Many parents are tired of the pink and blue divide in the toy aisles. Just last month, the White House held a conference on gender stereotypes in toys and media, with many toy manufacturers and experts attending. After feedback, Target announced in 2015 that it would get rid of signs labeling toys for boys or for girls. A UK campaign called Let Toys Be Toys seeks to get retailers to stop categorizing toys and books for one gender only.
Developmental psychologists and sociologists are happy to finally see pushback from parents. Researchers have worried about the impact of having toys that were so segregated by gender for some time, says Lisa Dinella, associate professor at Monmouth University and Principal Investigator of the Gender Development Laboratory.
Clearly divided pink and blue aisles with dolls and tea sets on one side and trucks and building blocks on the other is actually a pretty recent development. As recently as the 1970s, toys sold in the US were not always marketed with clear gender distinctions.
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“Marketers recognized that it was not a good time to use gender stereotypes to sell products because of the greater conversation at the time around gender,” explains Elizabeth Sweet, a lecturer in sociology at the University of California, Davis.
Advertisements from the 1970s showed kids playing with a variety of toys in bright, happy colors like red, green or yellow. By the 1980s and 1990s however, there was a backlash against feminism, says Sweet, and toys started to become more gender segregated, though it was still not like the sharply divided pink and blue aisles of today.
While it may seem like a trivial issue, toys help children to learn new skills and develop intellectually, says Dinella. Dolls and pretend kitchens are good at teachings kids cognitive sequencing of events and early language skills. Building blocks like Lego and puzzles teach spatial skills, which help set the groundwork for learning math principals down the line. “Both genders lose out if we put kids on one track and they can’t explore,” says Dinella.
Dolls also teach kids empathy and how to take care of another person, says Christia Spears Brown, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes.
Gender preferences for toys only show up after children learn about their gender. Babies show no preference, Brown says.
In fact, when it comes to the actual toys kids like to play with, there is more variability within a gender than there is between genders, says Sweet. For example, she points out that studies of young children have shown that boys are no more likely than girls to enjoy playing with a toy with wheels, something traditionally given to boys.
Between ages three to five, gender is very important to children, says Brown. So when children see clearly divided aisles with reinforced gender cues like pink or blue toys, they pay careful attention. Children also take a lot of cues from each other.
In experiments, if you take a truck and show a girl a group of other girls playing with the truck, that girl will be more likely to play with it and see it as a girl’s toy, according to Brown.
Little kids also tend to think in a “black and white way” and try to be “very typical for their gender”, explains Brown.
For example, in one experiment, researchers took toys that kids had not seen before and put them in stereotypical girl boxes or stereotypical boy boxes and gave them to a group of children. Girls played with the toys in the girl boxes and boys gravitated to the toys in the boy boxes. Both genders focused on the toys in the boxes meant for their gender and did not pay much attention to toys marked for the opposite gender.
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Around ages four to five, children learn that their gender is constant and become more flexible with what types of toys they will play with, says Brown. Some parents try to introduce other types of toys and get away from the strictly pink and blue divide.
But it’s hard for parents to ignore the marketing and get their kids toys or costumes meant for the other gender, says Dinella. While some parents try to broaden the toys their children are exposed to, there is often a social cost to the child for crossing gender boundaries, Dinella explains.
“Every decision that is made about a kid’s birthday theme, clothing you chose – each decision ... comes with a social cost that the child will pay,” she says. “ So it is hard for parents to throw out the rules.”
Creating co-ed toys has gone in the wrong direction, says Brown, citing the Little People School Bus: “Now there is a pink version of the school bus,” asking incredulously why a toy company would give something without a gender, like a school bus, a gender signifier.
It may seem counterintuitive to see toys become so dramatically gender segregated at a time when, for example, women make up the majority of college students. Brown hypothesizes that whenever there are a lot of cultural changes in one direction, there is a backlash in another direction.
It’s not just the pink and blue boxes that have invaded toy marketing in recent years: it’s also the proliferation of princesses and superheroes.
Dolls for girls in the 1960s had traditional women’s roles at the time – like homemaker and mother – while boys’ action figures had professions like scientist, engineer or cowboy.
In recent years, as women have become a major part of the workforce, you might expect that girls’ dolls would predominantly have professions that mirror those of the working mothers who buy them for their kids. Instead, says Sweet, there has been a move to fantasy roles, with many dolls becoming princesses and popstars and action figures becoming superheroes.
While kids enjoy playing princess and superhero, the roles are “adult ideas of what kids want”, says Sweet. They are “exaggerations of masculinity and femininity”.
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For both boys and girls, the occupations of their dolls have become unrealistic, says Sweet, which is unfortunate as dolls give children a chance to try on professions. Unless you are Kate Middleton, the odds are you didn’t grow up to be a princess.
As tastes evolve, all three researchers hope that one day, toys will stop being broken up by gender and will instead be categorized by type, like puzzle toys, dolls or children’s bikes. There would still be dress-up dolls and monster toy trucks in that world, but instead of being just pink or blue and segregated to different aisles, they would come in every color of the rainbow and be marketed to all kids.
Toy choices, Sweet says, should be based on kids’ personal interests, and not on their gender.
“All toys are gender neutral,” says Brown. “What is not neutral is the way toys are marketed.”
Essay about Gender Stereotypes Among Children's Toys
504 Words3 Pages
Gender Stereotypes Among Children's Toys
When you walk into the toy section of any store, you do not need a sign to indicate which section is the girls’ side and which section is the boys’ side. Aside from all the pink, purple, and other pastel colors that fill the shelves on the girls’ side, the glitter sticks out a lot as well. The boys’ toys however are mostly dark colors – blue, black, red, gray, or dark green. The colors typically used on either side are very stereotypical in themselves.
I noticed the girls’ toys engaged fine motor skills more than the boys’ toys did. The girls have several different types and sizes of dolls to choose from – however, this also makes dolls or items used with dolls (Barbie clothes,…show more content…
The boys’ toys mostly all used gross motor skills. Like the dolls in the girls’ section, the boys have equally as many types of cars or other vehicles to choose from. The boys’ side consisted of mainly three categories all together – 1) action figures, 2) “role” toys (guns – “Cops and Robbers” or “Cowboys and Indians”; ax, helmet, and badge – fireman; and miniature tools for pretending to be a construction worker) 3) cars.
I discovered there weren’t really any toys in the boys’ section that didn’t fit in one of these three categories. All the boys toys were very stereotypical. The extreme concentration of cars in the boys’ toys shows the stereotypical attitude that all boys like cars. The toys that weren’t car related all promoted either an aggressive behavior or “manly” job. Like the girls’ section, very few toys didn’t promote a stereotypical idea.
Few toys were aimed equally at both genders. Even board games, while intended for both sexes, usually seemed aimed more towards one gender or another. Both sections had a lot of gender- stereotypical toys. General ideas on girls’ and boys’ behaviors and interests were very prevalent in the toys intended for each gender. After really looking at the toys in both sections it is easy to understand why stereotypical ideas about both genders are so strong since these ideas are introduced at such a young