Toy ‘Cult’ure

By Sakhi Thirani

A comfort, a stimulus, an amusement, a means to learn– a toy provides a child with an experience that sustains way beyond the mere realms of stale memory. Being there for a child is the noblest thing a toy can do,” Woody had stated throughout the course of Toy Story 4, a movie which, just like children, anthropomorphises toys. Children indulge in the inner recesses of imagination through the course of these inanimate objects that we call toys. And by controlling and moulding the construction, the types, the appeal for toys, and the mannerisms they propagate as per the orthodox norms set by society, there is direct control over the reins of childrens imagination. It is this ability to impact and brainwash that predominantly threatens the idea of inclusivity in a young mind. Toys then, being handed over by adults they look up to and trust, become socially sanctioned behaviour models that children are allowed to and rather, encouraged to mimic as well as inculcate.
Smothered with pink, the toys for girls” category contrasts its binary so starkly with the catalogue of feminised” products that solely aim to teach” domestic chores and constantly invoke the idea of a girl” with products that are flowery and nurturing, cuddly and delicate. Whereas, boys’ toys,” with colours of black, blue, and red, have a metallic texture of the robust masculine” built with attributes that propagate ideas of speed, control, thrill, aggression, violence, and power through robots and remote control cars, action figures and blocks. It is with practices such as these that a toy has transformed into a tangible manifestation of the sexist binary that starkly divides children and stuffs them into developing exclusive narrow-minded thinking by coding stringent ideas of gender roles, appearances, behaviours, and spaces.
This process of segregation instills the demarcation of the inside” realm of beauty and delicacy from the outside” realm of strength and violence for the binary genders that the specific toys invoke with their strategic and planned packaging, branding, labelling, their construction, and most of all, how that construction is portrayed as desirable” through the means of advertisements. A blatant categorisation of different, many a time, opposing isles for gendered toys proves to be an example of the systematic allocation a child has to undergo in terms of the politics of spaces. Shelf space politics further even into the online shopping experience with the presence of gendered filters to optimise search results. Merchandising of popular characters as toys and allocating them in a certain gender section furthers this gender distinction by bringing to light the interconnectedness and intertwined nature of all the commercial markets that strategically brand a gender that they can cash in.
With the mere intent of profit maximisation, these vicious pillars of the commercialist industries, the marketing, and advertising tactics mold malleable minds by luring them in with the idea of conforming with the so-called identity” that gender is supposed to be. Children are literally made to gulp these stereotypes with each and every bite of their supposedly happy” meal because rigidity never tasted better, and nothing is more joyful” than an egg-shaped treat with a toy that has a colour-coded label of for boys/girls.”

This leads to the formation of the mutually-exclusive binary gender cults of girls” and boys” which with their rigid frameworks classify gender with strong fences that if trespassed have serious consequences. Exclusion, mockery, teasing, and even parental pressure compel a child to fall first into their destined category of his/her” first and then supposedly choose from their respective his/her” toys. A toy has thus transformed into a loaded symbol that constantly iterates traits of the normative” code of conduct. So in the end, it is as Forky says to Woody in Toy Story 4, I am not a toy!” At least, not just a toy. 

About the Author:

Sakhi Thirani is a student at Delhi University pursuing Masters of Arts in English. With an intense interest in literature and cinema, she has been excessively fond of drowning in brute realms of ethereal thought that some call fiction. 


One Comment

  1. Meenakshi Maheshwari

    Impressive 👍🏼