Gender Roll Stereotyping and Gender Similarities in Toy Stores Rachel Skelton
Spiderman action figures, The Care Bears, Legos, and the famous Barbie, all represent popular toys in toy stores. Toy stores divide the many toys, games and movies into two primary categories: boy and girl. After going into Toys R Us, many can conclude that the toys that children play with pass down stereotypes of gender roles. Through their gender-biased toys, typically, boys learn “warrior-like” roles (a learned attitude to be the stronger and more aggressive gender) and girls learn to nurture (take on motherly roles and play house. Girls’ toys also stress physical beauty and appearance while boys’ toys focus on respect for their physical abilities. Gender socialization, through toys, teaches and reinforces stereotypical gender roles. Breaking down the toys displayed at Toys R Us helps to expose the very evident gender prejudice that occurs in children’s toys that most people have learned to expect and accept without a second thought. Toys R Us divides toys into a blue and navy “boys” section, and a pink and white “girls” section, pink being the most popular girl color and blue being the most popular boy color.
Little girls could buy dolls and kitchen sets, and boys had access to action figures and weapons. “Boys have shown to prefer more vehicles, weapons, and spatial-temporal items while girls request more dolls, domestic items, and musical instrument in the Christmas request” (Campenni 1999). These items, chosen by young children lead them to gender role socialization and gender stereotypes. Many girl toys teach that being beautiful is an important standard in society. Mattel’s internationally famous “Barbie” should partly take responsibility for the picture-perfect standard of beauty girls grow to desire and value. With her leggy, busty figure and body measurements that would make it impossible for her to stand up in real life, Barbie and her dream world of fashion and high end accessories is available in an assortment of races, colors, and professions, to appeal to any background (Borger 1997). The last thing I noticed in the girls section of Toys R Us, were the difference in girls’ games. Popular games include: Girl Talk, Dream Date Match Maker Service,” and “Barbie’s Virtual Makeover CD ROM as well as an overwhelming amount of kitchen sets and doll houses. The main difference between boys’ and girls’ games is that girls’ games did not really seam to challenge the mind; instead, they only expand on the female gender stereotypes.
Games made for girls teach them to sit and play quietly, under the stereotype that girls are better at simple repetitive task (Macoby and Jaclyn 1996). Young girls are not specifically encouraged to participate in active activities, and are encouraged to “be careful” (Swanson 1999). Overall, girls’ toys teach them that their gender role is to support and not out shine their male counterpart. Interestingly it appears that there may be more stereotyping regarding toys offered to boys. For sons, parents tend to choose more masculine and gender-neutral toys. For example: Small Soldiers Action Figures, Small Soldiers Karate Fighters, and MMA(mixed martial arts) action figures. Most of the toys I observed promoted encourage competitive and aggressive behavior. Masculine traits associated with these toys are aggressive, active, dominant, and competitive and they receive a message that being active and assertive, often suggesting violent activities, is the idea of a “real man”. These particular toys have become so popular due to the stereotype that all boys show more aggressive behavior than girls. Generally boys toys prepare them for the “real world.” For example, the Police Communication System, Emergency Action Set, Police Helmet and Vest Set, My Carry-Along Briefcase, and Fire Rescue Trucks, all teach young boys the importance of an occupation outside of the home, generally teaching stereotypical male careers such as doctors, lawyers, policemen, and firemen. The very well-known toy, “My Tool Kit”, teaches boys coordination and problem-solving skills. Manufacturers make these boys’ toys under the stereotype that boys excel at task that require higher level of cognition (Macoby and Jaclyn1996). Unlike the girls’ toys, boys’ toys such as, The Erector Set, Challenge Building Set, Deluxe Solar System Set, foster mental stimulation, and teach coordination and problem solving.
Through these toys, boys freely, explore and experiment. Many of these toys promote active participation. Of course, boys and girls show physical differences, but as a young child, they generally have the same mentality when it comes to play. Before adolescence boys and girls are more alike than different in biology and attitudes. However, society defines “appropriate” gender roles, which eliminate cross-gender play (Swanson 1999). In conclusion, gender socialization, through toys, teaches and reinforces stereotypical gender roles. “Boys are doctors; Girls are Nurses. Boys are football players; girls are cheerleaders. Boys invent things; Girls buy and use the things boys invent. Boys fix things; Girls need things fixed. Boys are presidents; Girls are first ladies (Swanson 1999). In order to prevent children from living by these stereotypes portrayed through toys, parents should encourage gender-neutral and cross-gender play in children at an early age. We are far from omitting these prejudices in our lives, however teaching children to accept gender-neutral toys and encouraging cross-gender play may contribute a start.
Campenni, C.E. (1999) “Gender Stereotyping of Children’s Toys: A Comparison of Parents and Nonparents.” Sex Roles. Borger, G. (1997) “Barbie’s Newest Values.” US News and World Report 1 Dec. Macoby and Jaclyn. (1996) “Gender.” Developmental PSychology. Swanson, J. (1999) “What’s the Difference?” Raising Healthy Daughters. Internet. http://www.girltech.com