The Feminists Have Totally Lost Me on This One

I’m sure in between reruns of Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues you might have noticed Tonka’s new “Built For Boyhood” commercials. They pretty much highlight the rough-and-tumbleness of preschool boys, and how their trucks are able to hold up to that kind of abuse. I loved the commercials, and thought they nailed this one in terms of relating to moms of boys.

Seems others have not felt so warm and fuzzy about these commercials as I have. Elizabeth over at Table4Five seemed quite annoyed when she wrote in a post on Friday, “But here’s a newsflash, Tonka-Girls like playing with Tonka Trucks! It’s true! And playing with them does not cause them to grow a penis, or anything!“. (I seriously snorted tea out of my nose when I read that, btw.) This followed another, similar post over at Feminist Philosophers last month, and several I have read around the net lambasting this campaign.

I think this is one of those reasons that I just do not relate to modern feminism. Since when did it become a bad thing to market things to a specific sex? Last I checked, toy companies were not regularly featuring little boys in their commercials for toys like baby dolls, My Little Ponies, Disney Princesses, Polly Pockets, Littlest Petshop, or any other toys typically found in the ‘girls’ toy section of any given store. So why is this commercial worth such scorn? Because they actually said the word “boys” out loud, instead of just implying it by only showing little boys playing with it? Give me a break.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it’s starting to feel like anything deemed ‘male’ is coming under attack anymore. Boy Scouts are being sued to allow girls, men cannot have social clubs that women are not allowed in, and just for fun, try Googling ‘men’s gym’. Want to know what comes up most often? Men’s gym shoes. Now try ‘women’s gym’. Pages upon pages of women’s fitness centers. Why is that I wonder? Men are just not allowed to be men anymore, and I think that’s a damn shame if there ever was one.

One of these days the feminists are going to realize that there is a certain amount of androgyny that occurs in the human species, but overall, boys and girls really are VERY different creatures. As the mom to both boys and a girl, the differences between them are remarkable. My daughter is the oldest, and we have never discouraged her brothers from playing with her toys or dissuaded them from having the same interests as she. (My 4 year old was the only boy in his 4K class who listed his favorite color as pink.) Yet to watch them, they will take those same toys and find ways to fight with them, or beat each other over the head with them, no matter how I try to stop them. 🙄

So in the end, if some toy company decides to quit the game of being sly and starts actually saying the word ‘boys’ instead of just seriously, heavily implying it by VERY rarely showing girls in their commercials..Who does that hurt? Why can’t boys just be boys every once in awhile?

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42 thoughts on “The Feminists Have Totally Lost Me on This One

  1. Being from the old school of feminism I think kids should play with whatever toys they like. Both sexes, at toddler age, love baby dolls, kitchen set ups, balls, imaginative play. The only thing I disagree with is folks who give their any type of realistic weapons. I believe in gun control, yup I’m a bleeding heart liberal and loving it!!

    My boys had cabbage patch dolls back in 1990 and 1992. They also had the little tykes workshop, many play tools and trucks, all kinds of trucks. They used my kitchen utensils when they pretended to cook. What’s the issue again?

    I’ll tell you one thing, if I had a girl we’d burn the bratz doll before we’d let her have one.


  2. Very well stated. I completely agree.

    I have to say that when I was the commercials I thought they were great… my only thought was of the fact that it was going to stir up this whole issue.


  3. I disliked the commercial the moment I saw it. (I hadn’t seen any other posts about this though until yours.) I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell kids what toys they should play with based on their sex. If I was a little girl who liked trucks, and I saw that commercial I might feel like I shouldn’t like them because they’re only for boys.

    I think toy companies would be smarter to include both genders in their commercials for some of these toys. Unfortunately though, many parents wouldn’t buy their daughter a truck, or their son a doll. And commercials like this just feed into that nonsense, in my opinion.


  4. Thanks for the link, Sara. I was annoyed when I saw that commercial and sat right down to write the post. As the mother of both boys and a girl, I understand that Tonka might want to remind mothers of boys that Tonka trucks are a fun toy for boys to play with. What I don’t like is the insinuation that Tonka trucks are built only for boys. Maybe that’s just me reading too much into it. I want my daughter to believe that she can do and be anything she wants, and I don’t want her to feel like there is something wrong with her if she likes trucks.

    And I wish Playskool WOULD put boys in the commercials for the play kitchens and the Littlest Petshop toys. What, boys don’t like little toy animals? My boys did! And in their preschool, the toy kitchen was played with more often by the boys than the girls. Why? If I had to guess, I would say because their parents didn’t buy them toy kitchens to play with at home because it’s a “girl” toy.

    You brought up valid points and got me thinking about it from the other side as well. Thanks for the link and for getting my brain working this morning 🙂


  5. Man vs. Woman. One of the games of life that we all LOVE to play. LURVE. TO. PLAY.

    “One of these days the feminists are going to realize that there is a certain amount of androgyny that occurs in the human species, but overall, boys and girls really are VERY different creatures”

    Yes, but when and how does that difference begin? Is it innate? Probably some. But the full extent of differences is heavily, and I mean heavily, influenced by culture and belief. I’m reminded of some “primitive” culture in Africa where the men stay home with the kids and preen and apply make up and stuff while the women go out and hunt. They deem it as the proper man and woman roles in life. complete opposite to our society.

    I think our society is responsible for not only the VERY differentness between the genders but also for the idea that one is less than another.

    As far as feminism, I have no clue what it means to be a “modern” feminist. I’m not going to buy into hatin’ on men and vagina power over men, blah blah mentality.

    But neither am I going to buy into the idea that believing in equality is some threat to masculinity either. But I can see how some may feel threatened.

    Feminism calls into question the way our gender roles are perceived in society. Feminism wants change and, for some, any change is uncomfortable. Especially change in which a person may lose power they *think* they have over another.

    I’m a mom of two boys and I haven’t seen the commercial. But I don’t care for the “Built for Boyhood” tag line. If I had a daughter who played with Tonka trucks, I could see how I would be concerned that her hearing it would plant the idea that she is doing something she shouldn’t simply because she’s a girl.

    What’s wrong with “Built for Childhood” instead?


  6. I own a Tonka Truck! It’s about 30 years old and it’s metal! So yeah, I was one of those girls that enjoyed cars and trucks and he-man, right along side She-Ra and My Little Pony.

    And guess what? I’m about 99.9 percent certain that during that time things were marketed sex specific. I didn’t feel bad about having a Tonka Truck just because I was a girl. It just meant that I could have something in common with my one true love that I was going to marry – Jason. (So what if he hated me with every ounce of his being?).

    As the mother of a boy, I can definitely see why they would make a point of showing you that the toy could withstand boys. They are ROUGH, they do TUMBLE, and toys need to be able to take it. So, should men’s razors be marketed to women now too? There is no law against a woman buying one of those, and some probably do; but the majority of revenue is going to come from men! End of Story.


  7. I can definitely see both sides of this issue. I totally agree that feminism has seemed to go too far with demanding to be allowed into men’s clubs/activities, while also insisting on women’s only stuff.
    As a mother to a girl, I would buy toy trucks if she wanted them. I actually remember having a blast playing with my brother’s Tonka stuff when we were kids. I can see how Tonka would choose to focus their marketing on boys, since I’d imagine that that is who buys the most of their products. I can also take the term “Built for Boyhood” as a statement of the durability of their toys, since nearly every little boy I’ve ever come across is MUCH rougher on toys (and everything else they come into contact with) than most girls are.
    On the other hand, I can see how a little girl might be made to feel like she shouldn’t have trucks by the line. However, I also think it’s our jobs as parents to teach our children to look past the gender roles, since all the “girl” toys are still marketed primarily towards girls.


  8. I saw the commercial (it’s on You Tube, too), and I’m not up in a fury about it, but I also don’t like it. “Boys are built different” is how it starts, and I totally agree with that. There are differences in the sexes, no doubt.

    But then it says that their trucks are built for the way boys play, implying that it’s not built for girls. Cordy has seen that truck, LOVES trucks, and liked this particular one, but she’s seen the commercials a few times and now says the truck is “for boys”. I’ve had to do a lot of damage control on this issue so she doesn’t internalize that trucks are only for boys.

    I understand there is bound to be some gender programming in toy commercials. I just would rather not have them come right out and say a toy is only for one gender.


  9. I’m a card carrying feminist and I liked your thought provoking post. I would not however, lump gender based marketing for children in with adult freedom of association issues. In my mind the two topics are unrelated, and muddling them together may cloud both issues. For the record, this mom says no child should be made to feel shame for wanting to play with a toy some a-hole on Madison Avenue is marketing to the opposite gender. That’s my bottom line.


  10. I totally agree with you
    To those that take insult to it – Give me a break. Whether girls play with trucks (I had two tonka trucks from my childhood – 30 years ago) or not – the bulk of their sales are probably boys therefore would you not put your marketing money towards them? And they are soo right in pointing out the rough and tumble. Though my girl loves to play trucks (and plays with very little “girl toys”) my 2 year old boy is a lot rougher with the trucks than she would ever be (and her being a tomboy).
    Frankly feminists pick a bigger battle to fight!


  11. Everyone give Sara a big WHOOP WHOOP!
    I couldn’t agree more. In the last 20 years the American Male has come under assault in our culture. The male is supposedly inherently flawed.
    I did notice the Tonka ad, and thought that it is nice to show boys in a fun and rough and tumble way.
    I have 4 boys, as you know, they will play Iron Chef & cook, but they would use Barbies like bowling pins.
    We are made different, Peoples. Get used to it!
    Great post,


  12. Okay, defensive feminist here.

    Not all feminists have a problem with these commercials or with gender specific clubs. What my biggest beef is is that girls or boys are both respected for their differences. Men’s only clubs have been a problem in the past from a business perspective because it was hard for women to get in on the deals being done in those clubs. Do I think a bunch of old men who want to have their own room should have one? Sure!

    Frankly, I think too many women are afraid to call themselves feminists when indeed they really are. It’s the 21st Century. Being a feminist doesn’t equal man-hating, bra-burning or no make-up wearing. It just means that we want women and girls to be valued as much as men/boys. The difference, like you say, is incredible. But that doesn’t make one better than another.


  13. While I haven’t seen the commercial, I can say that I get tired of the gender divide when it comes to kid’s toys, not because many girls do prefer to play with dolls, or because lots of boys prefer to play with trucks, but because the onslaught of advertising and marketing and aisles that are clearly intended for one gender or the other perpetuate the idea that there is a right or a wrong way for children to define who they are and that the only right way is along gender lines. I don’t think toy companies are exclusively to blame for this by a long shot, but they certainly encourage and perpetuate it.

    And it’s not just boy toys that get slammed. Alice at Finslippy had a post a few days ago about the new Hasbro playhouse for girls – it’s all pink, and all about housekeeping and how much fun it is to iron and such. But again, I don’t think that either this toy or the Tonka truck commercial are exclusively to blame, it’s just the accumulation of gender specific stuff out there for kids – clothes, bedding, toys, furniture, notebooks, accessories, etc – that’s overwhelming.


  14. I have not seen this commercial yet and for that I am thankful. I hate the sterotypical traits that toy makers seem to stick too. Boys can play with Barbies and girls can place with cars/trucks. Maybe if these head up their butt advertising pros would move to a more open way of thinking, they might be able to generate more revenue. Open advertising to all genders don’t be so closed minded.

    Ok off soapbox.


  15. I think, perhaps you are right , it’s okay to sex specify for girls, but not boys. Of course, the underlying assumption from women is that boys would not want to play with the girly things, so they aren’t really being withheld. And, the opposite holds true, the girls do want to play with the boy things, so we can’t “withhold them.” In reality, it shows that often we as feminists think too inside the box- perhaps they have swallowed to heartily that the boy stuff is more valuable and we have to make sure girls have access to it, but if it’s all just stuff, some for boy, some for girl, no sweat, then where is the political fire coming from? If they truly thought the girl stuff was more valuable, I wonder if they’d worry about pink dollhouses?


  16. Love your blog!! I’m going to mention this commercial in our podcast, thanks for pointing it out to me. I’ll definitely give you credit.

    BTW, my daughter totally called me on my contradictory feminism last week. We bought her her first bike and I told her that it could not be pink because her brothers were going to have it after she outgrew it. “But, mommy,” she said, “You always say that it’s OK for boys to like pink things.”


  17. Well said, and I agree — but I only have boys — yet my youngest wants a Baby Alive for Christmas… Anyway…

    I can sort of see the point of trying to make girls feel equal to boys not inferior — BUT I think that’s more of a lesson that parents need to teach kids, not the media. And I seriously died laughing when I heard the Rotary was letting women in (lots of years ago). As a former Rotary Exchange Student, I could not for the life of my figure out WHY women would want to join in.


  18. I have not seen the commercial but I don’t think I would like it either. As a mother to both boys (3) and girls (2) I can not stand the T Shirts that say things like “Boys Stink” or “My Sister Did It”. I think they are so demeaning and just plain awful.

    Since I do have boys and girls they play with whatever is laying around. I remember one time I took my two yountest to Costco, one boy and one girl. My boy (4yrs) took a doll and my girl (2yrs) took a truck. I got some strange looks but oh well. I do notice that the girls gravitate to dolls and such and the boys to trucks and legos.


  19. as a mom to two VERY rough-and-tumble boys, and an aunt to girls, i totally agree. little boys are very different from little girls. no matter what toys you give my boys…trucks…barbie dolls….a cabbage patch kid…whatever….they will always beat the crap out of ’em! beat them, throw them, slam them into the wall, drive over them with bigger trucks, launch them across the room, get out their tools and start pounding away with their hammers, tweaking with pliers, sawing away…i swear they could sell their torture tactics to some communist country!

    meanwhile, i’ve seen my nieces play rough, but nothing like my boys. that’s just the way it is.

    i have no problem with something being marketed toward a specific sex. if you don’t like it, just ignore it! hell, we’re going to get a play-kitchen for our boys for Christmas. when have you ever seen an ad for one of those with two little boys playing???? never!


  20. I think some of you might be missing the obvious: boys are dumb. Whenever I take my kid to the indoor playground I always see the girls playing nicely and the boys smashing stuff. It’s just our nature.


  21. So true! I have three girls and am more than happy to buy them a truck if they ask for one…and they have! I have never once wondered why toy truck commercials aren’t geared toward boys. Because more boys will want them than girls. Same with dolls.

    I don’t get it either.


  22. I have a boy that smashes and a boy that begs for me to paint his nails(he’s 2 people). Gender is genetic. Gender roles are taught at home. A commercial should not undo the progress women have made. The last 30 years have shown over and over that the more the experts study the brain, the more they see that men and women have different brains. Women have more connections between the two halves, this makes *most* (not me btw) women able to multi-task and *most* men to be challenged by many things happening at once. TV in general is just a bad substitute for real life teaching moments. Take it into your hands and teach your children the values to which you adhere and they are not likely to depart from them.


  23. “Last I checked, toy companies were not regularly featuring little boys in their commercials for toys like baby dolls, My Little Ponies, Disney Princesses, Polly Pockets, Littlest Petshop, or any other toys typically found in the ‘girls’ toy section of any given store.”

    The toy companies are in business for one reason – to make money. And you generally don’t make money in business fighting against the grain of human nature. At a certain age most boys prefer trucks, and most girls prefer dolls. If toy companies could make even one dollar marketing a separate line of pink trucks, they’d do it. It is just amazing to me that marketing of children’s toys becomes a political issue.


  24. I think the key here is girls will play with things marketed to boys but boys (generally) will be less likely to play with things marketed to girls.

    It is okay in our society to be a tomboy but less okay to be an effeminate boy (by society’s standards…I’m not saying this is coming from me).

    So by making it look rough and tumble, they market to parents of boys who are saying, “hey, what is there for my boys in this world of girlie-girl stuff?” and yet moms of girls will still buy the toys…unless of course they royally piss off a vocal group of people who then boycott their stuff and the whole thing backfires.

    I do agree with you though, it is okay to market to a niche group, including based on gender…but you are shooting yourself if you accidentally alienate a segment of potential buyers. So, misogynist, no. Marketing mistake…possibly…time will tell.


  25. I think your point is very valid. I do consider myself a feminist. But I think the essence of that is equality. I think my son and daughter should each be allowed to be who they are and play what they want.
    I think the idea that a commercial would stop Princess H from playing with Super Z’s trucks or Super Z from playing with H’s My Little Ponies is ridiculous.
    People should relax. There are more siimilarities than differences, but it is not wrong to celebrate our differences.


  26. I totaly agree with Sara and want to comment to the FEMINISTS out there that keep bring up the fact of equality and how the Commercial makes them FEEL.

    Each individual is in control of their own feelings/emotions and if the commercial only has boys in it, it shouldnt make anyone FEEL one way or another. The intent of the commercial is not to make Tomboys Feel bad. and if it did, you can only tell that it must be GIRL. If you haven’t noticed already women & girls put their feelings and emotions in front if almost everything – which is again one of those big differences between boys & girls (men & women)

    Stay in control of yor feelings and then you can be a feminist.

    Yes I am woman – who was a tomboy unitl age 12 – played with Tonka trucks – and my emotions drive me crazy – but even when they are there I try to use logic when contemplating difficult situations – and if I were a Tonka Mktg Exec I’d have just boys in my commercial too!


  27. Hey Sara- So you already know how I feel about the labeling piece from my post. I worry about writing off feminism as a whole on account of disagreement about the macro pieces of it. But on another line, I wanted to stop over here and try to articulate my thoughts on the truck ads, though I’m still not sure it makes sense…
    As a mother of both genders, I think I fear the marketing directed at girls more. At this point, my daughter already knows she can play sports, drive her Barbies through the mud in her dump truck, be a doctor, all while wearing sequins and telling me her every emotion. But if we don’t teach our boys that they can wear pink, and cry, and clean, and cook and most importantly – play babies – then we haven’t really advanced the cause of women, we’ve just given our daughters a longer to-do list. I think our boys are the key to equality. And I don’t think marketing a Tonka truck to them is going to matter much one way or the other on that.

    Anyway, people are keeping it real and positive over here. That’s the sign of a good conversation. Well done.


  28. Sara,

    Great post! I have three daughters and one son, and the boy will play with the baby dolls as much as the girls “borrow” his tonka collection and leave them in the sandbox.

    The ad campaign really doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve never been one for political correctness, and the ad seems pretty innocuous at best. My kids know that they can decide for themselves what they like to do, or play with, irregardless of gender-specific ads.


  29. I was researching this commercial for my Psychology of Sex and Gender class when I came upon your blog. I think the major issue with this commercial is not the fact that it markets a certain toy for a certain gender, but that it unabashedly points to the differences between sexes as a marketing ploy. “Because boys are just made different” is the line that is repeated. Countless research on the origins of one’s gender identity have shown us that media influences, specifically TV, play one of the largest roles in shaping a youngster’s ideas about gender appropriateness. It should not be up to our media to define what makes a boy and what makes a girl.

    Further, if the numerous acts of violence committed daily by men (think school shootings, suicide bombings,etc) are anything to go one, we should be looking to change the mold to which we force men as it is obviously not working.


  30. Hmmm…. I am sold. This is the post that compels me to add you to my Bloglines account.

    In short, I agree. For the record, I have watched my niece have access to her 2 older brothers’ toys since birth, yet still gravitates towards dolls and stuffed animals and such. And yes, the nephews were given dolls when they were young, too.

    My son has had ample access to dolls and such as well. My baby daughter will have her fair share of access to trains and cars. I cannot wait to see what she prefers. 🙂 (confession: I have been known to slap my son’s hand away as I rearrange his train tracks. DUDE, he totally gets in my way as I am attempting Track Perfection.)


  31. Wow. I hate to get person, but the author of this article IS missing something. You are comparing apples to oranges. Its like the racism I see when people say “Why do we have a Black History Month? We do not have a White History Month?” They just don’t get it. Women have their own gyms because they are tired of being oogles and objectified when they are working out at the gym by men. Also, men dominate the gym with the machines and free weights. I can’t tell you how many women are intimidated by it. I have even heard a man say once under his breath, while women were using the free weights, “Fu**ing women!”. As for boys not being in “girls” commercials. You tell me who on earth wants to aspire to do laundry and cleaning? Girls are socialized to want to take care of babies from a young age. Boys SHOULD be in these commercials. They don’t put up a fuss because its women who are getting the short end of the stick. No wonder boys grow up to be men who are dissinterested and irresponsible fathers. We tell them right from the get go that its not their job, not their responsibility! Wow, I could go on forever. Look outside the box.


  32. (Not that I expect someone who commented six months ago to see this, but such is the way of internet conversation…)

    “Eyes Wide Open,” the problem as I see it is not that women have a gym and men don’t, or that there is a black history month and not a white one; The problem is that the opposite CANNOT happen. Someone wishing to institute a White History Month (to celebrate, oh, say the Pilgrims’ landing) would be instantly discarded as a racist. A man wishing to open a men’s gym would be discarded as sexist.

    By your argument, these things don’t exist because they aren’t needed. However, if that is the case, then why do we feel it’s necessary to pre-judge those who DO see a need?


  33. VERY good article! I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles now! lol At least I’m not the only one who feels that this feminism thing tends to seem completely nuts at times! And, yes, I AM a female! lol I do believe women should have rights, and should receive equal pay if they’re doing the same job as a man, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.


  34. even if “boys usually want trucks” and “girls usually want dolls” dont you ever wonder why that is? it has nothing to do with biology… trucks and dolls are man-made, remember?? and it isnt about boys lacking masculinity. the terms “masculinity” and “femininity” are invented. unless you can apply these terms UNIVERSALLY to every man or every women, then there is no biology behind it! just because you choose to identify with certain aspects, why does that mean that your entire gender must be defined by it? feminism is in no way close-minded, but thinking that way IS.


  35. also, “Missy”, being a feminist is being able to notice these subtle details in our surroundings. it’s actually about THINKING, not feeling. you should take a gender studies class so that you have an educated idea about what you’re talking about.

    all any of these responses are saying “i am a mom. i have boys. they play with trucks!” wow. i guess if it’s true for you, it must be universal, right? i would guess many of you have not even attempted to educate yourselves on the many feminisms.


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