Gender Roles and Toys
By Shawna Robb
One room has pretty pink wallpaper with a princess border; the other is blue with monster trucks on one-wall and sports pictures on another. It is not hard to tell which room is female and which room is male. Male and female are used in this instance to define genders. Gender, unlike sex, is a universal guideline upon which individuals are placed. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behavior, and activities that a particular society considers appropriate for men and women. When the pressure of gender stereotypes is open to debate some say there are prenatal influences that are gender based. What is obvious is that gender plays a significant role when it comes to the toys people select for their children and the way that toy companies market them. “Toys-R-Us” is a United States based toy company who has been taken to task for marketing designs that reflect or promote gender specific toys. It is wrong that toy stores, like “Toy’s-R-Us”, clearly divides the toys by gender in stores and in toy advertisements because it teaches children how they are supposed to be in order to be accepted by society, promotes aggressive behavior for males and a passive attitude for females.
Stereotypical boy toys are things like action figures and toy cars. These are both active and aggressive, which is “masculine” representing how men are supposed to be in society. Girl’s toys are often dolls, dress up, and toys that mimic household duties. That is stereotypical because its saying girls are passive, not active. It is setting standards that girls belong in the home for their future while boys get doctor kits or chemistry sets that give them higher goals. Introducing children to these gender role ideas this early is shaping them for the rest of their lives. The world’s leading fast food franchise has an interest in the gender of its young customers. At McDonalds a very popular child’s meal is the happy meal. When a Happy Meal is ordered the worker always asks if the child is a boy or a girl. This lets the worker know what type of toy to put in with the meal. The McDonalds worker could ask if the customer wants a hot wheels or a mini Barbie but instead they learn the gender of the customer and stereotypically provide the toy. Toy stores separate their store by toys for girls and toys for boys. The girl isle has stereotypical girl colors like pink, purple, and yellow. All of these colors are light when the boy’s section has colors like red, blue’s, black, brown and green. All of the boy’s colors are darker and less “pretty”. Just from that quick look down the isle one can notice which is for girls versus boys. The dark colors are less southing and action oriented. The girl colors, are lighter making them much more calm and subdued. This same pattern can be seen in advertisements on television. Female directed commercials are light colors, with softer music usually having lyrics that explain the toy and giving passive examples for what can be done with the toy. Boy’s commercials however have the message that they are going to go out and do something active with the toy. The music for masculine toys is generally uplifting and motivating, which makes a boy excited to play with the toy. Commercials cannot be avoided and they reach almost all boys and girls on a day-to-day basis.
One interesting area in looking at the influences of toys and gender is the advertising of toys relative to levels of aggression. The television airwaves are filled with toy advertising. Is there a relationship between this advertising and levels of violence, does this relationship show a gender bias? For example a parent might wonder if the purchase of “boy oriented” toys for their child might increase the child’s risk for becoming violent. The parent might also wonder if merely watching the advertisements themselves increase children’s risk for becoming violent. In...
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