I’ll admit, I have something of a knee-jerk reaction to the notion of “pink toys for girls, blue toys for boys.” So when I read about Nerf Rebelle, a new line of toys created for specifically for girls, the first of which is the Heartbreaker bow…. well, I was skeptical. But it won me over. Here’s why.
One: The Nerf Rebelle line “will feature projectiles that have the same power as the top items in the brand’s Nerf Elite line.” Four for you, Nerf, for not creating a wimpy version of your product for girls. (Because little girls are… weaker… than little boys? Or something? I’m not even going to pretend I understand the logic behind why companies do this.)
I didn’t play much with toy weapons as a kid—I was more the “read books, watch movies, and run around the backyard playing Thundercats” type—but if my brothers and I had had a lot of toy weapons to play with you’d best know I wouldn’t want to be stuck with the weak one. I’d have made one of them take it. I’m the oldest sibling, there’s a hierarchy.
And the second reason I’m behind Nerf Rebelle: It doesn’t seem like a slapped-together effort on parent company Hasbro’s part, where they just said “Girls like pink and heart stuff, right? Slap some of that on the bow we already have.” Says Hasbro’s John Frascotti:
“I think if anything, we went into this without any stereotypes and instead talked to young girls, found out what they wanted, and then designed a line of products that addressed that opportunity.”
What girls wanted, he said, was Nerf toys that boast both high performance and a design made especially for them. “Just to be clear, we could have taken some of our Nerf blasters and just made them pink and put them in pink packages — but that’s not what we did,” Frascotti explained. Trying to encourage girls to buy existing Nerf toys or easing up the gendered overtones of those products was never really on the table: “This is an entirely ground-up effort.”
Thanks to all that research, Rebelle differs from other Nerf lines in several key ways. The Heartbreaker bow comes with collectable darts bearing different colors and designs; there’s a Rebelle app that allows girls to play collaboratively and encourages teamwork; the bow’s size and ergonomics have been tweaked so that girls as young as 6 can activate it easily.
The product’s main philosophy, though, is in line with that of the Nerf toys that came before it. “Nothing is really addressing this big opportunity for girls to be active and play,” Frascotti said. “Parents are concerned about the amount of time kids are spending in sedentary activities, in front of a screen of some sort.” By contrast, Rebelle promotes exercise and socialization in a way that will hopefully appeal to girls who have no interest in sports as well as budding athletes.
The research is what gave them the name “Heartbreaker” as well—when asked about the romantic undertones, which are absent in the boy version, Frascotti said “I think sometimes maybe adults are more concerned with these things than girls are. I think the girls we tested it with just thought it was a cool name.”
If girls want to play with pink bows, they should have pink bows to play with. And boys should be able to play with them too. And if a girl wants to play with the non-Heartbreaker bow, well, she still can. I’m going to bold this because it’s very, very important: There is nothing wrong with the traditionally feminine, and there is nothing wrong with liking the traditionally feminine. With toys, as with clothes and TV shows and video games and everything, there should be options.
Granted, the notion of “boy-girl” dichotomy in toys still makes me uncomfortable, because the line isn’t so sharp as all that. Kids shouldn’t have to choose between a pink Heartbreaker bow for girls and another one that’s marketed exclusively to boys, and I hope in the future they’ll have more gender-neutral versions to choose from (hey, we got a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven). We should have more options than we do now, and it’s a problem that we don’t. But two options is still better than one.
Generally speaking I’m happy about Nerf Rebelle. If just one kid who wouldn’t have picked up a toy bow because they didn’t like how it looks sees the Heartbreaker and goes “Now that’s my kind of fake weapon; run and hide from my awesome archery power, jerks!,” then this line has done some good.
Mini-Meridas (or Katnisses, or Legolases, or Hawkeyes…) of the world unite!