Monday, February 26, 2007

Hot Girly Wheels

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.)


The Absent Minded Housewife said...

I always liked boy toys better than girl toys as a kid.

Sure, I had Barbies, but it wasn't the Barbie that was the fun. It was constructing Barbie houses, and clothes, and Barbie waterparks in the sandbox complete with a magnificent mudslide (great for Barbie's complexion, watch out for cat turds.)

I have no little girls. I get to play with awesome building toys.

Cricket said...

I remember a decade ago trying to have a conversation with ex. I'd heard about new computer programs coming out that were girl-specific and, although simulating cleaning a kitchen or virtually dressing a doll is not my gig, I applauded the idea of a girl sitting at a computer,learning to use a mouse, computer desktop, disk, etc. with the boost of learning while doing something she felt was interesting. Whatever it takes to get a girl on the technology road. Of course, ex thought I was crazy and felt girls should be happy playing pacman or whatever, just like the boys.

I was also a car girl, making roads in the dirt with the neighbor boy. I don't remember a single car color, as that was not the draw. In this instance, I think a car is a car and any girl with the inclination to play with a car will do so without regard to color. Or a "shopping spree."

Yeah, they are a pain in the arse to put together, stickers never put in the right place, parts falling off. Simple is better. We wound up with a couple with the now yellow, not orange, track, so we could string them together.

Reminds me of a sad funny - ex's best friend (who I also knew from age of 12) kinda shuddered when he saw my son's yellow track, saying that's the tool his mom used to grab to whack her naughty boys.

Anonymous said...

I hate that BK, McD's, etc. even have "boy" and "girl" toys. At lest 50% of the time, my girl would rather have the boy toy -- because they do something, as you note.

Anonymous said...

My son absolutely loves tools of all kinds--from hammers to brooms. I looked high and low at the "big box" toy stores for a mop and broom set that wasn't pink and geared toward girls. (Although pink is his favorite color, I refused to buy them on principle.) I finally found one at (surprise!) an small, local toy store. He also loves those stand up kitchen playsets. The old ones are gender neutral, but the newer ones I saw were obviously designed with girls in mind.

I absolutely hate gender typing in toys for toddlers. Some of my best memories as a child were helping my dad build things (with real tools) and playing with legos. My 3 yr oldson spends hours a day playing with his wooden train set, but he also sweeps the floor for me (he's more likely to do it than I am) and carries around his favorite stuffed animals to hug them.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I LOVED those plain orange racetracks! Prop 'em up with books, make 'em run down the front of the couch, leap off a ramp made of an empty oatmeal box...THAT'S kid heaven!

Boy-child has abandoned those fancy Hot Wheels tracks he got just years ago...the shark head that bites your car, the car washer...feh....

Psycho Kitty said...

I hate hate hate that Polly. The Girl got one for her birthday and it came with a DVD...dear sweet Joseph. It has conveniently been misplaced.

And the Hot Wheels racetracks are like that so that you have to buy a new one every time the old one gets jacked up, or so your kid thinks he has to have the different one when he sees it.

Huh. Turns out I hate Matel.

Bored Housewife said...

Amen to that, sistah!

Mignon said...

Well said.

We've got the noisy racetrack. We use it to launch all kinds of interesting things into flight, but the noise drives me nuts and the triple-D batteries cost a small fortune.

If I can make one generalization in defense of the girl toys at BK, it is this: girls do imaginative play oriented more towards relationships, so that small people/dolls figure prominently in their pretend families. In fact anything with gradations in size (i.e. small/medium/large rocks, sticks, plastic animals) become moms, dads and kids. I see boys' imaginative play more conflict/resolution oriented, so I'm thinking they sometimes get shafted by toy makers that force them to have gadget-y crap instead of imaginative toys. Action figures are cool, but they usually have some building aspect to them, which makes them less likely to be used for pretend.

Anonymous said...

I've been wanting to get a tea set for my four-year-old grandson (his request) and was gratified to find one at the local toy store that completely fills the bill. It totally looks like a Fiestaware knockoff, from the shape of the pieces right down to the great colors --- lime green, cobalt blue, burnt orange, school bus yellow. My grandson loves the set.

All the other sets I've seen were over-the-top "girly," so much so that I would have rejected them when I was a little girl. The set I bought is, to my eye, completely gender-neutral --- why can't that happen with more kid's toys?


Orange said...

Becky: Why the Barbie Mudslide Action Set isn't on the market, I'll never know.

Cricket: Such a racket—if you want a full set of plain track pieces and connectors, you'll have to buy multiple $29.99 D-battery track sets. Grr.

Di Kotimy, on occasion they have gender-neutral toys. Generally a movie tie-in with a crapload of marketing dollars directed at selling the merchandise to every child. And then what do you do with these things? We have a collection of Toy Story Happy Meal toys from my sister's kids. Like the "girl toys," they mostly just sit there, inert, representing their brand identity.

Anon, another pet peeve is when there's a cool toy, like a bike, and it's available in blue/red and in pink/purple. Hard to find a bike or ride-in car that isn't gendered.

Mona: You also loved the orange tracks? You're good people.

PK, apparently Mattel has also launched the Flava line of dolls to compete with Bratz. (Just in case your hatred is abating. Rise up, o Mattel hatred!)

Lisa: Well, that doesn't call for a response, does it? Hi!

Mignon: Omigod, the noise! Nightmarish. Having no little girls in the house, I get little exposure to how assorted girls choose to play. And the type of pretend play that involves "shooting" is icky.

jpn, glad you found a colorful tea set. Independent toy stores, if you have any in your area, tend to make it a lot easier to find gender-neutral toys.

amusing said...

THe same company brought you the Barbie and her dog, complete with magnetic pooper scooper.

I had a red corvette Hot Wheels and I looked in teh cigar box of my childhood treasures and IT'S GONE! I'll bet my sister knicked it long ago. Damn her!

Gender-typing sucks. The Youngest wanted a dollhouse. Everything was pink, pink, pink. And he knows pink is for girls. So he wanted it desperately, but knew it was a mistake.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the pinkification is abhorrent. When I got each of my boys their own doll (I thought it important that they each have one & they do now & then play with them) I had a really hard time finding ones that weren't pinked & bowed to death.

One tip on the orange race track stuff if you really hate the battery powered stuff that is so noisy-- they also make this elevator/pulley, with a big drop race track that you hook over a closet door. It really gets those cars going (tho' my boys have to stand on a chair to get the car back up to the top).

Dharma said...

I too deplore the pinkficiation (great word Jolt!) of toys. The increase in genderizing everything makes me crazy. And as to the preplanned tracks which require batteries? More money because then you need to buy another set to get a different race track. Because toy makers are assuming and encouraging the lack of parental involvement. Because imagination is not valued. Rant much Dharma? Laughing.