I need to write a cathartic snarkathon about my Weekend of Suburban Confinement, but I'll need a little time to pull that together. In the meantime, today's news, an LA Times article (shared with the Chicago Tribune) reports that Mattel—those pro-woman geniuses behind the Barbie doll—are launching the Polly Wheels line of toys this June. They combine Polly Pockets dolls with die-cast cars (Hot Wheels–style cars). Each car will come with a doll to drive it, and the chassis will be covered with frosted plastic. (Wait. Won't that crack when the cars crash?) This fall, Mattel will add fruit-scented cars. And just in time for the holidays, a racetrack set: "The winner of the game, the first car to make it up the shopping center's elevator to a boutique, is rewarded with a magnetic shopping bag that 'jumps' into the car."
Holy crap. Did they even consider just packaging some Hot Wheels cars with pink cardboard and painting those cars in "girly" colors? Maybe it would have worked. Instead, Mattel is cramming more "girls love to shop" nonsense down girls' throats. The news article is rife with sexist and patriarchy-laden bilge. One mother with both daughters and a son says, "You always feel bad making the stereotypes, but boys and girls play differently." (Oy.)
The guy from Mattel said the ideas for the Polly Wheels line came from girls themselves: "Girls were the ones who gravitated to this. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ideas." A magnetic shopping bag that jumps into a car is simple? No, no, no, no. The simplest idea is Make the same cars and tracks in girly colors, too.
Mind you, I played with Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars when I was a kid. We had a couple orange strips of racetrack, so we could send the cars flying. And no, there were no boys in the house. I also scraped the paint off some of the cars, the ones that had a single color of paint. Die-cast cars look great in plain metal. Sometimes I painted 'em afterwards (solid, non-girly colors, maybe some pastels). And I'd sort out cars by color—the standard play-with-cars business. And never thought to send the cars to the mall or pretend that dolls were driving them.
I'm sure we had plenty of dolls, but toys that do something are innately so much more interesting than toys that sit there. Burger King gave Ben both the boy and girl toys in his kid meal the other day. The boy toy was a wheel launcher that sent a fat tire spinning across the room. The girl toy was a hard rubber doll with no moving parts that could be bent minimally (and emitted toxic plastic fumes). Over and over, the Happy Meal and other kids' meal toys bear this out: Girls get static toys that either (1) sit there and look pretty, or (2) can be put on to make the girl look pretty in pink plastic jewelry. The boys get cars and figurines with moving parts, things that do something.
Is this an anti-girl bias, to grumble about toys that require more imagination to play with? Or is it more of an anti teaching-girls-to-be-inert-fembots bias?
(Side rant: How come the Hot Wheels racetrack sets now all seem to require assembling 20+ parts into a set design and include a battery-operated component? Why don't they sell plain orange racetracks like they had in the 1970s? I liked being able to set up a long ramp heading down from the table, and having the loop-the-loop be a self-directed option. Those battery-powered accelerator things are so noisy.)