While searching through the toy products, the placement of violent and male directed vocabulary are peppered throughout the toy’s descriptions, words such as: dominate, attack, blast, perfect, powerful, superiority, victory, weapon, firepower, win and fight. Now at six years old, Hasbro believes that a Nerf gun is an age level appropriate toy, lending to what David Neman said about gender and identity socialization, “how we learn to think, act and perceive ourselves as members of a particular group, [determines] how we incorporate those perceptions into our personal identity.”(Newman, 109) Males are being sold violence, and warfare as a part of their heteronormative gender socialization into our society. Even the packaging states, “it’s more than just a game”, fostering the idea that battles and combat should be taken seriously unless you want to lose. The social ramifications for a boy who doesn’t care about winning or losing would as Neman describes, categorize him as a sissy, “he is suspiciously soft and effeminate”. (Neman, 108) The Nerf gun does not market their products to reinforce a “sissy”, their young consumers are designed to be masculine and dominating, and if they are not, Hasbro hopes to convert any lingering males to the macho side.
The Nerf gun reproduces the hegemonic macho stereotype that males are supposed to desire. Each line of products produced by Nerf lends to the notion that bigger is better. Each new product that Hasbro introduces to their Nerf line, is more superior and supersized then the last, indicating that at all costs to be a male you must never lose, unless your masculinity will be challenged. We often tell our boys that it’s for the fun of the game, but as Michael Messner concluded, “Being out there and participating is certainly presented to boys as a good thing, but being better than the others is the key to acceptance and approval.” (Messner,129)
As for young Michael, I am positive that he saw a friend with a Nerf gun and simply wanted the toy just to play with. I’m sure Michael did not ask for the toy because he wants to start and army on his own, but with each toy and gender orientated product we sell to our boys, we are only furthering gender identities that promote poorly idealized messages to our society about how males and females should act. By exaggerating gender differences we create attitudes and behaviors that further emulate a society dominated by violent men and machismo attitudes. Homophobic tendencies are created out of boys who never grow culturally aware of the harmful marketing ploys created by such toys. Nerf toys have been around for generations, creating boys that simply are just learning from their social environment. I think I will opt on buying something in the educational section for Michael instead!
Messner, M. ”Boyhood, Organized Sports, And The Construction Of Masculinities.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18.4 (1990): 416-44. Print
Newman, David M. “Chapter Four Learning Difference Families, Schools and Socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality.
Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
Google.Photograph. Web. 28 July 2011.
Hasbro Nerf. Photograph. Web 28 July 2011