to the article about toys. The top marketing executive of Toys "R" Us, Warren Kornblum, trying to stay clear of feminist ire, says that although the company has redesigned its stores, the intent was not to create a "boys' world" or "girls' world." According to the article: "The design is the result of exhaustive research into consumer-buying patterns. The company identified 'logical adjacencies' of products likely to be purchased by the same type of consumer, and then placed them next to one another in the store. Thus Easy Bake Ovens are near Barbies and not near the action figures.

"'Our intention is not to be gender-specific but relevant to all our customers,' Mr. Kornblum said. 'It is not our job to create what kids want and to push them in one way or the other.'"

I think the point is that girls and boys don't have to be pushed(when it comes to buying toys. They are pretty clear about what they want. And if some girls sometimes want "boy toys," they go and find them. In my experience, this is more common than boys wanting to play with "girl toys," but in that eventuality, presumably boys can find their way to the right section, as well.

So all that's really changed is the labels. Boys' action figures and sports collectibles, for example, are grouped together, as are radio remote-control cars, Tonka trucks, walkie-talkies, etc. I mean, let's face it -- how many girls dream of having boys' action figures?

The Toys "R" Us unlabeled girls' section list of products is twice as long as the boys', including Barbie, baby dolls, doll houses, collectible horses, play kitchens, housekeeping toys, girls' dress-up clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, bath and beauty products.

How different is this from a mall, where there are many more shops that attract women -- clothing, jewelry, shoes, cosmetics, bath and beauty chains, kitchen and home decor outlets? You rarely see men walking into many of these stores unless it's Valentine's Day or unless they are shopping with their girlfriends or wives.

Let's be honest. Women have women's stores (and many more of them than men do) because most women enjoy shopping, while many men do not. I don't see how recognizing this fact gets equated with brow-beating girls into being feminine.

When my son was little and we would go shopping for clothes for him, I noticed how much more floor space was given to girls' apparel. He couldn't have cared less. He'd say, "Mom, I have two shirts. I have three jeans. What's the problem?"

None, so far as I can see. Vive la difference!

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