Analyzing the NERF Gender Divide

By Sam Trisciani, Undeclared Major, ’24

NERF’s ‘Battle: Girls vs. Boys’ advertisement is clearly intended to act as a selling point for its products. But for who? As the female group with NERF Rebelle models and the male group with more “traditional” NERF guns face off, the features of the REBELLE models are more predominantly shown. With bow-themed guns and side-shooting models with mirrors attached, the female groups’ Rebelle models are clearly the center of the ad. This ad is made to sell Rebelles specifically to the female audience they were intended for, alienating the male audience from purchasing them and further alienating females from purchasing the other NERF models that the male group was shown with.

The ad’s very title separates boys and girls, with the YouTube video’s description even describing it as “the ultimate battle.” From the ad’s focus of the Rebelle guns and the victory of the women participants, we can discern that this ad is intended for female audiences, seeking their interest in the Rebelle line of products. This focus makes sense in the way most NERF products feature predominantly male actors and are geared towards a male user base. However, this ad’s specification of which guns the boys and girls use alienates males from using Rebelles and alienates females from using typical NERF products even further.

In making a brand specifically for females, NERF is telling males that the guns are not for them, and tells females that the typical guns are not for them either in doing so. The female party’s victory and feminine perspective NERF ads may typically lack acts not as a liberation for unrepresented women interested in NERF products, but a force that alienates men and women even further in their consumption of NERF products, shaping viewer conception of “how things are” – females use Rebelles and males use NERF’s other variety of products, with no room to use any model for either party.

In addition to the suggestions of the ad about who can use their products, the Rebelle models are centered upon female stereotypes. Sporting bright purple and pink rather than the typical blue amongst the NERF white and orange, these guns signal their femininity through their “feminine” colors. Even the premise of their functions follow stereotypically feminine patterns, most notably through the inclusion of a mirror on the side-shooting gun. A producer telling their user base what products belong to who includes marginalized groups just as much as it excludes them and others, making it clear that certain products aren’t for them, a limitation that wasn’t priorly “set in stone” without the defining of intended audience. NERF telling its consumers that the Rebelle models are only for females makes it difficult for a male to even consider purchasing one, despite its potential in variety from typical models. It also tells the female audience that the mainline guns are not for them for similar reasons. This barrier may have existed for women in purchasing NERF guns prior with heavy male representation in advertisements and a dominantly male user base suggesting NERF guns were only for boys, but in defining what belongs to who rather than suggesting everything can belong to everyone, NERF ensures its user base remains divided into the roles they have created for them.