I want to show you something.
You can probably guess, but that is a promotional image from the Nerf company’s new line of Girl-Focused toys, Rebelle. You can tell it’s for girls, because the name is feminized (in the French sense), and everything is slathered in pink. The line recently launched with it’s first product, this little beauty right here:
It’s called Heartbreaker.
One of the talented ladies at the media feminist blog ChezApocalypse has already discussed why it was given that name and why it’s a problem, so I won’t repeat their words when I can just link to them right here.
What I will say is this: this is a toy for children.
Children, I think, are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to gender interpellation, because they don’t have much control over what discourses they enter, or how they are socially hailed. They don’t have opportunities to self-produce their identities; but if they do, and if that identity falls outside of the established norm, it will be dismissed as a phase, or an imagination run wild. A denial of what everyone else has decided is reality.
When presented to the child for whom it was designed, Heartbreaker creates this mirror for her to look into:
- Girl things are always and only feminine. Pink, winged, sporting that dainty ‘elle.’ The girl in the poster is wearing makeup because even heading into imaginary battle, she has to look good. If it is not feminine, it is not for you; the result of Rebelle being explicitly for girls is that regular Nerf becomes implicitly for boys. A barrier of exclusion has been risen, for both sides.
- Being ostensibly a weapon, this toy is the object of a power fantasy. But with a name like Heartbreaker, it takes on a specific form. A girl has power by using romantic ties (which, as she becomes older, translates into her sexuality) to her advantage. Femme fatale or nothing.
- The first toy in the line is a bow. It’s easy enough to surmise this is because of the popularity of archery right now, particularly among girls. But it’s nothing new. It is actually a well-known trope: Guys Smash, Girls Shoot.
- By giving a girl ranged weaponry (the logic goes), they can participate in the battle while still being removed from the action. Despite the athleticism required for marksmanship, the bow is consider more elegant than powerful, much like the female marksman herself.
There may be more, but those are the primary three, in my opinion. It is not only that these things are being suggested to her through the toy (although they are), it is that the existence of the toy pre-supposes these facets of her identity.
I can imagine some little girl, a tomboy probably, being presented this thing as a gift from some well-intentioned relative (Goodness knows I had piles of toys from aunts and uncles who seemed to think of me as an SAT logic exercise: Little girls love Barbie. Leah is a little girl. Therefore, Leah loves Barbie). I can imagine that some of them will take to it, because of their temperament, or because it fits with everything they have already repeatedly been told they are.
I can imagine people seeing their acceptance, and mistaking it for evidence of innate Girlhood. Then, thinking “Girls like these things because they are girls,” they make more Heartbreakers, which will be presented to more children, and the cycle continues.
I am only talking about one toy, at the moment. But this sort of social programming/ social behaviour/social programming loop exists everywhere –not just for children or girls but every age and gender. It is a mostly unconscious but nevertheless relentless effort for everyone to fit into one of two very specific groups –women with female genitalia, and men with male genitalia.
To paraphrase Judith Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity, it is a wonder, under those conditions, that anyone reaches adulthood with an identity outside those rigidities at all. Yet it happens. Somehow, people resist.
This blog will be about exploring that resistance, why we do it, what forms it takes, and what it means. When is it conscious, and when is it not? I’ll be writing about it both on general, conceptual levels, and also by taking in-depth looks at specific items –be they films or books.
I, for one, am looking forward to it.
I will be setting up a Definition of Terms page, to ensure that each post can be read individually, but without weighing down the text of each. (Here is the page).