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Posts tagged ‘toys’

Model Airplanes

I’ve been in love with airplanes from the moment I was born. The hospital in which I was born lies on the approach path for my city’s international airport. A straight line from the center of the runway’s north end to the hospital would cover about 2 miles. My mum says that after I was born I cried incessantly, and the only thing that would soothe me was the screech of aircraft as they passed overhead. My first word was “avión”, Spanish for airplane. With this in mind, it came as no surprise to my family when toy airplanes became the toys I cherished the most.

The Approach to Toncontin Airport. The hospital where I was born is about 2 miles behind where this picture was taken. Photo credit to William Decker.

I liked every kind and brand of model plane, but had a particular fondness (granted, obsession) for models of Honduras’s national carrier, SAHSA. Planes in a Honduran airline’s colors are not exactly in high demand, so there wasn’t anyone making the planes other than the airline itself. They had models custom made for them by a model maker in Miami, then used them as displays in their local offices and in travel agencies. My grandfather was a stakeholder in the airline, so armed with that and the help of my charming smile I saw to it that a considerable amount of these models found their way into my possession. Back then (early 90’s) the models should have been about 75 bucks a pop, but considering SAHSA went bankrupt in 1994 they are virtually priceless now.

Model SAHSA Boeing 727 courtesy of ModelBuffs.com

Gary Cross mentions in the first paragraph of page 37 in “Modern Children, Modern Toys” (course packet page 55) that

“Toys were both vehicles to introduce the ‘real world’ and fantasy objects shut off from that world in the child’s ‘secret garden’.”

This perfectly sums up my experiences with my model planes. My playtime consisted of this: I would set up two “airports” on opposite tables across a room. I envisioned the floor as an ocean, and both the tables represented islands. I would then proceed to micromanage each “airport” using my imagination and my recollection of airport infrastructure. Each plane would “land” at an airport, then would be given time to unload its passengers on “stairs” (Honduras didn’t have jet ways at the time); the cargo would be taken to the imaginary terminal (usually a box of cereal lying flat), the jet would be refueled, new passengers loaded, then it would take off once again with the other “island” as its destination. As Cross mentioned above, I was in my own world of sorts, however I tried to make that world as similar to the real world as possible. During my playtime I did more than just mimic the real world though; I began to understand it. I realized why airplanes used radios to communicate with a control tower one day when I attempted to land one of my jets while another was just lining up with the runway for takeoff. Something that was easy for me to fix there, but would likely end in a horrifying accident in the real world.  Through having a line of models waiting to unload their passengers as a result of me not balancing out the arrivals and departures, I realized why airlines’ timescales were so dependent on the efficiency of many moving parts.  Keeping track of how many routes a particular plane had flown that day taught me to add. Balancing the routes flown so that all my “fleet” participated equally taught me to multiply, divide, and subtract. To quote Cross, I was learning “how to be productive through purposive play” (course packet, page 55). The creation of my own little world in which I could move all the pieces without any repercussions ultimately allowed me the freedom to understand and thus prepare for the world ahead on my terms. At least the airline world…

The “American Girl” Franchise

The original line of historical "American Girl" dolls.

When I was little, one of my favorite book series was the American Girl series. This collection of chapter books followed the lives of several young girls from different time periods and classes in American history – all hinging upon the common denominator of their titular national identity and exploring the story directly through the girls’ viewpoints. These books were created chiefly to advertise to children (more specifically girls) the line of character dolls upon which the American Girl company was originally built, in the same vein of such toy lines as Transformers and My Little Pony. Selling for upwards of a hundred dollars (and initially only available by mail-order) when you factor in toy accessories and doll dress-up, the American Girl dolls were expensive enough to require additional persuasion in the form of books, movies, and even games. After all,  parental resistance in the face of cost to satisfying a child’s preference for a particular character or story tends to wane the more enamored the child becomes with the pageantry of  a full product line.

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No Ruffles!

Girly Lego figure.

When I was eight years old I was the flower girl at my Aunt’s wedding. It was all fun and games through the rehearsal and doing my hair. It was all fun and games until they brought in the dress.

I slumped down to the floor, pulling my favorite move, “no bones”. I kicked my feet, and slammed my fists into anyone who came at me with the giant ruffly puff of fabric.

The wedding was delayed by an hour.

I was an eight year old girl, whose girl friends played with barbies and their mother’s high heels, while I through my barbies into the fan and chose the woods with the boys instead.

Even with all the progress in equality for race, sex and orientation, there are still gender roles that play a big part in raising a child. It is seen everywhere, Disney princesses, Comic Book movies and now even Legos.

With the release of Lego’s new “Lego Friends”, came a backlash of 50,000 petitioners saying enough is enough.

A letter from Callie the ten year old daughter of Melissa Wardy, who started the Pigtail Pals clothing line directed towards breaking the gender role standards, states “There are plenty of smart and creative girls out there eager to play with Legos. Do you want that to be ruined, by giving th

em only a beauty salon to create?” 

As a former tom boy, who still plays with my brother’s Star Wars lego set, the idea of distinguishing a difference between the “boy” and “girl” way to play with what are basically glorified building blocks with endless possibilities is RIDICULOUS.

Nintendo Game Boy(Girl)

As a child growing up in the ’90s, I spent the majority of my free time grasping my Game Boy as if it were the only thing of value in my life. Introduced to the U.S. in 1989, Nintendo’s Game Boy quickly became popular among kids of all ages who enjoyed the convenience of playing video games anywhere, anytime, with this hand-held creation.  The original Game Boy was released at a price of $89.99 and ran on 4 AA batteries that provided hours of playing time; in 2003, Nintendo ceased production of the original Game Boy and other portable gaming consoles have since taken its place.

 

Nintendo Game Boy Commercial from the late ’80s; uploaded to YouTube in 2006.

The Game Boy was something that kept me entertained for hours on end; I was constantly distracted by challenges and quests to save Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. games and easily frustrated at my inability to complete all levels of Tetris.  All the games I had for my Game Boy had masculine undertones (Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man, Dr. Mario), and the console itself indicates that it’s a game for boys.  It’s highly apparent that this toy was meant to expand the adventures of young boys across the nation.  Regardless, this had no effect on me.  I didn’t see the Game Boy as strictly for boys, nor was I ever subjected to having to borrow my male cousin’s Game Boy because I didn’t have my own (I had three, actually).   In this way, I was one among a number of girls who were not restricted by the social construct that girls should play with dolls, exclusively, and boys should play with video games, exclusively.   I think because it was late in the 20th-century, the belief that “boys’ and girls’ toys reflected conventional work roles and the tools that went with them,” was becoming slightly irrelevant (Cross, pg. 49).  Both boys and girls were more interested in toys that entertained and challenged them personally, and less in toys that were specifically geared towards their gender.

Toy Horses

Plastic Toy Horse

As Gary Gross said “parents expected playthings that imitated current adult roles. [1]” With this mentality, there is no doubt why growing up with a farming father I was showered with agriculture animal toys. My favorite ones to play with were the plastic toy horses. With them, I would imitate everything my father would do in real life. I pretended to feed them by laying them on the grass so they could eat or dipping their head in the water so they could drink.

To me the rocking horse was pure amusement, but its creation was intended to provide additional benefits. Dating as far back as the 17th century, where King Charles I of England rode one as a child, toy horses were used to advance child development. The rocking horse would provide a form of exercise that helped build balance and coordination in the child. Additionally, it embedded in them the basic skills of riding a horse-mounting, proper seating and riding, holding on, dismounting. The model horse became so popular, adults practiced their use as well. Knights in the Middle Ages rode on wheeled horses to improve their jousting techniques just like children practiced their riding skills on rocking ones[2]. Unknowingly, I was gaining more than enjoyment out of my toy horses. I was improving my physical skills and preparing for the future role I was to hold in the farm. If I showed I could took good care of my toy horses, it displayed I had the knowledge required to take care of a real horse.

Georgian Rocking Horse Hall Museum Washington USA

Initially, the rocking horse was made of materials such as barrel,  wood and cloth[3]. Due to the abundance of the material, the rocking horses were very affordable. Rich and poor alike could own one. For this reason, it became such a popular toy everywhere. Today toy horses are still abundant and being created in additional materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Unlike the old days where the rocking horse was simply the bareback figure of the horse, today they closely resemble the real ones by being equipped with saddles, horseshoes, and riders gear. Children now are more prepared than ever to learn everything necessary to become great horse owners.

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[1]  Cross, Gary. Kids’ Stuff.  Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard University Press, 1997 (pg49) 
[2] “The History of the Rocking Horse.” Casam LLC, Tampa, 2012
[3] Rolo, Jeffrey. “History of the Rocking Horse.” Alpha Horse, 2011

LEGO Contributing to Gender Roles

According to the article New Legos Aimed at Girls Raise Questions (Chris O’Brien, San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 2012), Lego brand has introduced a new line of products, Lego Friends, that is directed towards girls. While Lego’s products have remained general neutral in the past, they have always appealed to more male consumers than females. However, the company decided to veer toward products that would attract more boys, such as fantasy and escapist based kits, when sales began to drop a few years ago. Recently, Lego has been working on putting out a product directed towards girls. After conducting a study to see what girls like in toys, they discovered that girls prefer a more “reality-based” toy that creates a setting in which they can see themselves as the characters. Though the author does agree that his daughter is interested in the Lego Friends line, he ultimately argues that she, along with other girls, are happy with the traditional product lines that Lego has to offer.

"City Park Cafe" selling for $29.99 as of February 2012.

While this product has great potential to boost Lego sales, the company made several errors when designing the product, each of which involves gender roles, which we have discussed during multiple lectures over the course of the semester. First, Lego made the bodies of the girls different from the traditional, bulky build of the classic Lego person. The figure on these girls shows a thin waste as well as breasts on the figure. Some argue that this will lead to an increase in lower self-confidence in girls. Also, the Lego Friends line includes a cafe and beauty parlor, which goes back to the traditional female stereotype of women centering life around cooking while simultaneously maintaining good looks. John Baichtal, co-author of the recent book, The Cult of LEGO, thinks there is still time to improve the product line and suggests adding more professions, such as science and technology professions. Finally, the Lego Friends kits require a significant amount of less building than the previous Lego kits. This causes the consumer to wonder if Lego felt they needed to dumb down the product for a girl product, which does not please the consumer.

This article clearly relates to multiple class discussions we have had as it focuses on the gender roles that toy makers place on their products and how the consumers view the products. While the company may be doing what it thinks will boost their sales, they often lose sight of what exactly they are marketing and turn to the classic stereotypes. Likewise, as companies begin to put out these products, some of the consumers (in this case, the parents) will buy into the product as that they believe will be “normal” for the gender of their child based on previously established gender roles.

 

The Best Gift I Never Received

In Gary Cross’s article entitled “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys,” he discusses the evolution of the holiday season and gift giving, and says, “The new Santa clearly represented abundance.” (Cross, 60) While I never had Santa, reading this I quickly had a nostalgic moment of being ten years old and having received so much already that I needed a gift to top them all.

My birthday and Hanukah always fell within weeks of each other so like Christian kids who had birthdays on Christmas Eve or the day after, I always felt as though I was getting screwed over only getting one set of presents.  So by my tenth birthday and tenth Hanukah I’d had enough of it, and decided that if I was only going to get one big present it was going to be the greatest present of all time… I fully intended to rid myself of my bed and replace it with an indoor bounce house. For $200 I could have as my BED what kids longed to have once a year at their birthday parties! What could possibly be better! That’s when I saw it, there, staring at me in the Sunday advertisements from Toys’R’Us was the Blast Zone Magic Castle Bounce House, seven feet by seven feet wide and five feet tall.  It was perfect.

Blast Zone Magic Castle Bounce House from www.toysrus.com

My parents had enough sense not to purchase this for me regardless of how many temper tantrums I threw. Twelve years later and without serious back problems I am relieved they didn’t.