Of course, not too long after I posted my last commentary on gender-defined Legos, I was informed that just within the past few months, Nerf launched a new line of gendered projectile toys. The new Rebelle line is reminiscent of blockbuster heroines like Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy or Merida of Brave, of course, striped down and coated in pastel and feminine imagery.
While my last post examined Legos, a product I grew up with and was “virtuous” in, Nerf was the complete opposite and I had to spend some time digging into it before I could put the metaphorical pen to paper and write my thoughts and findings. Without further ado, I ask, can we really stop genderizing toys?
Lets start from the beginning. The product line is named Rebelle. Note, rebelle isn’t actually a word, there is no alternative spelling for the word rebel, so this name was actually created to denote a gendered difference. Also realize that the word itself is a slap towards reinforced gendered stereotypes; girls don’t play with Nerf or projectiles, so to denote a difference or departure from this the girl is a “rebel.” Oh, so clever. Why didn’t they just call it “Nonconformist” and at least acknowledge the obvious departure from typical girls toys. Hell, I’d settle for “Nonconformiste.”
Next lets look at the names of the products: Heartbreaker, Blue Crush, Dart Diva, and Sweet Revenge. Ugh, where to begin. I can’t tell if these love-themed names reinforce the idea of fulfillment through relationships, or a departure from it since they are obviously geared towards break-ups. Either way, if this mixed message has me in a funk, I can only imagine the confusion an average consumer might feel towards the stated and implied messages. Furthermore, why does love and breakup rhetoric have to be included with weaponry and violence? God forbid some girl crosses the two and interprets that she should take “Sweet Revenge” by using some projectile or otherwise.
Moving along, let’s look at the colors of the products. The color scheme is an uninspired combination of pink and purple, the core colors negated to all that is feminine. As if the name “Rebelle” wasn’t enough, it’s frustrating that the marketing, packaging and visuals send an instant message to all consumers: this product was made specifically for girls. They’re not the only ones though, check out a local Target or Wal-Mart and see for yourself how many isles are literally washed out in pink. What makes this different though, at the end of the day Hasbro decided to denote gender in the toys by using colors society has deemed central for girls. Similarly, they decided to incorporate feminine designs across the products. Nothing gets the message of “girls only” quite like swirling stylized hearts like an Ed Hardy reject.
I’m ragging on these Nerf products, but of course they aren’t the only products that project or stress a gendered difference. We could look at other variations of toys that have been pink-washed, or redesigned with stylized designs for no other reason than to garner more sales. The issue is that they inadvertently uphold socialized norms that restrict all of their consumers from buying the products they truly want. Why do companies continue to manufacture toys that don’t acknowledge gender neutrality between masculine and feminine?
It’s time that we stop looking to define the gender of toys, but focus on their merits and intrinsic value. Legos encourage creativity and hands-on learning through their use of space and user imagination. Nerf promotes dynamic play and focuses on precision and teamwork. One of the good things about the Rebelle product line is the incorporation of a unique app that allows girls to work together towards a common goal using their bows. Maybe someday boys can get in on the action to, and maybe girls and boys can play with the same exact Nerf bows as without feeling like it’s too gendered. Someday.
What do you think? Leave a comment below on other gendered toys you’ve noticed or join the conversation.