Toys as Role Models

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Toys as Role Models Judy Attfield, who holds a PhD in history and design, has written numerous articles in relation to design history. Her articles, often written in a formal and informative style, concentrate on parenting and family issues. Citing the differences in the maneuverability designs of Barbie and Action Man, which embody the stereotypical cliche of feminine passivity and masculine activity respectively, “Barbie and Action Man: Adult toys for girls and boys, 1959-93” (P. Kirkham (Ed. ), The Gendered Object (80-89). Manchester: Manchester University Press) by Judy Attfield argues that children are not only able to subvert toy’s stereotypical meanings but also create fantasies of their own. Targeting the general public in her article, Attfield starts off by giving compelling insights into a societal trend termed “androgyny”. This trend that she mentions, combines both femininity and masculinity into one and is said to be raving in today’s society. However, in the latter portion of the essay, Attfield failed to elaborate on this trend. Instead, readers are led into a discussion on gender-stereotype propagating Barbie and Action Man, which contradicts her thoughts on androgyny. Even though fashion dolls like Barbie are designed for dressing and posing, and action figures like Action Man, for physical manipulation, Attfield claims that toy design does not dictate how a child plays with it. Instead, play is subjected to a child’s creativity and does not necessarily affect his or her actions and thoughts on gender stereotypes. She backs her claim by citing the following example – “a number of informants recalled, in their play it was Barbie who was most often given the role of ‘bad girl’. ” (Attfield, 1996: 86). Simply put, Barbie, a toy originally meant to project innocence, can be given an immoral role through creativity. However, her view that toys do not instill gender stereotypes is unjustifiable. Toys largely influence a child’s understanding of gender stereotypes, as they adore them as role models to follow. I will focus on how Attfield fails to take into consideration the supporting role of parents and the media in creating these role models that shape gender stereotype in today’s society. Since its release in the global market during the 1960s, Barbie and Action Man have been at the forefront of toy popularity indices. Not only have they topped sales chart, they have also become symbolic toys for our generation. On the other hand, alternative toys like “Happy to be me Doll” and “Adventurer”, both variants of Barbie and Action Man, have not met the level of popularity achieved by their predecessors (Attfield, 1996). This is largely because children simply love the ready-made characteristics of Barbie and Action Man.

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