Kids

Toy Weapons For Girls: Too Violent, Or Too Pretty?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
At The Nerf Games women and men take part in the competition. Image: Sergey Galyonkin
At The Nerf Games women and men take part in the competition. Image: Sergey Galyonkin

Some toy companies have recently introduced new lines of toy weapons designed especially for girls.

While the toys are a hit with girls, some adults object to them. Some people say the toys encourage violence and aggression among girls. Others say they are too feminine, and promote old-fashioned stereotypes.

Last fall, Nerf introduced its Rebelle line, which includes bows and guns that shoot foam darts or spray water. The weapons have names like the Heartbreaker Bow Blaster and the Pink Crush Blaster gun. They are brightly coloured in mostly pinks and purples.

Another company, Zing, makes Air Huntress bows and slingshots specifically for girls. They are also hot pink and purple. Zing already had a similar line of weapons in black and red called Air Hunter that was sold mostly to boys.

Many parents and teachers don’t like the idea of encouraging children – boys or girls – to play with weapons. They think it will make them more violent.

But most experts believe that aggressive play does not make children more violent.

Studies have shown that children’s games that involve weapons are often about struggles between good and evil. They give children a chance to be protectors and heroes and to feel more powerful. This kind of play can also help children deal with their fears.

This can be especially valuable for girls. Female characters in movies and books often need to be rescued by male characters. Many of the new toys are inspired by strong female characters from popular movies who are the heroes rather than the victims.

Disney makes an archery set inspired by the character Merida from Brave. Mattel has introduced a Barbie doll based on Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games that comes with a bow and arrows.

These characters and the toys they inspire can help girls to feel stronger and more independent. But parents and experts in child psychology complain that while these toys challenge some stereotypes about girls, they encourage others.

They object to the use of traditionally feminine colours for the toys, as well as the emphasis on looking good. The product description for the Nerf Rebelle Sweet Revenge Kit, which includes a dart gun and pink sunglasses, reads: “Who says you can’t look stylish while you suit up for Rebelle action?” It describes the gun as “fashionable,” and promises the player will be the “sassiest warrior.”

John Frascotti is the chief marketing officer for Hasbro, the company that makes the Nerf Rebelle weapons. He says that the company did not set out to design toy weapons based on feminine stereotypes. Instead, the company talked to young girls to find out what they wanted, and designed the toys based on their response.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
On one side, toy manufacturers say they’re giving girls the type of product that they want. On the other, some adults argue that the types of toys that the manufacturers are making are based on gender stereotypes. Who do you believe?

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
Think of toys that you have or had. Do you think they were aimed at boys or girls specifically? Why do you think so?

Primary
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge and experience, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Language Feature: Stereotype
The word “stereotype” has a really fascinating history. According to the Oxford Dictionary of  Word Origins,

“When you’re listening to your stereo, probably the last idea you’d connect it with is ‘solidity’. But in fact Greek stereos did mean ‘solid’. The link with modern surround-sound comes from the use of stereo- in geometrical terms denoting solid objects. Something that is solid has three dimensions, which opened the way to creating the word stereophonic–literally ‘producing three-dimensional sound’. Stereo is a shortened version of stereophonic, which came into use in the early 1950s. (Stereotype, incidentally, originally referred to a ‘solid’ block of type for printing from–since it always printed the same thing, the word came to mean ‘a fixed set of ideas about what something is’.)”

How does knowing the origin of a word help give it more meaning?