Tuesday, May 20, 2008

G.I. Joe, the Gender Hero

Societies assign certain gender roles to both males and females. These gender roles are expectations of members of that gender to behave in a predefined manner, neglecting the individual’s true desire. Deviation from this “norm” is frowned upon and often met with social ostracization or punishment. “Toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information.”(Newman 112) They are one of the many tools used by society to reaffirm the gender roles of boys and girls; teaching them how they should behave early in life. Toys meant for boys teach different ideas and attitudes from toys meant for girls. Action figures are toys meant for boys, and the most famous of which, the G.I. Joe, has been shaping boys into their gender role since 1964.

G.I. Joe is a soldier who travels the world fighting the bad guys on land, air, and sea for America. He symbolizes freedom, violence, strength, and being number one. This parallels what is instilled in American boys throughout their youth. Boys are encouraged to play outside and explore the world, rather than girls who are taught to stay inside and learn how to nurture. G.I. Joe is seen as more of a strong, emotionless figure, very much like how boys are “supposed” to be. Boys are also encouraged to participate in athletics, in which being the best through physical competition is rewarded. “The sports world is extremely hierarchical, and an incredible amount of importance is placed on winning, on "being number one."” (Messner 129) G.I. Joe engages in physical competition (violence) to defeat the bad guys and be number one. I would also have to say the idea of competition and being number one transcends to adulthood in our capitalist economy.

The physical look of G.I. Joe instills gender upon boys as well. He is generally portrayed as a Caucasian male with huge muscles in an army uniform carrying a very large gun. Large muscled men fit into the dominant physical hegemonic role in our society. Physical dominance is what we value over skinny or overweight people. The G.I. Joe ties strong muscles with being good. Dominant colors are another way of reaffirming gender. G.I. Joe isn’t the best example of this because he wears camouflage so he won’t be seen by the enemy, but other action figures will include dominant colors like black, blue, green, and red. You won’t see very many action figures with shades of pink or purple in them, since those are girl colors. The large gun that G.I. Joe wields can be compared to the insecurity of men in American culture who need to compensate for shortcomings elsewhere.

According to Hasbro.com, “G.I. JOE has become the single greatest brand in the history of boys' toys.” This led me to wonder if there were any G.I. Joes for girls, so I searched the Hasbro website going through the history of G.I. Joes. I did find one interesting action figure for girls made in the 1960’s, G.I. Action Nurse Girl. So G.I. Joe says girls can play as long as they stay away from the violence and take care of the men when they get back. This fits into society’s understanding of the military, where it is expected of women to be the nurses and men to be the soldiers. The soldier/nurse expectations reflect Johnson’s idea of patriarchy. He claims that patriarchy is, ”about defining women and men as opposites, about the "naturalness" of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination.” (Johnson 94)

G.I. Joes help shape boys into their expected gender roles by showing them how society expects a man to act. He is supposed to be dominant, violent, competitive, adventurous, and have a great physique. These are the traits society wants men to have, so they use toys as one of many tools to show boys how they should behave. Not having all of these traits means that you are flawed in society’s view. We live in a culture where being different from what’s considered “normal” is bad and often met with severe repercussions. This is especially the case during childhood, since children hold very little of their thoughts back and are extremely cruel. The use of toys to reaffirm gender roles is especially influential for children because they spend so much of their time playing with toys.

Works Cited

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class,
Gender, and Sexuality.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Johnson, Allan. Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us. Temple University Press, 1997.

Messner, Michael. Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography: Sage Publications, 1990.

"G.I. Joe Every Generation Needs a Hero." Hasbro.Com. 19 May 2008 .

"GI JOE Action Figures & Toys in the 1960s." Hasbro.Com. 20 May 2008 .


Jessiebg said...

You did well with your first blog post and chose an interesting focus w/ GI Joe. Although the pink/blue dichotomy is frequently a predominant gender-indicator of toys, it's not always a factor of importance. However, in your analysis the camo pattern is as synonymous with gender as the color blue...and more...it's an example of the toy that stands for strength (physicality), violence, nationalism, and capitalism, and also the militarization of just about everything in the US (Cynthia Enloe has authored numerous poignant articles/books on this topic).
Nice use of your sources in this post too! You've done a nice job using them to outline the terms of the debate and to back up your points :o)

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