Gift giving can be tricky. And if you believe in the polarization of gender and biological determinism, be aware that you need to stick to highly feminine and masculine gifts that reinforce the belief in the segregation of women and men.
Red Envelope has a whole section of gifts for her, and for him. Subcategories for women (that are not included in the men’s section and vice versa) consist of “cooking and baking,” “flowers and plants,” and “gardening.” Subcategories for men include “sports” and “electronics and gadgets,” as well as “watches” (there’s a clear distinction between a watch and a piece of jewelry, right?) Some categories are similar, but assumed gender preferences are included. For example, for women there is a section called “for the home,” but for men this similar section is called “home & office.” For women, there is also a section titled “bar & wine”; the same section exists for men, with the addition of cigars. See, this is helpful because we would not want women smoking cigars in their offices and men to dirty their jewelry in the garden.
Sharper Image also includes sections of gifts for him and gifts for her. The top five gifts for him are, in order: headphones, fogless shower mirror, an electronic return putting mat, a beard trimmer and the complete set of James Bond movies. The top five gifts for women are a jewelry cleaner, a laser hair remover, a hair dryer, a lighted mirror, and a teeth-whitening system (notice the warranted over-emphasis on beauty products). When it comes to women and beauty, there’s no need to be subtle about her hairy legs and yellow teeth – these problems can now be dealt with without using Photoshop.
The gendered expectations concerning what gifts men and women like are often presented quite blatantly, and the same can definitely be said for children’s toys and gifts. Gender messages and expectations are very visible and focus on segregation, which is completely appropriate since boys and girls are different species altogether, right? For example, Toys”R”Us has sections designed for boys and girls, including subcategories that promote not easy and convenient stereotypical beliefs about gendered preferences, but the gendered truth. Even though some of the categories are the same (but obviously the content is different), others are exclusively designed for either boys or girls. When it comes to boys’-only toys we have “action figures,” whereas for girls there is the obvious need-to-know-to-catch-a-future-husband category of “bath, beauty and accessories.”
There are two characteristics that pop up over and over in “action figures”: weapons and physique, promoting hegemonic masculinity to the fullest, especially since this category is for boys only. The same is true for “bath, beauty and accessories”; here, the focus is on being pretty (in pink) and being a princess, which further promotes appearance and passivity, just like the belief in emphasized femininity does.
But wait, this does not seem right, and we are really not that different. What if toys could be just toys, devoid of gendered messages that imply “right” and “wrong” behavior and a strict gender hierarchy?
Photo of a toy store uploaded by flickr user fast panda kill kill and shared under a creative commons license.