A Look at Gender Roles: The 1979 Sears Christmas Wish Book
November 28, 2004
Until the age of 12 or so, a kid's life largely revolves around toys.
I remember eagerly looking forward to the stack of Christmas catalogues my mother received
every year. Normally, Sears and JC Penney featured boring things
like clothes, tires and power tools. However, at Christmas, these catalogues
were the kid's equivalent of Hustler. Hours were spent circling the most
coveted toys; kids' favorite pages ended up torn and dog-eared (the adults' simply
stuck together.) All the toys and games
you wanted (and probably wouldn't get) beckoned lasciviously: the
Barbie Dreamhouse, the Millennium Falcon, Castle Grayskull
and the Brooke Shields Styling Head all screamed "Buy me! No, I'm
more expensive, buy ME!" What's worse is that everyone knew that
kid -- be it a cousin, neighbor or the sibling your parents liked better than you -- who
would get every cool toy to come off the assembly line. You spent half the time hating
him and half the time pretending to like him so you could go to his house and play
with his Death Star Space Station.
Today's toys are significantly more hi-tech than when I was (first) playing with Barbie.
Now it's all about Xbox, Game Boy Advance and the U2 Edition Ipod. (Burn in
hell, Bono.) In my day, the cutting edge was the Speak N Spell, that brown Fisher Price record player
and the Little Professor. Who wants to play with a calculator?
Even with all the new technology, one thing will never change: there will always
be a clear distinction between "girl toys" and
"boy toys" (Madonna notwithstanding). Toys frequently reflect the roles that
girls and boys are expected to play in society. My Barbies were marketed as
fashion models, princesses and mermaids. It was a big breakthrough when, in 1982, the McDonald's Playset
came out and you could make Barbie work the counter and sweep behind the fry cooker.
Playset accessories included acne, a hairnet and adhesive his-n-hers grease
burns for Barbie and all her friends.
"Hi, Ken! I'm really excited about this cross-marketing opportunity! Would you like some fries
with your product placement?"
Mattel wanted girls to aim high in their career goals. You can't really blame the company, though;
it was the early '80s and women were just starting to crack the glass ceiling.
The man-tailored suits with linebacker-sized shoulder pads had yet to fully take
root in the world of executive fashion. Barbie always
liked to play things safe; she waited until she couldn't possibly offend any (right wing)
group before she made her foray into the professional world. Until then, she
was perfectly content to serve milk shakes and molten lava-filled cherry pies.
In the years since the first McDonald's playset (yes, there have been updates),
Barbie has been an astronaut, dentist, doctor, olympic athlete and Rosie O'Donnell.
Barbie's professional achievements send a message to girls everywhere that
it's okay to push toward greatness...so long as you look good doing it.
Remember: no matter how smart you are, ugly girls never win! (Maybe that's why they made the Rosie doll..?)
1979 Sears Christmas Wish Book
Upon flipping through the Sears 1979 Christmas Wish Book,
there is no question what was expected of girls. Forget aspirations of becoming a doctor,
lawyer or scientist. Girls are good for three things: cookin' food, cleanin' house and makin' babies.
In order to prepare a girl for her career in the domestic arts, it was important
for Mother to lead by example. Father brought home the money from his job at
the used car lot; Mother was expected to uphold her responsibilities on the homefront. Father
worked hard for his family; frequently, he had to "work late" with his 25-year-old,
Swedish accounts manager. "Business is growing. I had to look over her, ah, paperwork.
You women are prone to making stupid mistakes...a man needs to make sure everything is
buttoned up and in order," he always said when Mother asked
why he was so late. Nevertheless, regardless of the hour, he expected
a hot meal, a cigar and his newspaper when he arrived home. He could not
be bothered with such trifles as dirty dishes, crying babies and taking out the garbage. Besides, everyone
knew what happened to the man who did "women's work." Washing dishes was only one
step away from sucking dick in the alley behind the Man Hole.
Woeful was the mother who only produced sons; a daughter, in addition to being a "perfect joy," served as
a working apprentice. Ironing, sweeping, cooking, sewing, changing the
baby, shopping...no task was too big for Mother's Little Helper. "Here, honey, a little
bit of club soda will help Mommy get these lipstick stains off of Daddy's collar. When
you're a big grown up with your own family, you'll understand why it's important to keep
quiet and stand by your husband -- no matter what. You want to eat, don't you?"
(A note to new mothers: break her at an early age in order to dispel
any urges to disobey. The back of a wooden mixing spoon works quite nicely to quell
any sass talk.)
Living in the Nuclear Age
The Kenmore Microwave is the perfect convenience for making quick-and-easy cakes
and pies. Using a 100-watt bulb, it only takes five hours to produce scrumptious baked
goods. Simulated push-button controls help her remember numbers and the handy
guide lists defrosting times for pot roasts, ham casserole, beef stock and Daddy's
sperm samples for the clinic. Mixes, cookbook, wooden paddle,
and two metal baking pans are included. When using the metal pans in the big
person microwave, make sure she stands up close to watch the baking process in action!
You Better Shop Around
These handy carts will get her used to the idea of shopping at the market. She
can load and unload her grocery cart with our play food, eventually leaving it
as empty as her dreams are destined to become. Available in child-safe plastic or
durable metal. Not recommended for pushing the cat or baby sister down the hill.
Metal cart with play food.........................14.99
Plastic shopping cart (food not incl.).........8.99
Hubby has said a thousand times that he can't present before the Board with
collar points that are anything but menacing. Don't let your daughter learn this the hard way.
The non-electric ironing set includes cord, metal board with cover, starch and folding tubular
legs. It's child-safe, fun and encourages productivity in the home! Set her up in
front of the TV with a few boxes of chocolate-covered cherries and laxatives --
once you get her hooked on General Hospital and Nembutal, she'll iron for hours!
Set (12 x 11 x 21 h)..................11.99
Sewing for Survival
Sewing is a snappy solution to mending unsightly holes and tears. Father is quick to point out
that money doesn't grow on trees -- does Mother think he
just goes outside an plucks off a $20 every time she claims to need laundry
detergent or medicine for the baby? He knows that she's just sitting at home
stuffing her face full of cashews, crying over One Life to Live. So when
Bobby falls down and puts a hole in the knee of his new school slacks, it is
Mother's job to patch it before Father sees it and becomes "very disappointed."
The lock-stitch sewing machine operates with a manual hand crank or with four "D" batteries
(not included.) Built-in table clamp holds machine in place. Includes pressure foot,
needle plate, tension control, bobbin winder, three needles, needle threader and carry case.
Time for Clean Up!
The woman with the cleanest house is the woman with the whitest soul! When the baby gets
into the kitty litter, this battery-powered vacuum comes to the rescue. It sucks
away everything from psoriasis flakes on the back of the davenport to chicken pox
scabs on the breakfast table. Lights up when running. Uses two "C" cells, not included.