The excellent folks at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), whose campaign against Disney's Baby Einstein was too radical for Harvard, as I've written about here on this blog, just announced a great new contest: the TOADY Awards for Worst Toy of the Year. It's one of those acronyms that doesn't quite work because you keep forgetting what it references -- in fact I've already forgotten -- but otherwise a good idea.
All the nominees are so appalling I can't decide. But a few stand out on the gender tip. Nickelodeon's Addicting Games, promoted at all its company sites, including to the preschool audience of NickJr.com. Why is this a problem? One game on the website is Perry the Sneak, where players try to peek at scantily clad women. This turns out to be a wholesome pursuit compared to the other options, which include a game called Bloody Day ("where back alley butchering has never been so much fun"), Stealthy Hitman ("Your next Victim is waiting"), and Stick Dude Killing Arena ("Train to Kill Until You Die"). This last one freaks me out the most, because it's sadly so common: so many "games" are aimed at socializing little boys into militarism.
Case in point: TOADY nominee HALO United Nations Space Command Turret -- a rotating, stationary assault weapon with four cannons. For kids eight and up. Yes, really.
But little girls are not spared - CCFC also features in its lineup Barbie Doll'd Nails, which prints out "manicures" for girls eight and up. While I'd never buy this for a kid, I'm not quite as appalled by it, because so many little girls do want to do their nails, and as an activity, it certainly does beat killing people. And unlike most of the other toys here, the Barbie Doll'd Nails seems at least to encourage a little creativity and pretend-play, and could have a sociable element. But it's symptomatic of a wider problem: girls being encouraged to be mini-ladies way too early. Pre-schoolers are having manicure parties, which strikes me as outrageous. We need to be much more thoughtful about the ridiculous, enforced hyper-femininity and materialism bombarding little girls of this generation, at very early ages (mostly with their cheerful consent, but that doesn't make it OK). More in a coming post on this subject: we'll explore whether Raising Trouble is right to worry about the current onslaught of girlieness -- or over-reacting to stuff that's mostly good fun.
As horrific as these specimens are, I think I'm voting for one of the few gender-neutral toys: the Little Tykes Young Explorer, a little computer and "workstation" with a cubicle design, to socialize kids age 3-7 into white-collar wage labor. And it's marketed to daycare centers, so kids will be sitting at their computers instead of doing the one thing that they really, truly need to be doing: playing. Or, the Eyeclops Mini Projector so kids can enjoy video entertainment outdoors in the summer. Those two actually offend me the most! Because as overwhelmingly bad as all the gender crap is, people whose minds have been hopelessly dulled by way too much screen time are not going to be able to grow up and think critically about anything -- or relate to their fellow humans in a decent, helpful manner -- and that's even scarier.
Read about them all and vote! You have until May 10, so forward widely and get busy thinking.
And please discuss here! What do you think of the CCFC's picks? Do they make you queasy with rage? Or are they defensible? Are you so glad I'm not your mom? Are these criticisms unfair? Or are there even more horrific toys are out there that the CCFC missed?