I shop, therefore I am…

Can somebody please tell me if this is progress?

Prtoysmattel_polly_pocket_polly_s_suv_ca

At first glance, if you ignore the fact that it is a freaking SUV, this Polly Pocket car seems like it might be progress.  After all, the LA Times via the Chicago Tribune calls it "a gender-bending move" that puts "girls in the driver’s seat."  That’s got to be progress, right?

But then, oh, then, we learn that the cars come in candy colors, have tiny removable Polly Pocket dolls, and frosted plastic covering the metal chassis.  And if you can hold your breath long enough, they are soon going to come with color-coordinated scents. I’m not sure how that will work, exactly. Maybe you get a tiny doll-sized bottle of perfume when you buy the car?

But they saved the best for last because, in a move the LA times dubs "the ultimate melding of traditional boys’ and girls’ play" Mattel is offering a track set for the Polly cars called Race to the Mall.   

Yes, you read that right.  Race to the Mall. And the prize for the winner?  A magnetic shopping bag that "jumps" into the car.

OMFG.

As the mother of three boys, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to mother a girl.  It was a challenge I really wished I had been given the chance to tackle.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys, and relish the opportunity to do my part to contribute to the worldwide supply of that currently endangered species, The Conscious Male.  But the world is set up for my boys – from the default pronoun on – and girls have so much to work against. 

To wit, I cannot think of an example of a toy where boys are marketed to in such a way as to so blatantly reinforce their development as consumers.  With boys, the goal of the race is being the fastest, running the smarter race or being lucky enough to pick the car that still works. Someone wins.  Everyone else sucks.

But for girls, the goal is apparently not simply to win.  The goal is to win so you can get to the mall and  shop. You don’t play to win, you play to shop.

Again, OMFG.

So I guess I answered my own question. If this is what passes for progress in the movement toward gender equality, then I think that movement has pretty clearly run out of gas. But it is possible that my vision is clouded by my own deep dislike of shopping, and from years of living with men of various sizes who have to be dragged by the scruffs of their necks through the automatic doors of any mall.

I wonder if I am I reading too much into the whole thing.  It’s only a toy, after all.  Conversely, my outrage could be awfully late to the party.  Maybe there have been hundreds of toys like this that I, in the blissful ignorance that living with boys conveys, just missed.

Or maybe I should stop thinking so much and, you know, just go shopping.

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9 thoughts on “I shop, therefore I am…

  1. Well, I’d bet that there have been hundreds of toys as blatantly sexist as this one, but that does not make it all OK!
    I’m as outraged as you. I do think it’s appalling. And things like this make me awfully glad I never had that girl. Yes, I did want a girl very much, but I would have found it quite the challenge in our society to raise her to be strong, free-thinking, and independent.
    The only brand of doll I don’t mind is the Groovy Girl (or, as Jack puts it, the Goofy Girl).

  2. Well, as the mother of two girls, I would say that you start by not assuming that the toy industry is the trendsetter in gender equality (which I know you don’t). [snark] I’m surprised that the Times/Trib think this car is is so amazing because Barbie’s had a car for *eons*! [end snark]
    I find it interesting that you two mothers-of-sons consider raising girls a challenge. Because I’ve always thought it would be super tough to raise sons: It always seemed easier to raise a child who was part of the “underclass” to fight the system than to raise a child who was part of the “overlords” to concede power. Does that make sense?
    (non sequitur-ish statement: There is one boy-child relative whose parents were so permissive when he was little, that I had dreams of him growing up to be a rapist, because his parents had never taught him that No means No.) (he’s much better now, but still being raised in a “traditional” household)
    PS: I’ve always hated shopping, and so do my girls. Hee-yah!

  3. Race to the mall! Ha!
    My oldest daughter – she’s 7 – likes Polly Pocket, which means very careful shopping for me. Polly as a dog show judge? Okey dokey! Polly with the magical clothes-changing party limo? Not so frickin’ much!

  4. Imperatrix, it’s probably because we are comfortable with what we know — raising boys — and less comfortable with what we don’t. Anna? Do you agree?
    I do not, however, enjoy girls’ cruelty to other girls, and I expect I’d raise a sensitive girl who would probably be victimized. And that I could not bear.

  5. Hey Anna,
    Sam told me about your blog, and I’ve loved reading it. Had to comment on this because I wrote a few columns about this topic 10 years ago when computer companies were trying to figure out how to suck girls into playing computer games. Their first attempts were Barbie games and one intricate game where the object is to go to, yes you guessed it, the mall.
    So, not much has changed, and the girls are still getting short-shrift.
    I guess if it’s any consolation, all of the computer games went bust — girls didn’t fall for it.
    Valle, also a mother to the y-chromosome crowd.

  6. Imperatrix and slouching mom, I’ve always felt that with boys, the culture is so supportive of their efforts, interests and proclivities that they have a better chance of starting with a good sense of self than girls might have. Take body image, for example. It is the rare boy who has a body type within the normal range who worries about being fat. He is just not getting the messages from the culture that his body is inadequate. And yet girls, from a horrifyingly early age, are vulnerable to messages that tell them that their perfectly normal bodies are bad and somehow, not coincidentally in my mind, in need of diminishment. I think our culture is deeply undermining to girls. I think the messages that undermine boys (i.e. it is not OK to cry) come less from the media and more their families of origin. So, since I am married to a very sensitive man, I hasn’t been difficult to foster qualities in my boys that I value, such as emotional sensitivity. Thanks for focusing my attention on this part of the discussion. I think the issue deserves a post of its own…
    Beck, magical clothes-changing party limo?!? Who comes up with this stuff? And how do they sleep at night?
    Valle, welcome! I guess I WAS in a testosterone-induced delirium on this issue…

  7. I’ll look forward to that post! BTW, pre-teen nastiness between girls is around, but my recent experience is, most kids are willing to listen to alternatives and are willing to try at least to be polite.
    I also just finished the novel *Black Swan Green* and, I gotta say, bullying between boys seems at least as terrifiying as girl bullying.

  8. Bullying between boys in indeed pretty grim!
    I really can’t imagine what raising a girl would be like, three years into the project of raising a boy. Actually, I find the expression “raising” a kind of weird one. I suppose I lift him up in the air a lot. Sometimes upside down which he really seems to appreciate. But that’s by the by.
    So far, dudelet is definitely more physically boisterous than the girls he knows but stick him in front of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire game and he’s as happy playing Hermione as Ron or Harry. Hermione, by the way, strikes me as a formidable role model for girls if they must insist on collectables. She’s the smart one, she’s not a shopaholic – there’s a lot more sly undermining of stereotypes in the whole HP series, despite its flaws, than it’s given credit for and the iron grip Rowling’s kept on the franchise helps.

  9. My girl, age 9, loves:
    Polly Pocket
    taking apart computers
    ballet
    bike riding
    Avatar
    Hanna Montana
    I take some comfort from this list because it implies a diversity of influences.
    Of course, she also told me, last Sunday, that she didn’t want a particular swimsuit because it made her look far. That sucked.
    I’ve always been glad I had a girl because I understand what it means to be a good and healthy woman. Not so sure about the subtleties of being a good man. It’s more than being sensitive. And I think current elementary school norms–as perpetuated by teachers anyway–suppresses “boyness”, coming from either sex.

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