I've always thought that the folks at Tonka had a good product development department -- they produce toys that are sturdy, long lasting, and fun. But it would appear that they have also got some theoretical physicists who have developed time travel as well. Last night I saw a television commercial for Tonka's “wheel drivers scoot and scoop” that made me believe I was back in 1960. This little commercial informed me that "boys are built different" and that Tonka toys are built for boys. My husband (the humorist) immediately remarked that must mean that the toys had "wee-wee holes" in them so that boys delicate equipment wouldn't get smashed or squashed during play.
After doing a bit of Googling this morning, I discover that my outrage is a bit behind the times. This particular commercial first aired in October 2007 during the big toy push prior to Christmas. Many other people have blogged on this advertisement. An article in Salon by Catherine Price does a very nice job of talking about the advertisement and the issues.
If I go by my own students and their comments about child raising, there are many parents today to whom this type of advertising definitely appeals. Parents who have substantial anxieties about gender and sexuality, and are conservative in their construction of those roles. However, there is also evidence out there in the blogosphere of many parents who find these rigid gender roles, and gendered toy advertising offensive and disturbing. A great blog post on this advertisement, with responses from 22 parents can be found on Table For Five.
As a sociologist, the question that I find most intriguing (and for which I do not as yet have an answer) is: Are advertisers (and toy makers) simply responding to the gender preferences of parents, or are they actively attempting to shape those preferences? There is certainly research evidence to support the contention that advertising has been used in the past (specifically research on advertising campaigns in the decade after World War II) to attempt to shape gender roles, in a way that would encourage women back out of the work place and into the home.
P.S. If you haven't see the ad, go to http://www.hasbro.com/tonka/ Under the product pictures – click the “watch video link” while the “wheel drivers scoot and scoop” image is showing.