Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Synopsis

"I got my first job working in a toy store when I was 41 years old." So begins sociologist Christine Williams's description of her stint as a low-wage worker at two national toy store chains: one upscale shop and one big box outlet. In this provocative, perceptive, and lively book, studded with rich observations from the shop floor, Williams chronicles her experiences as a cashier, salesperson, and stocker and provides broad-ranging, often startling, insights into the social impact of shopping for toys. Taking a new look at what selling and buying for kids are all about, she illuminates the politics of how we shop, exposes the realities of low-wage retail work, and discovers how class, race, and gender manifest and reproduce themselves in our shopping-mall culture.

Despite their differences, Williams finds that both toy stores perpetuate social inequality in a variety of ways. She observes that workers are often assigned to different tasks and functions on the basis of gender and race; that racial dynamics between black staff and white customers can play out in complex and intense ways; that unions can't protect workers from harassment from supervisors or demeaning customers even in the upscale toy store. And she discovers how lessons that adults teach to children about shopping can legitimize economic and social hierarchies. In the end, however, Inside Toyland is not an anticonsumer diatribe. Williams discusses specific changes in labor law and in the organization of the retail industry that can better promote social justice.

Excerpt

I got my first job working in a toy store when I was forty-one years old. I called the Toy Warehouse to ask if they were hiring, and the manager, Olive, invited me to come in and fill out a computer application. Someone else was using the computer when I arrived at the store, but after waiting for fifteen minutes I got my chance. the computer asked when I was available to work (any time!) and if I was willing to take a drug test (of course!), then administered a twenty-five-item multiple-choice personality test. Each question gave four statements or words, and I was supposed to choose the ones that best described me and that least described me. For instance: Was I friendly, aggressive, opinionated, or meek? Leader, follower, competitive, or nice? When I had finished, the computer instructed me to obtain a printout of my record from the service desk. I did that and was then escorted to a little cubbyhole of an office, where I met Olive, an extremely overweight African American woman about my age.

There was absolute chaos in that tiny office, a condition I would come to regard as normal at the store. It was a mess of papers, boxes, and toys. the phone was ringing and people were knocking on the door. An emergency had arisen—an unscheduled . . .

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