Gender-Stereotyped Toys

Children learn stereotypes in gender roles through gender socialization, a process of adopting cultural roles according to one's sex that can start at birth and continues throughout life. Gender-specific toys are one tool that teaches and reinforces stereotypical gender roles in children. From their birth boys and girls are treated differently so they learn the differences between men and women according to the ethnic, cultural and religious values of their society. At a very early age children create an image of themselves as boy or girl via their interaction with parents, teachers, other members of society, their toys and games. According to Monica Brasted in Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements (2010), children start paying attention to gender appropriateness of toys only after they understand the concept of gender constancy. Gender constancy refers to a child's understanding that gender remains the same for life. This means that the child becomes aware of the fact that he or she will always be male or female irrespective of superficial changes such as haircuts or clothing.

Toys are a powerful tool to teach children gender-stereotyped behavior. Toy stores often have separate sections for boys (with blue and navy being the predominant colors) and for girls (with pink, purple and white as main colors). There are very few toys that are considered to be gender-neutral and therefore suitable for both boys and girls. Boys' toys convey a message that active, aggressive behavior is appropriate for boys, while girls' toys teach girls to nurture, to be quiet and take care of their appearance. Common toys for girls are dolls, kitchen sets, dolls? houses, amd play makeup kits. The message that such toys send is that girls should stay home, cook, clean and look after the children, reinforcing the stereotype of a woman as mother and home-maker. At the same time they also teach girls how important appearance is for social acceptance. Dolls, including the internationally famous Barbie, often impose a standard of beauty that is not representative of most women but one that is socially accepted. Girls' toys and games usually encourage girls to sit and play quietly, teaching them the stereotype that females are better at simple repetitive tasks. Girls are not specifically stimulated to take part in active games but rather to be more careful and quiet. Boys' toys and games tend to be more constructive and mind-stimulating. Some typical boys' toys enhance the development of coordination and problem-solving skills, which reinforces the stereotype that boys are better at tasks that require higher level of cognition. Through their toys boys learn to take a masculine role, be active and assertive, even take part in violent activities. In addition, boys' toys and games are often related to adventure and activities outside the home, which promotes active participation in the outside world. There is a clear distinction between a doll and an action figure as gender specific toys although they show some obvious similarities. Both types of toys are actually human like-figures. However, a doll is associated with caring and nurturing, while action figures are usually uniformed military figures who drive tanks or shoot guns.

If a child prefers toys that are meant for the opposite sex, other children and even adults may be very harsh on it labeling it as sissy or tom boy. Advertisements for toys also help reinforce the same gender stereotypes. In commercials girls are typically shown playing with dolls or makeup, while boys are playing with train sets, racing cars or battling action figures. While boys may be portrayed playing in the yard or park, girls are most often found playing in their bedrooms. By giving their children gender-stereotyped toys parents actually limit their freedom to explore different roles. Despite their biological differences young boys and girls generally show no mental differences in play. Therefore it is unnecessary to impose gender stereotypes from an early age, which suggests that gender-neutral and cross-gender play in young children can be encouraged.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Gender, Nature, and Nurture
Richard A. Lippa.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Boys' and Girls' Toy Preferences" begins on p. 133
Praeger Guide to the Psychology of Gender
Michele A. Paludi.
Praeger, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Parental Impact on Children's Play Behavior" begins on p. 3
Toys, Games, and Media
Jeffrey Goldstein; David Buckingham; Gilles Brougere.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Toy Culture in Preschool Education and Children's Toy Preferences"
Gender-Differentiated Production Features in Toy Commercials
Chandler, Daniel; Griffiths, Merris.
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 44, No. 3, Summer 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Impact of Color on Ratings of "Girl" and "Boy" Toys
Hull, John H.; Hull, Debra B.; Knopp, Christina.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 3, November 2011
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Children's Perceptions of Aggressive and Gender-Specific Content in Toy Commercials
Klinger, Lori J.; Hamilton, James A.; Cantrell, Peggy J.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 29, No. 1, January 1, 2001
Biology, Society, and Behavior: The Development of Sex Differences in Cognition
Ann Mcgillicuddy-De Lisi; Richard De Lisi; Irving E. Sigel.
Ablex, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Play and Activity Preferences" begins on p. 211
Preschool Outdoor Play: Gender Comparisons in Children's Behaviors and Perceptions
McOmber, Kelly; Schilling, Tammy A.
Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Vol. 78, No. 1, February 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Sex and Gender
John Archer; Barbara Lloyd.
Cambridge University Press, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Parents' Treatment of Boys and Girls" begins on p. 61
We Don't Play with Guns Here: War, Weapon, and Superhero Play in the Early Years
Penny Holland.
Open University Press, 2003
Parents' Perceptions and Behaviors regarding Toys for Young Children's Play in Korea
Kim, Myoungsoon.
Education, Vol. 122, No. 4, Summer 2002
Social and Ideological Stereotypes in Children's Toy Advertisements in Greek Television
Keramyda, Maria.
Applied Semiotics/Semiotique appliqué, No. 22, February 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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