First posted on March 4th, 2012 on The Cold Slither Podcast - CW post link
The 80’s were an amazing time to be alive and a kid. Every show was a cartoon whether it was animated or not. Each home came with hot and cold (mostly cold) running Slurpees. Sticker technology was reaching new peaks at what seemed like a weekly rate and then there were…the toys. Toys were AMAZING in the 1980’s! They glowed in the dark, they transformed into other toys, they smelled like stuff. They could do anything! Whether a boy wanted to be a police officer, a soldier, or a prince/barbarian warrior; there was a toy for that and each one was great. If there was any property in existence it had a cartoon and that cartoon had a toy. Even toys like Monchichis had cartoons and that didn’t even make any sense!
The 80’s were also a time of another kind of change. See, up until then toys with any real level of coolness at all were boys toys where as girls toys were largely training devices created to equip the women of tomorrow with the necessary skills of cooking, house cleaning and caring for children. For some reason that is totally beyond me, people in power decided that was wrong and in 1981 The Congress of the United States passed the Childhood Recreation Hippiefication Act; demanding “awesomeness equality” across all toy gender borders.
Totally blindsided by the bill, toy companies had to act fast and soon America was treated to a whole new world. The world of girl toys. Not given time to begin developing original girl toy concepts, the first girl toys were basically the “girl version” of popular boy toys. The most famous of these toys was Barbie, developed in 1983 as a girl toy answer to the popular large “action figures” know as GI Joe Action Force. The dolls proved almost immediately to be nearly as popular as the GI Joes themselves and have actually gained popularity as the years have gone by… What’s that you say? Barbie actually came out BEFORE GI Joe and was MORE poplar? And they actually came out in 1959 and 1964 respectively, not in 82 and 83? And the GI Joes of the 1980’s weren’t of the giant Action Force variety, they were the 3 ¾” Real American Hero Toys? ….Sshhhhh. I’m trying to write a blog.
GI Joes and Barbies aside, the concept of the “Girl Version” toys were rampant throughout the 80’s. Sadly, some of these have been overlooked or even forgotten over the years, and these are the toys I would like to showcase today. Submitted for your approval, The Top (random) Five Girl Versions of boy toys in the 1980’s!
#1 She-Ra, Princess of Power
In the 80’s He-Man had the power and boys everywhere became obsessed with not only the cartoons, showcasing his adventures but the huge line of toys that allowed them to create adventures of their own. But something was missing. The young girls of America cried out for a fierce warrior they could call their own! And in 1985 the characters of Masters of the Universe suddenly remembered that Adam used to have a twin sister named Adora who got kidnapped as an infant by Hordak and swept away to some other planet. And through the amazing powers of RetCon, She-Ra was born. Girls everywhere started following the weekly adventures of She-Ra as her and the rebel forces of Whispering Woods fought to free Etheria from Hordak and a bunch of scary looking, bumbling minions. Even boys loved watching the She-Ra animated series (I wasn’t the only one…right?) but that equality, for the most part, did not extend to the toy line. The toys, while technically action figures, were very much still dolls. They had “real” hair, they were pink and purple, glittery and shimmery. Even Swiftwind, who was never that tough looking to begin with, was for some reason purple and see-through. Looking back I can see what Hasbro was going for, the perfect mesh of doll and action figure, something that would appeal to girls of all stripes and for the most part I think it worked…Now MOTU collectors (even the dudes) are sure to make Princess of Power toys a valuable part of their Hasbroian Army.
#2 Kid Sister
Back in the 80’s if there was one single thing kids everywhere wanted, it was for a smaller kid to constantly follow them around and do everything that they did. While those of us that actually had younger siblings questioned the wisdom of this, it was still a fact and one brave toy company called Hasbro took notice. In 1985 they introduced a new toy called My Buddy to the delight of those kids who wanted their small companion to be a lifeless, smiling doll that was so creepy that it ended up inspiring a horror movie (I don’t care what the creators say, Chucky was based on My Buddy…not Cabbage Patch Kids.)
Girls it seemed also wanted a little brat that wouldn’t leave them alone and copied everything they did…everything! And wanted all the same toys and stuff too! I mean come on! You didn’t even like ninjas, why did you want a ninja costume like mine? But nooooo, you just had to whine until Mom and Dad bought you one too…ahem… sorry about that. Anyway after the release of Kid Sister, both boys and girls could drag a giant doll around while they climbed trees, pulled wagons and rode their Big Wheels. My parents actually fought the giant crowds to buy me a my buddy for Christmas the year of My Buddy Mania! In the long run it ended up scaring my actual little brother so badly that he had constant nightmares and it had to be packed away. I guess they weren’t ALL bad after all!
#3 Polly Pocket
#4 Easy Bake Oven
One of the strangest examples of a Girl Version toy would have had to be the Easy Bake Oven. In 1984 Mattel decided that male kids should learn some household skills after all but at the same time they knew that boys hated cooking…they hated ovens, hell, they even hated food. What boys like were gross things; bugs, slimy things, creatures. Kids wanted slimy critters and please, for all that is good in the world don’t make them edible! So low and behold boys everywhere started mixing ingredients and putting them in an oven to cook. Of course they had to use terms like Plasticgoop and Thingmaker but dammit, those kids were cooking. At this point, toy companies were blindly copying boy toys to make equivalents for girls and what resulted was one of the biggest blunders of the “girl version” era. The easy bake oven was designed to be a Creepy Crawler Thingmaker that would appeal to girls. Well, as science has proven, while boys like snails, worms and frogs; girls are into sugar and spice and everything nice. And that is what they used in the girl creature making devices. The resulting creatures actually ended up being delicious pastries and Mattel had gone full circle creating a toy that taught girls how to be good housewives. The federal government leveled huge fines against the company but it was too late. Those delicious light bulb cooked confections had made their way into society. Mmmm, brownies.
#5 Sweet Secrets
Transforming Toys were all the rage in the 80’s. I’m sure everyone reading this knows all about the Go Bots and their inferior and less respected cousins the Transformers. They changed from robots to vehicles or a gun…or a cassette player etc. But they were far from being the only transforming toys out there. I still have strange eggs that transform (after a lot of work) into animals…a red cheetah, a gorilla and another animal that I can’t think of right now. There were knock-off transformers, transforming non-robot vehicles; even He-Man had a couple transforming dudes that changed from boulders to boulder-men hybrids but one line of transforming toys was more mysterious…more nefarious and more secretive than any others and that toy was Sweet Secrets. Sweet Secrets actually encouraged girls to deceive everyone around them. To never, under any circumstances let any of your loved one see that your compact, lipstick, hand mirror etc were actually toys. Apparently girls were starting to collapse under the constant pressure to be a glamorous, high fashion member of society wearing enormous hard plastic jewelry. They were desperate to hide the terrible secret that they occasionally liked to play with tiny bejeweled dolls and animals. It was a hard life and I guess Sweet Secret helped take some of the enormous burden off of the shoulders of girls in the 80’s.
At the end of the day I think the Girl Version phenomenon was a success. It helped proved that anyone could relax and enjoy themselves, even girls. In fact I sometimes wish that the trend had spread into every facet of toy design. Imagine a girl version of MadBalls or M.A.S.K. or Sky Commanders? When you start to think about what might have been, it can be mind blowing. Now, if you don’t mind I better help Polly Pocket get back to her housework. After all, this tiny little house isn’t going to vacuum itself, is it?