Possible Questions for Toy Store Investigations

By Sudie Hoffman

  1. How are the aisles labeled? How do you know where the boys’ and girls’ sections are?
  2. Which sections are larger?
  3. What types of toys are in each section? List exact names of toys.
  4. What colors are used?
  5. What type of lettering is used? Jagged edges or smooth edges? What would this suggest?
  6. What type of language do you observe on the packaging? Indicate what types of verbs (i.e. “destroy” and “create”) are used for boys and for girls?
  7. Cost?
  8. How many males and females appear on the box covers? Pick one aisle and count.
  9. How are women portrayed? How are men portrayed?
  10. What do the toys promote? Violence, communication, friendship, competition, learning, global knowledge, parenting skills?
  11. What careers are associated with the toys?

Additional Activity: After discussing and comparing the research results and considering Question 11, students can visit salarywizard.com as an additional assignment to provide more depth to their analysis. Specifically, after reaching Salarywizard, select All Titles and match a few of the toys from the student investigation with occupations listed at the site. For example, chemistry set = pharmacist; kitchen and plastic food toys = hotel-banquet server. Then enter city and state. Look up the median expected salary for each profession in your region and determine the difference. The salary inequities between professions represented by girl toys and boy toys is, well, statistically significant.

Postscript: The Rethinking Schools editors asked me to do a bit of additional research for this article. They wanted to know if McDonald’s and Burger King still asked customers if they wanted a boy or a girl toy when ordering a children’s meal. In order for my research to be as reliable as possible, I drove to several McDonald’s and Burger King drive-through windows to order these meals and briefly interview the crew members at the windows about the policies regarding distribution of the toys. I didn’t want to rely on the “company line” from corporate headquarters.

Workers at all the restaurants told me the same thing: They ask if the child is male or female. A McDonald’s employee explained that they have three buttons for toys: truck for boys, doll for girls, and under age 3. He even offered to photograph the key pad with his camera phone. I told him it was not necessary.

This was a difficult final assignment for me in that I have not eaten meat since April of 1970 when I finished reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The smell of the hamburgers in the bags lined up on the passenger seat required me to drive to the nearest gas station’s garbage can with my head hanging out the window. The Rethinking Schools editors owe me a salad. Supersize it.