Childhood is a time of innocence, and it's easy to dismiss children's media as harmless because of the simplicity with which most of its audience will approach it. The truth is all media is created with a message, and the messages we send to our children may be the most important of all. The same innocence with which they approach the world leaves them less equipped to analyze the underlying intentions. As an offshoot to my main blog, See Jane Juggling serves as a place for some analysis on the messages children's media send. My perspective is admittedly biased toward gender and race concerns, but I would love to hear from you about your other viewpoints as well. Rate the media (explanation of ratings to the right) and leave a comment, and together we can shed some light on these complicated decisions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fisher Price Brilliant Basics

Fisher Price Brilliant Basics
Rating: N (G)

Fisher Price has a series of toys marketed as their "Brilliant Basics." These are infant and toddler toys that are brightly colored and perfectly shaped for little hands.

The Good
These toys are marketed as the "basics" for a reason. They are fun, interactive, and durable. Take the Brilliant Basics Hammer, for instance.

In bright primary colors, this hammer acts as a rattle (the beads inside make it satisfying to shake), a mobile roller (the handle is equipped with a ball that acts as a wheel), and a . . . well, hammer. It stands up to the general tossing and beating that any infant toy must accept, and it is a generally inviting toy. 

The Bad
The problem? This hammer is part of a marketing strategy that is promoted for "busy little boys." In fact, it says so right on the package of the individually-sold hammer. The Fisher-Price website has a page about this set (the Fun to Fix Gift Set) that explains "Baby boys are so adorable! Keep him busy with these fun tools—each with very practical teethable features."

The girl-marketed equivalent is the Little Glamour Gift Set. 

The individually-packaged purse declares it's for a "Sweet Baby Girl." This message is repeated on Fisher-Price's website for the set: "Baby girls are oh-so sweet! Give her a little glam and—just to be practical—teethable, easy-to-grasp features."

So, little boys are "busy" while little girls are "sweet." Little boys need to learn to fix things with a hammer, saw, and wrench that are molded in bright primary colors. Little girls need to learn to make themselves "glam" with a diamond ring rattle, a purse, and a bracelet teething ring molded in pink and purple. 

Infants will play with anything, and they're probably not making many conscious decisions about how the toys they're using are shaping their identities. However, the blatant marketing of these toys as entrenched in gender is over the top. Putting that the toys are "for" a girl or a boy right on the package aims to steer parents into choosing the "right" set based on gender norms. Even if parents go against those directives for their own children, are they likely to buy a set of toys for their friend's baby girl that says "For A Busy Baby Boy" on the package? 

Furthermore, sending a message that boys "fix" things while girls "glam" themselves further promotes the stereotype that men are more useful than women. It starts sending messages to little girls that their job is to be pretty and that being pretty requires purchasing objects.The diamond ring rattle is particularly disturbing because the marketing surrounding engagement rings is already so aggressively gendered; starting it in infancy definitely feels like overkill. It starts sending messages to little boys that their job is to be productive and that production is based in their physicality.

Bottom Line
While these toys could be given to children outside of this gendered context, the way these toys are marketed is insulting to the idea of gender equality and purchasing them rewards that strategy. Gendered marketing is pervasive, and infancy should be a time free from such blatant messages.


  1. Why does it have to be a hammer? Can't it just be a random shape that allows the child to name/claim it to be whatever their imaginations want it to be? One of my friends is pregnant and has decided to not find out the sex of her child. It has been super hard to decide what I want to get her and the baby because I love the idea of gender neutral toys and clothing but I'm having a hard time finding a line that I don't find problems with. Suggestions?

  2. has some great gender neutral toys. Another good site is For Small Hands which has a Montessori perspective and promotes toys that fit with those ideals.