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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2000 / 16 Adar I, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports



The feminists' newest
target: Toys -- THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES may have just moved to a new field of combat -- your local toy store.

Any parent who is used to shopping at a Toys "R" Us or similar emporium knows where to find the aisles that have games and toys grouped together for certain ages of boys here, and certain ages of girls there. This makes perfect sense to virtually everybody. After all, the typical boy is not going to be interested in trying one prom dress after another on Barbie until the "perfect" ensemble for that special occasion is chosen. (Let's face it -- almost any parent of a little boy would be pretty concerned if he did.) Likewise, the typical girl will have little use for something called Micro Machine Night Attack Play Set. So, the thinking goes, why not make things easier for everybody and arrange the stores to reflect the real world preferences of children?

But the fact that such toy store geography makes sense doesn't make sense to a host of feminist organizations opposed to the growing trend among toy makers and marketers of gearing their products in a gender-specific direction, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. You see, for decades toy companies had tried a more gender-neutral approach. This wasn't just political correctness. They would have loved to have doubled profits by selling boys and girls the same toys. The problem is, these companies lost millions of dollars in the attempt.

But in recent years growing evidence has shown what every parent knows anyway. Boys and girls are -- gasp -- different. Actually, the evidence is increasingly clear that they are innately different. In any event, according to the Journal, more and more toy companies feel comfortable marketing -- and profiting by -- gender-specific products. So, while every toy store has aisles with gender-neutral toys like paints and certain board games, the lanes of gender targeted items like jewelry, cosmetics and doll houses for girls and Tonka Trucks, walkie-talkies, and radio remote-control cars for boys are growing. (Recently, in response to a public relations disaster, Toys "R" Us removed new signs labeling such aisles "Girls World" or "Boys World." But the layout itself remained largely intact.)

And that doesn't sit well with the likes of Pamela Haag, director of research at the feminist American Association of University Women's Educational Foundation. Even without labels, she told me, such arrangements leave little girls and boys limited and stereotyped. So I asked Haag how she would arrange a typical toy store, and she said she might do it thematically instead of by gender. I guess that means all play figures, from baby dolls to monster robots, end up in one aisle, with the toy kitchens and laser swords elsewhere. For starters, this is impractical. And anyway, while it might take them longer little girls will still find the Easy Bake ovens, and little boys will still gravitate toward grotesque action figures. But it comes from the notion that Haag and her allies seem to have that boys and girls will largely enjoy similar toys if only given a chance (ignoring the fact they'd been given that chance for decades). So, for instance, Haag pointed to research showing that both boys and girls want computer games that are challenging and include different levels of expertise.

But as Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcoming "The War Against Boys" told me, those are generalities that don't mean much. In fact, she explained, computer software makers desperately wished boys and girls wanted the same kinds of offerings. But marketing and other research consistently shows that girls want relational, personal, and glamorous computer games. And boys choose software that features aggressive, competitive, and anything but personal play.

And so what? Sure, there are exceptions to the norms of what a typical boy or typical girl likes to do. But more to the point, feminists appear to hate the norms which again and again are shown to arise from nature, not nurture in a "patriarchal" culture. So instead of accepting and celebrating the fact that boys and girls and men and women are different in some very special ways, feminists seem intent on imposing rigorous social engineering to oppose what comes naturally -- now politicizing even the local toy store.

Well, as Hoff Sommers said, "the good news is kids don't cooperate. Mother nature is not a feminist."

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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11/05/99:The waste of recycling
11/01/99: Welcome to Harvard pre-school
10/22/99: No disaster for women that Dole is out
10/19/99: 'Humanitarian' hypocrites
10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service