Gender Stereotypes and Toys

toys

There you have it.  Our discussion of toys and gender stereotypes in a nutshell.

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19 Responses to Gender Stereotypes and Toys

  1. Michael Rogalski says:

    This discussion is very interesting to me, especially in the context of the Prentice and Lightdale (1994) study we discussed in class. I taught preschool for three years, and the effect of individuation or evaluation had an effect on the way kids played in my class. These kids were 4 to 5 years old, and I always noticed the way boys especially would vary their activities based on who was around. When the boys played together, they played basketball or matchbox cars and excluded other boys who liked coloring or role play in the extravagant toy kitchen. However, when most of the kids had left at the end of the day, these same boys would take up coloring or kitchen play by themselves or in smaller groups. These observations mirror the results from the 1994 study on individuation and anonymity in relation to gender role-based behaviors, and I find it very intriguing that children have already mentally made these distinctions between “boy toys” and “girl toys” at such a young age.

    • I used to coach soccer for kindergarten aged boys and girls and noticed a similar change in gender role-based behaviors depending on group context. The team I helped coach was coed but on occasion would be broken up into boys and girls for various drills or activities. Something interesting I noticed was the difference of the girls’ aggression towards the other players in activities with boys versus activities that were all girls. It seemed to me that during coed activities, many of the girls demonstrated much less aggressiveness on the field, in terms of calling for the ball or trying to score goals, than they did in activities that were all girls. It almost seemed that, when in the presence of boys, the girls felt pressured to adhere to the stereotype that girls are not aggressive and are less competent in sports.

      • Its interesting that you bring up soccer, because I have a distinct memory of going from playing coed soccer to an all girls league in the spring. During the all girls league, I was definitely more aggressive and it was a trend i noticed with the other teams as well. I think its a mix of the stereotype being a self fulfilling prophecy and the expectation that boys do better than girls in sports (especially on a coed team).

  2. I was in highschool and we talked about how they were creating new legos for girls with more pink blocks and fences and horses and other stereotypical girl toys. And it was alarming to me how mass marketing techniques can find ways of making essentially the same product and saying “this one is for boys and this one is for girls”. Like dolls versus action figures. You buy one a hat and a purse and you buy the other weapons and masks. And they’re basically the same toys that do the same thing but one is labeled “for boys” and the other “for girls”. But from talking to friends, girls can have just as much fun playing with action figures as boys can, and boys can enjoy playing with dolls. But even for young children, there’s a societal pressure to only play with toys of the proper gender. Looking at studies like the Prentice and Lightdale study, I think in a deindividuated context it would become much clearer that children don’t actually care about what kind of toys they’re playing with, they’re just trying to have fun.

    • Profile photo of bpastr01 bpastr01 says:

      What I found really alarming about the “girls” Lego (which my little cousin, Mariella, loves to play with) is that they tend to be a lot less complicated even when targeted for the same age! So toys that I buy Mariella tend to be less complex and challenge her far less than ones I buy her similar-aged cousin, Chris. It’s quite aggravating, and ends up steering her away from the Lego sets in because they are less entertaining to her and don’t keep her interest for as long.

      • Profile photo of Rachel Lai Rachel Lai says:

        You bring up a really interesting point that I actually talked about in my personal blog post for this week. When my brother and I were younger, our parents would buy us Legos and puzzles appropriate for our respective ages, but I never enjoyed playing with the “girl” versions of anything. After a day or two, I would usually end up playing with my brother’s toys (and he’s 2 years younger than me). Making a distinction between “girl” or “boy” Legos and other toys is an interesting idea, but I agree that simplifying “girl” toys is a very alarming issue that companies should work on improving.

        • Profile photo of tkolbj01 tkolbj01 says:

          I had a similar experience growing up. One Christmas I received a Giddy Up Girl (stuffed blonde pink wearing cow girl that you bounced around and she said little phrases) and a Bionicle set. While Jesse the cowgirl was fun for a few days the Bionicle set required attention and focus and assembly and quickly became an obsession. But a lot of my young girl friends couldn’t be less interested in assembling the alien figures so it can’t be said that Bionicle are better, just that they were for me.

    • You’re right, until about a certain age most kids can just “play” with anything that they get their hands on. At some point, the influence of others (and what others buy for them) determines what they play with. It is too bad though, because any toy could be appealing to any kid based on their individual preference.

  3. Profile photo of bpastr01 bpastr01 says:

    I had a friend when I was younger who would act in commercials or TV- never anything massive, but she booked a commercial in 5th grade for the new Polly Pocket cars, which were to be similar to Hot Wheels but marketed towards girls instead of towards boys. I remember how odd she thought the whole thing was to begin with, but she enjoyed herself as she got to play with the cars and goof around for the commercial. At the end of the day she didn’t care what the toy was, but it was interesting that once it was covered in pink and flowers it became something so much more appealing for girls, whereas Hot Wheels never were as appealing. Looking at it with the knowledge I now know, it’s easy to see how this might be because of what is expected of us — something made by Polly Pocket would be a lot more acceptable for a girl to play with rather than Hot Wheels.

    • Gideon Wulfsohn says:

      I miss my Hot Wheels!! And I don’t think I miss them more than a girl who grew up with them would have. Maybe the ultimate attribution error is coming into play here, and your point about throwing some flowers on a male toy is a nice one. Its a nice microcosm for potential other work arounds to our attribution problems.

      Always easier to change the presentation of the tool than it is to change a person’s dispositions.

      • Profile photo of kalper02 kalper02 says:

        This reminds me of remote control cars. My parents gifted my sister and I the Barbie remote control convertible but it moved at a snail’s pace. We’d go over to our boy cousin’s house who had the boy equivalent of this toy: mini versions of race cars. This toy went so much faster and operated smoother than our Barbie one. Why wouldn’t girls want to go fast???

  4. Profile photo of Rachel Lai Rachel Lai says:

    In the house where I grew up, we had a “play room” where my brother and I spent most of our free time. Our parents bought us toys and books for us individually, but everything made its way in the play room anyways, so we usually ended up sharing our toys. When I played with the toys trucks and airplanes our parents had gotten for my brother, it never even occurred to me that I was playing with a “boys'” toy. Similarly, my brother also played with my stuffed animals and never felt weird about it either. To us, they were just toys that we had fun with while spending time with each other.

    • Profile photo of Alison Hoi Alison Hoi says:

      I had a similar experience growing up, and I think the way that my brother and I interacted with our toys (seeing them as neither “boy” or “girl” toys) was largely due to the way our parents socialized us. In my house, playtime was not gendered, and thus neither of us saw any toy as off-limits. It would be interesting to see where children build these conceptions of gendered play — my bet is on the parents.

  5. Olympe Nalbandian says:

    During my early childhood years, my mom was very generous in the toy-buying department. At the time “Toys-R-Us”, my then absolute favorite place to be, was still a publicly traded company and considering the amount of money she spent there, they really ought to have given her shares of stock. Anyway, between this big retail store and other little gifts I would receive, I played with toys all across the spectrum– from “boy toys” to “girl toys” to arts and crafts to my BELOVED stuffed animals to legos to trucks to all things pink to gender-neutral board games.etc. In fact, when I was around toddler age, I even chose a super cool “boy” automobile enclosure bed. All the while, I was downright OBSESSED with Disney princess (and their respective toy junk that kids force parents to buy 🙂 ) as well as the pregnant Barbie doll and all things babies.
    I am sharing all this to show that when I was given the choice, I simply picked up what I enjoyed at the time. It was as simple as that. Kids are capable of choosing what feels right to them. Sure, certain products are marketed more to one gender or the other because it may have a general association with people of that gender, but that shouldn’t limit what kids can or cannot play with or wear, etc. Once kids have aged to a point where they can make conscious personal decisions (and be more aware of how they present themselves to others), they will naturally go in the direction that feels right to them. This is true for many things, with toys as just one example.

    • Gideon Wulfsohn says:

      I miss Toys-R-Us 🙁 They are for sure going to go out of business sooner than we know it.

      When you say you were picking up what you enjoyed at the time, there are countless situational notions that go into what you enjoy and why. I am a big believe in nurture > nature and as such I am curious why you think you were obsessed with Disney?

  6. Succinct and to the point! I love it. I do think that today society is starting to become aware of not pigeonholing boys and girls into certain roles and toys, but it is crazy how this was done in the past. What’s the difference? Toys are a personal preference that you are supposed to get joy out of playing with as a child. Why do boy/girl toy stenotypes even exist in the first place? I really like this ad; it gets right to the point of showing how silly the classifications are and how we really shouldn’t have them to start with.

    • I definitely think you’re right and there’s definitely been a shift just recently into these kinds of trends that dominated in the past. As far as your question, I really do think its so deeply rooted in just the way that we in our society have done things for centuries, and there is so much within that to sort and work through.

      • It is interesting that people associate more gender stereotyped clothing and toys as things of the past. My mom would always tell me that in the 90s baby gap was completely gender neutral. There was no boys section or girls section and the children pictured on toys were kids of both genders. There were exceptions of course but she was saying that it was much more gendered in the early 2000s than it was in the 90s. Shifts like this are very interesting.

  7. I think that this graphic definitely sheds a great and pointed critique to much of the conversation that surrounds the issue of children’s toys. On the one hand, children’s toys represent the first values and images and ideas that we want to prime our society with, and yet on the other hand, there is so much of a basic intuition as illustrated by the graphic which just makes thing clear.

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