Recently, Nerf came out with guns that are marketed toward girls. They’re pink and purple, and some of them are smaller or in the shape of bows (one called the Heartbreaker) reminiscent of Katniss, Merida or any number of other popular bow-wielding heroines. The packaging itself includes pictures of girls looking quite proud and wielding these new contraptions. The name of this new campaign? Nerf Rebelle.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of having different colored Nerf guns. When I was younger, popular kids made fun of me every now and then for enjoying thing that boys my age frequently enjoyed, like Dragon Ball or games for my N64. Playing with Nerf guns that were intended for use by girls might have alleviated some of that, but still, I find that these products make me a little bit uncomfortable.
First of all, all girls love the colors pink and purple, right? My favorite color has always been green. Of course, everybody knows that blue is the favorite color of every boy in the world. How many blogs have posted about young boys who love to play with Barbies? Or young girls who want to dress like Darth Vader for Halloween? Gender stereotypes for kids’ toys are practically commonplace. I get that the largest proportion of Nerf gun users are male (including my 26-year-old boyfriend) and as a student of mass communication, it makes sense that they’d market to their target audience with pictures of boys and their Nerf guns.
As a little bit of background, it sounds like Nerf did their research, which is great. They spoke with girls around age 6 to find out what they would want in Nerf guns designed for them, and found that they loved the design. Great! I’m glad we’re moving in the right direction by manufacturing toys for girls that have been traditionally designed for boys. The problem I have is that it’s still drawing a clear line differentiating ideal behavior for girls and for boys.
I appreciate that Nerf is trying, I really do, but we’re exacerbating gender stereotypes by assuming that girls are the only ones who would want to use these. The only Nerf ads that include girls are pink, purple and covered in feathers and wings. The only Nerf ads with pictures of boys are made in more masculine hi-vis colors like orange and blue.
So what do I want? I’d like Nerf guns made in all colors of the rainbow without gender associations plastered on the front of each box. “Rebelle” assumes that every person using one of these tiny Nerf guns is effeminate. I’d love to use a purple Nerf gun, some flames coming off the barrel would be a lot more gender-neutral than angel wings and names like “Pink Crush” and “Heartbreaker”.
Carolyn Nave is a proud geek and a journalism student in Wisconsin who writes her own blog at techno-quill.com.