Interesting article in the New York Times this week entitled Today’s Girls Love Pink Bows as Playthings, but These Shoot, about the rise of weapon toys for girls in the brave new Katniss / Merida world. As the writer slightly wearily points out, “it’s the same type of toy that has been marketed to boys for years, except these are mostly purple and pink.” Several manufacturers have brought or are bringing out versions of their ‘boys’ toys for girls, including Hasbro and Zing with its Air Huntress line.
The Nerf Rebelle isn’t even really a bow, of course – it’s more like a vertical toy crossbow. There is also an actual crossbow and a multi-barrel sci-fi gun, all firing soft ‘nerf’ slugs. You can get an extensive, dissembling insight into how these things are actually marketed at the blog My Last Dart:
The Air Huntress is essentially a pink version of the same toy for boys. You can even see the two side by side here:
From the NYT:
Barbie, ever pretty in pink, has naturally gotten into the act with a Katniss doll that slings a bow and arrow in authentic brown. The action figure shelves at toy stores now display a Black Widow figure (modeled after Scarlett Johansson) alongside the new Captain America…. All of this is enough to make parents’ — particularly mothers’ — heads spin, even as they reach for their wallets. While the segregation of girls’ and boys’ toys in aisles divided between pink and camouflage remains an irritant, some also now wonder whether their daughters should adopt the same war games that they tolerate rather uneasily among their sons. The Rebelle line was introduced last summer, and a dozen more of the toys are on the way this year.
“Basically, I’m a total hypocrite because it’s a weapon and it’s pink, but they really enjoy it and it’s something they play together,” said Robin Chwatko, whose 3-year-old daughter got a Nerf Rebelle a few months ago after coveting her 5-year-old brother’s Zing bow.
Sharon Lamb, a child psychologist and play therapist who teaches counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says toys that stimulate aggression are healthy for children.
“I don’t see this as making girls more aggressive, but instead as letting girls know that their aggressive impulses are acceptable and they should be able to play them out,” she said.
But, she added, “What I don’t like is the stereotyped girlifying of this. Do they have to be in pink? Why can’t they be rebels and have to be re-BELLES? Why do they need to look sexy when aggressing, defending the weak or fighting off bad guys?” … At Zing, which started out making toys marketed only to boys, the idea for its Air Huntress line bubbled up from customers on sites like Facebook and Amazon — as well as employees who had read “The Hunger Games”.
Clearly, not much has changed in the toy world, or the retail sector in general, where ‘shrink it and pink it‘ remains the mantra for selling to American women. The manufacturers are, of course, merely responding to the cultural changes and their focus groups, and they aren’t going to start challenging stereotypes anytime soon. The actual benefits of actual archery for kids – discipline, control, confidence, strength – remain elusive with these plastic weapons. The difficult made easy. Still, for someone somewhere this might be a gateway to the real thing, and that’s still good.