Last summer, Nerf released its first toy series specifically aimed at girls. The toy line, called ‘Rebelle’, features a series of bows, crossbows, blasters, and pistols in pink, purple, and turquoise color schemes. Fueled by the success of the Hunger Games and Brave, the response by Rebelle’s intended audience has been enthusiastic. Yet inevitably, criticisms arise.
The most common complaints have been that Rebelle is sexist for maintaining a traditionally feminine aesthetic, or simply unnecessary since some think that Nerf guns were a gender neutral toy to begin with. I’m not even going to dignify those who have argued that girls shouldn’t be playing with “violent” toys, or those that think Nerf guns are bad for children of all genders. If you don’t like Nerf guns, don’t buy them for your children. Simple as that. But the idea that Rebelle is a redundant or sexist gesture by Nerf deserves some examination.
Something that I find interesting is the dismissal of traditionally “feminine” qualities as antiquated, stupid, and regressive across the board by adults, children, and even self-identified feminists. In this context, people have said “Why does it have to be ‘Rebelle’ instead of ‘rebel’? Why do the guns have to be pink and purple?” And it is a fair point. Toys and other media should not have to be “feminized” to be considered acceptable for female consumption. However, getting riled up about aesthetic design choices avoids the real root of the issue. The question shouldn’t be “why is it pink?” it should be “why do we assume that pink = girls?” Colors are just colors. Their association with gender is a societal construct. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a wider range of colors and styles for children, girls and boys alike, to choose from in the Nerf toy line up, pink included. Not to mention that “femininity” in a traditional sense is not bad or stupid or pointless. Some women and girls identify very strongly and happily with pink and there’s nothing wrong with that.
As far as the argument that Rebelle is unneeded, I also disagree. Though many girls over the years have played with many different Nerf guns before Rebelle was around, Nerf toys have been consistently marketed for boys by both the company itself and by toy retailers. Toys R Us Stockholm and some other savvy toy stores have rightly shaken up the pervasive “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys” dynamic. But young girls are generally not old enough or aware enough to benefit from these exceptions to the rule. I agree that finally acknowledging a female audience shouldn’t translate to pink and purple everything, but progress has been made, even if it’s in stereotypically feminine packaging.
As a whole, I think Nerf Rebelle is something to celebrate. The first time I saw Nerf Rebelle in a toy aisle near me, I was stunned and, admittedly, excited. The aisle had a little screen with a button to press to view a commercial for Nerf Rebelle. The commercial (different from the one above) had a group of girls talking about how strong, determined, and confident they are interspersed with shots of them in a outdoor, woodsy area firing off Nerf Rebelle weapons in bullet time slow-mo. As lame as it may sound, I was moved by this 50 second ad. I knew that if I was a young girl, this would have left a real impression on me.
Girls (and boys) are given messages on all sides telling them what clothes they should wear, what TV shows to watch, and which toys to play with based on their gender. A girl targeted line of Nerf guns does not provide any actual relief from the societal pressure and gender expectations thrust upon kids. But it does invite girls into the Nerf arena in a way they never have been before. Many girls don’t need that invitation, but some do. If a pink and purple Nerf blaster makes some little girls feel cool, strong, and powerful, than I say it’s a win. Some day, I’d love to see co-ed Nerf advertising, with kids playing with different guns regardless of the color or design of the toy itself. But for now, Rebelle will do. And I will be happily shooting my boyfriend in the face with my pink and purple blaster