Pottery Barn takes playtime to a new level (and price)

This just makes me want to barf. Pottery Barn Kids has taken the initiative not only to perpetuate gender roles, but sell it for a shitload of money.
The company’s new “Retro Kitchen Sets” has done extremely well in sales this holiday season, even considering the pricing, which ranges between $250 and $650. (By the way, this kitchen is purely for play.)
The kitchen set is (of course) in their “girls’ rooms” section, which comes separately with a washer, dryer and vacuum; in short, they decided to gather every domestic household item they could think of and throw it into the girls’ section of the site.
As for the boys, they have a number of different themed rooms to choose from, including the “airplanes bedroom,” the “trains playroom,” and the “thomas sports playroom.”
When asked about the kitchen set only being included in the “girls’ rooms” section, company spokesperson Lauren Nelson replied, “I think girls tend to be better at domestic play. Boys have tool sets and train sets.”
WOW. Is it just me, or do you hear the theme song from “Leave It To Beaver?”

Join the Conversation

  • NancyP

    Funny, I spent a childhood stuffing dolls in the bottom of the toybox and playing with matchbox car, building sets, stuffed animals, nature study materials (I lived in the sticks), and pretending to be a Wild Indian or Famous Explorer. My parents fortunately wised up after the first two ignored dolls, and got me nongendered toys.
    Why do I have these genitals and breasts? I clearly flunked Girlhood and Womanhood.

  • NancyP

    Oh yeah, and what about the all-boy boys who play sports, fight, and love to cook?

  • ellenbrenna

    The issue isn’t whether girls like to play with dolls and household items the issue is whether ALL girls like to play with dolls and whether other types of play are discouraged and labeled “unfeminine”. So you give your kids a bunch of different toys and they discover for themselves how they like to play. There is a difference between plaing with a vacuum and playing with a doll: a doll may tap into an innate desire to nuture but a toy vacuum is a signal about your expectations for women, and the expectations they should have for themselves.
    There are differences between the sexes but they are insignificant compared to the pressure put on both boys and girls to conform to adults expectations and the preferences of their peers. As far as infant development goes you need to look at the work being done at Harvard (by a female researcher BTW featured in an article in Scientific American Mind) on cognitive development. There is little or no difference in the recognition abilities of male and female infants until later stages in development. There is however a difference, according to other studies, in how an infants reactions are interpreted by adults. An adults perceptions and descriptions depend on the sex of the baby.

  • maryjanefoxie

    I spent my childhood cutting Barbie’s hair off, filling the sink in my playhouse kitchen with mud, and scribbling on my fake ‘fridge with Crayola’s. My male playmates were quick to play “house” and build Barbie homes with the enormous amount of Barbie furniture I had accumulated…UNTIL, of course, we all started going to school & they were mocked & ridiculed for the behavior. To claim that girls are more in to “domestic play” is a joke. And 5 years old is plenty of time to be socialized into a typically female role.

  • Mandy G

    Doesn’t matter how much feminist (or not) Mommy dis/encourages one from playing with Barbie dolls or Tonka trucks… does the kid watch TV? Have gender-socialized peers? Go to school where the teacher treats and encourages different genders differently? Of course! There’s a lot of very influential places that kids are told and shown how to be a boy or a girl despite parents’ best efforts.

  • ellenbrenna

    I did not mean to imply that scientific studies are subject to discrininatory interpretation. I was speaking about a specific study in which adults were asked to describe the emotional states of infants. When the infants were thought to be male they were described as angry and when they were thought to be female they were described as scared even though the adults were looking at the same damn video of a baby’s behavior.
    Females in other primate species are not less aggressive than the males. They regularly enforce the social hierarchy of the group but they do not necessarily do so with physical violence. Depriving other individuals of food, ignoring them, harassing them and occasionally lashing out physically where as the males do itimidation displays and resort to violence with more rapidity. Traits do not vary as widely as is assumed it is how those traits are expressed by the sexes that are different.
    So the question then becomes if taming aggression, enncouraging cooperation and mutual support is a noble pursuit for women why is it not so for men? The answer to that question, the many answers to that question, are cultural not biological.
    Again I wonder it is biological reality that women like to vacuum? Roaming the savannahs of Africa all the females could think of was how they wished there was a simpler way to get rid of all that dirt?

  • ellenbrenna

    Felix you contended that we are fighting biology and denying that the world is round but my point is that socialization, which involves how adults interact with children, begins very early. If children are percieved and treated differently from the moment they are born that has an effect on their development. It may not be as readily measurable as at later stages but differences are there.
    You may be tidy but did some one ever try to make vacuuming fun by giving you an overpriced toy? These toys are something else entirely they are all about socializing girls to be as domestic as possible. Girls were in previous eras socialized to avoid physical activity and sports were considered unfeminine. I guess now when they are out playing sports and acting like their having fun they are really just thinking about playing with dolls and non-working kitchen equipment. The assertion that socialization has no effect on behavior is as preposterous as the notion that biology has no effect either. The truth must be so much more complicated than that because people are more complicated than that and vary so widely.

  • ellenbrenna

    Sorry I am offended by the toy too not because girls don’t play domestic games but because girls often do more than play domestic games.
    I am not arguing against biology I am arguing against a narrow interpretation of biology. As far as difference denying goes I agree men and women are different I just do not think it means what some people assume it means. The emphasis on domesticity obscures the very real biological and historical fact that females have always been active participants in their own survival. The idea that women should be content to focus all there energy in a limited domestic sphere is contrary to the development of nomadic social animals who forage for their food. That requires communication, pattern recognition, memory and an intuitive sense of direction. A brain made for that requires more from a life than just diapers, baby einstein videos and endless trips to isolated afterschool activities.
    A strict gender division of domestic labor also deprives men of time spent with their offspring, they are required to work so long and hard to pay expenses for a family they rarely get to socialize with. Having substantial relationships with their children is important for men isn’t it? Unless all those MRAs who fight to get custody of their kids are lying about their priorities? You should be offended by this toy too it implies that the home is an exclusively female territory and that men who tread into that area are either out of place or unmanly.
    Science indicates that men and women are different and science does not indicate that everything your crazy obnoxious bachelor uncle ever said about broads is absolutely true.

  • Diane

    First of all, no one ever burned a bra; that was a creation of the news media.
    Second, yes, females not only hear high-pitch sounds better, they hear everything better. And female tear ducts are constructed differently from male tear ducts, enabling women to cry more easily.
    There were also studies done in the 70’s in which little boys and girls of the same ages and of different backgrounds were locked in a one-way mirro room with many, many toys. The boys played with the dolls as well as the planes and guns, and vice versa.
    Given that boys and girls are indeed different and that girls really are probably more likely to do “nurturing” play and boys to do “aggressive” play–assigning strict gender roles to toys makes boys and girls feel guilty if they happen to not want to play with the “gender-appropriate toys.” When I was a little girl, I was given both dolls and a little play stove, and I had no interest in any of them; I wanted a microscope, a chemistry set, and a football.

  • Jessica

    oh poor felix, is the cute little parody site getting so little traffic that you boys have to try to promote it here? ouch.
    by the way, us crazy femiskanks continue to be tickled pink and just plain flattered that you guys find us worthy of parody.

  • SarahS

    I notice that you’re still not providing a link for this newborn study that you’re heaping all your hopes on.
    I remember a study done on infants, six months to a year old, which studied which one cried more. Girls cried more, a lot more. Then they studied the parents of said infants. Girl babies were picked up within minutes of crying, boy babies were left in the crib a lot longer by their parents. Girl babies were talked to all the time, boy babies not so much so. Girl babies were played with by parents or were set up to play with other children, boy babies were expected to play by themselves. So even at 6 months old, the babies had learned very different gender expectations. Girls learned that screaming elicted immediate results, boys learned that it was futile.
    I would be curious to see if you and I are thinking of the same study.

  • Christopher

    You know, there is such a thing as relying too much on studies.
    When you have a whole blog full of people who say “As a kid, I didn’t like stereotypical girl toys” and you continually say “Science proves girls like girl toys!” you seem a bit.. dense.
    Actually, this is another one of those arguments where the conservative isn’t really defending the idea under attack.
    Even if girls generally like one type of toy and boys another, what is the point of labelling them as one or the other? We all agree that kids should be allowed to discover what types of toys they like to play with for themselves. Doesn’t labelling toys tend to discourage this behavior?
    I know when I was a young tot I got a lot of grief from the other boys about liking My Little Pony. By labelling it a girls toy, it stigmatized boys who wanted to play with it.
    Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the number of people with non-gender play-styles is non-trivial. De-genderizing toys does nothing to stop traditional kids from playing with the toys they like, but it does stop the non-traditional kids from playing with the toys they like.
    So what’s not to be offended about?
    Anyway, before I was sidetracked I wanted to say, my old job was packaging gift cards, among them those for Pottery Barn. I was wondering what the hell they would sell at “Pottery Barn Kids”, and now I know.

  • Christopher

    Actually, Felix, your whole series of posts could be boiled down into one message: “Science says you don’t matter”.
    You’re being confronted by people who don’t fit the expected gender role. Citing studies that say women generally like to, be submissive doesn’t make much sense when talking with a population who don’t like things that way.
    Maybe you follow up by going to gay rights websites and saying that gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married because studies show most people prefer to be straight.
    The question is, obviously, how can society evolve to cater to both the “normal” and “abnormal” sectors of the population. Traditional society heaps piles of scorn on those who fall outside the boundries of what is considered normal, and I am highly incredulous that feminism heaps nearly as much scorn on people who choose to be “normal”.
    And that’s aside from the fact that instinctual behavior is not the same as useful behavior. Hell, the very procedures (Double-blindness, say) used in the tests you cite were developed specifically to avoid normal human thought patterns!

  • Ledasmom

    You know, going by statistics, nursing doesn’t take up too much more of the average mother’s time than of the average father’s – at least in this country, and figured over even the entire first three years of life.
    As for carrying and delivering, I assume that toy technology has taken another giant leap forward? I sure don’t remember seeing any ads, when I was young, for Baby Scream And Curse While You Push Me Out.
    It’s fascinating to see arguments from biology referencing non-human primates, who differ profoundly from humans in the matter of child care and reproductive strategies – paternal attention to offspring is a characteristic human behavior. One also might mention that the truly offensive aspect of the above-mentioned kitchen set is not that it is made available to girls, but that it is marketed exclusively to girls, to the extent of being advertised in the only color exclusively associated, in this country, with girls – a color, I might add, rarely or never seen in actual kitchen sets (at least not by me; perhaps I have only been lucky).

  • C

    “Hmmm, let’s see, you’re offended that toys ABOUT caring for families and children might be marketed towards the people who ultimately go on to HAVE children.”
    Excellent! Felix has finally acknowledged that it is women who HAVE children and men do not HAVE children. Since women HAVE exclusive possession of children, all decisions relating to the creation and raising of children should thus rest with women (recall, the people who HAVE children). Accordingly, all decisions relating to abortion, pregnancy, child-birth, child-raising, funding for schools, welfare, health insurance for children, and maternity leave should thus be made exclusively by women (again, those who HAVE children).
    Unless of course Felix you spoke to soon and what you meant to say is that both genders, men AND women, raise, feed, clothe, and care for children? And thus the marketing of toys that mimic these actions to girls and not boys (who can both grow up to be caregivers) is antiquated and silly?

  • Christopher

    There’s such a thing as relying too little on anecdotal evidence. You’ve basically had the following conversation:
    Feminists: I didn’t like girly toys as a girl.
    Felix: Actually, science says you did.
    I think you can see the problem with that kind of reasoning.
    And again, you haven’t actually defended the practice of gendered toys. Let’s think capitalistically: As I said above, a non-trivial number of girls like boys toys, and a non-trivial number of boys like girls toys. That’s a market. Now, how exactly does making the kitchen set a “girl’s toy” help me reach the widest possible audience? Isn’t that in fact discouraging a number of potential customers?
    It’s pretty clear that Miss Vanessa was not puking about the fact that they have a kitchen set, or that girls play with it, but about the fact that it’s exclusively marketed to girls, and that no other toys are marketed to girls by this company.
    And I reiterate: You haven’t yet defended this practice.
    PS. I’m not quite sure I understand your smugness about offending people… coming here and defending the KKK would piss everybody here off, but it wouldn’t make you right. The fact that people disagree with you doesn’t seem like any kind of moral victory.

  • Ledasmom

    So, I’m puzzled – if little girls would be attracted to kitchen sets/baby stuff even if it weren’t pink, and boys are likely to be put off such toys by the pink color (are we seeing, by the way, a lot of pink shirts in the boys’ clothing section of the store as opposed to men’s? Don’t think so), isn’t marketing these toys only in pink likely to lose sales?

  • http://www.lunaticleft.com Stephen

    Wow, the trolls on this site are amazing. I think a girl-oriented household set is foolish. I always LOVED that stuff as a kid. And yes, Mr Science-says, that is purely anecdotal.
    Felix is right that there are inherent difference between men and women. Like penises. But that doesn’t mean that some of gender isn’t a construct. This is not a dichotomy. Behavior certainly doesn’t fall exactly on the lines dictated by biological sex. Gender ROLES are even more different. Mr Science seems to be falling for the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something might be natural, that doesn’t make it right. The modern world is not the world of hunter-gatherers. Those societies, and the civilizations they grew into, were divided into gender roles out of necessity. There was a lot of work to be done in and out of the household. Gender was an easy way to divide the work. Making clothes and preparing food was a full time job. The woman’s work situation that existed thousands of years ago was real. Since that time things have changed. The economy is diverse now, and has been for some time. Not everyone farms anymore. The jobs that society has are mostly gender neutral (outside of the sex industry). You don’t have to be a man to be a banker or a programmer. And the work of maintaining a household is much, much less. No one makes their own clothes and food preperation is a task that takes less than an hour a day. Breast pumps and formula mean that a woman doesn’t even have to be with her baby all day. Times have changed Felix. Just because something was, doesn’t mean it should be.
    What possible reason do we have to cling to an outdate notion of what men and women should be doing?

  • http://www.lunaticleft.com Stephen

    I’m guesing that the reason this product is pink is focus groups. The marketers got a bunch of little girls together and asked them what color they like. The girls, on average, said pink. Who knows why. I have a feeling that the marketers, however, did not consider asking boys what color they liked. I think it is probable they didn’t think boys where their market.
    It is even possible that they did do that research and found low interest among boys for this product. So they made a pink kitchen set. (which, I must say, is pretty damn awesome as a kitchen toy set. Gas range! Kids should learn early that gas is best) But why are corporations given permission to behave with absolutely no regard for the ethics of what they are doing? They sell what people will buy. But if they made this set in white, or perhaps faux stainless steel to match the real thing would they have lost that many buyers? Did they have to blindly follow the market research?

  • Ledasmom

    I’m thinking kids in general prefer the real thing, or as close to the real thing as possible, to cutesy imitation toy versions. Certainly our boys never found toy brooms as interesting as real brooms for sweeping, and our younger son never enjoyed playing dishwashing as much as washing actual dishes. I don’t think they’d lose many sales with the stainless kitchen set (and besides, you could stick notes to it! And, with really strong magnets, your brother!).

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Shit, Felix.
    That’s a crazy generalization you make. You go from saying “girls tend to prefer one type of toy” to saying that world should function as if science established that “ virtually all girls tend to prefer one type of toy.”
    Just because science establises that, on average there are aggregate (read: not inherent) gender differences says nothing about how an individual boy will compare to an individual girl. You spend all of your time talking about these aggregate gender differences and very little talking about how large they are relative to the spread in the populations.
    Further, another major point that you ignore is how dramatically all this shit fucks up someone who has a natural urge to act contrary to society’s expectations w.r.t. gender. Wouldn’t a tiny bit of sensitivity in this help these people, without really affecting anyone else?
    But no, it’s much more interesting to just go around screaming boy boy boy boy boy boy! Girl girl girl girl girl girl!

  • Ron O

    I loved the Easy Bake oven my sister & played with. We shared all out toys. Cooking is a basic life skill. Everyone should at least know the rudiments of feeding themselves.

  • rufus.t.firefly

    Felix asked me to tell you that he tried to respond to all your posts and questions, but has apparently been banned from the site. Which he finds odd, given that the threads he participates in tend to get 30+ more posts than the average thread. Oh well, I guess some sites only believe in freedom of expression if it’s expressing a view they like. Toodles!

  • Jessica

    felix, don’t flatter yourself. our comments policy is clear–we don’t put up with abusive language or personal insults. if i was concerned about views different from my own, a lot more people would be banned.

  • Nymphalidae

    “You know, there is such a thing as relying too much on studies.
    When you have a whole blog full of people who say “As a kid, I didn’t like stereotypical girl toys” and you continually say “Science proves girls like girl toys!” you seem a bit.. dense.”
    I hate to agree with Felix, but annecdotal evidence isn’t evidence.
    I’m just an entomologist, but it does seem to me that sex and gender can be different.

  • puckalish

    please let me help you avoid hating yourself. there’s really very little “scientific” reason to agree with Felix.
    i mean, come on, Felix, you’ve made many comments that refer to some study you kind of remember. but, according to this study of cry characteristics, “There were no significant differences noted in the cry characteristics according to gender, the age of the infants or the gestational age when they were born.”
    as far as the assertion that “men sustain 94% of all occupational deaths,” that’s a gross exaggeration. men most certainly do sustain more occupational deaths than women. however, the numbers are quite different from 94:6. women are about 12% as likely as men to suffer a fatal accident at work. there are plenty of reasons for this and this study does a good deal to explain some of them – from women being less “risk tolerant” than men (which is not necessarily biologically determined) to women abusing drugs to a lesser degree than men.
    mind you, that study (and my 12% number) was based on 1998 statistics, which may underrepresent the current burden of occupational death on women.
    oh, yeah, and as far as school, corporate maternity leave, etc., what you must realize is that these social policies are not built on a foundation of making those damn women’s lives better. they’re built on a foundation of simply providing a social support structure for children. similar to programs such as social security providing a support structure for seniors, people with debilitations, etc.
    social programs such as these help provide a solid base of support for children – so they have the opportunity to mature in the best possible environments and eventually give back to society.
    if you’d like to look at it as simply programs to hand out dollars to ungrateful whiny women, go ahead… but you’ll be wrong. how would such reasoning explain that many corporate (and, in other nations, government) programs actually allow for men to take leave when they father a child?
    peace and blessings,

  • Ledasmom

    Problem is, Felix was defending the exclusive marketing of the kitchen set in question to girls – and, yeah, if it’s pink (I say again, a color no real kitchen set ever was), they’re marketing exclusively to girls – as if no boy would ever be interested in such a toy. One counterexample disproves that proposition.

  • audrey1066

    I think that it would be nice to note that while little girls might really just absolutely love pink vacuums and kitchen sets (note the sarcasm) they aren’t the one’s dropping $600 on them. Parents, who are indeed socialized and affected by social pressure and the need to conform with gender roles as presented by society at large, are the ones that pay for these things. And I can remember very clearly as a child being given toys by adults I absolutely hated.

  • mbntn74

    First, let me say that I strongly believe in not influencing my children’s interests based on stereotypical gender roles. In fact, I just bought my 19 month old son a vacuum cleaner for Christmas because he likes our neighbors. That being said, I think this whole Pottery Barn argument is silly since they also have the kitchen and laundry set in red and “stainless steel”. If your daughter wants a kitchen set and loves pink (like my daughter)then doesn’t it seem like a fun gift? If pink isn’t her or his thing other colors are available. I think you all need to relax. Just my two cents.

  • Gary

    I’ve been married for seven years now and my wife and I have a daughter who will be turning two in April. I came by this web site by googling Pottery Barn Kid toy kitchens. I think the fact that Pottery Barn’s kitchen set is pink now (they have had blue, red & silver) relates to what sells. My daughter loves to pretend play (vac, dust, cook etc.) by watching me and her Mom clean. In our house we are equal. I ride and Harley and do the cooking! I can’t wait to teach my daughter about motorcycles, fishing and hunting. I also enjoy watching her play pretend “house”. I think it teaches her the responsibilities of life and independence. The fact that this kitchen set is geared more toward a “girly” girl is not a factor in our choice to buy it for her. It happens to be pink and pink happens to be her favorite color (for the moment). It’s o.k. to be a girl too!

  • janet

    My two-year old son received two vacuum cleaners for Christmas (an upright and a handheld). They are his favorite toys and the ones that see the most play. Given the percentage of his female preschool cohorts who scream in agony if they are presented with something that is not pink, I think this would be a pretty good seller.
    I think retailers care much more about what sells and much less about social engineering than many of the posters here seem to think.

  • http://pomdaughter.blogspot.com the Stolen Child

    My friends’ son Jason would LOVE this thing. He got (much cheaper) kitchen/household toys for his Christmas, because he wants to be like Mommy and Daddy! My friends were telling me that they started giving him his juice/water/whatever in coffee mugs, because Jason stopped trying to drink Mommy and Daddy’s coffee if he had his own mug. When Daddy gets out the vacuum to clean up, Jason gets out his (way cool) vacuum, too! (No seriously, it has a hose and is black instead of pastel or bright colors, and looks like a miniature vacuum–I think it even makes vacuuming sounds, instead of plastic balls rolling around.) He also got a coffee pot, a little kitchen set, all sorts of things.
    They’re way nicer than I remember. The coffee pot “percolates”.
    Of course, Jason’s grandpa (his mom’s dad) bitched about it, complaining that it was girly, etc. But Jason’s parents and I and the rest of our friends were just like, What chick doesn’t like a guy who can cook?