Sex, Gender and Toys

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According to the book “Core Concepts in Sociology”, authors Lindsey et al. (2006), socialization is defined as, “the lifelong process by which we learn our culture, develop our sense of self, and become functioning members of society” (Lindsey et al., 2006, p. 56). Today, social scientists define gender and sex as two very distinct realities (Lindsey et al., 2006, p. 114). Sex is defined as the biological traits that differentiate male and female while gender is the psychological, cultural and social traits that are in relation to male and female and identify people as masculine or feminine (Lindsey et al., 2006, p. 114). Gender stereotypes are common ideologies concerning what constitutes as feminine and masculine (Nelson, 1999, p.13). They wield a strong influence over our perceptions, expectations and evaluations not only of ourselves but of others as well (Nelson, 1999, p. 13). Our outlooks on gender are descriptive in the sense that we define what others are like and they are also prescriptive in the sense that we identify what others should be like (Nelson, 1999, p.13). These gender stereotypes are widely reinforced through the mass media, especially through children’s toys (Wagner-Ott, 2002, p. 246). Socialization begins from the day we are born and will continue until the day we die and since toys take place in children’s lives from the day they are born; it is safe to say that they play an important role in a child’s gender socialization (Wagner-Ott, 2002, p. 246). The nature of this project will be to compare and evaluate children’s toys on the basis of gender. I will be discussing the differences that are portrayed amongst children’s toys and what those differences suggest to the children. It is important to look at the agents who give these toys meaning because toys are after all merely objects. Do children’s toys portray gender specific messages? At a young age, girls are given dolls and kitchen set toys which gear them towards motherhood, while boys are handed toy trucks and tool sets which gear them towards independence, strength and challenges.

Toys cannot fully determine the action or thought because they themselves are merely objects (Wagner-Ott, 2002, p.252). Certain socializing agents, namely the family, also play an important role in the gender socialization of their child (Nelson, 2002, 129). Most parents still continue to motivate their children to engage in gender stereotyped toys and try to avoid having their children from playing with toys geared towards the opposite sex (Nelson, 2002, p. 131). From an early stage, parents begin to surround their baby’s with a gender stereotypical environment such as the baby’s room colour and decoration, the baby’s clothes and the of course, the toys (Nelson, 2002, p. 129). Even if the toy is gender neutral like a bike; it can still be gender separated through the use of colors such as blue and pink and decorations (Nelson, 2002, p. 132). Parents go out of their way in order to gender socialize their child in reference to the child’s sex (Nelson, 2002, p. 129). Any behaviour outside of a child’s gender role will be considered deviant and just as a child seeks approval from society; so do the parents (Nelson, 1999, p.17). Parents do not want their children deemed as deviant; they want them to be accepted by society (Nelson, 2002, p.123). Parents mainly gender socialize their children because they too feel the pressure for their child to be accepted in society (Nelson, 2002, p.123). However, same-sex peers also have a strong influence on children’s choice of toy (Upitis, 2001, 166). During preschool years, children have begun to acknowledge the stereotypical ideologies concerning toys that are meant for girls and toys that are meant for boys and by the age of seven; children views towards gendered toys is fully established (Upitis, 2001, 166). Both boys and girls are influenced by their same-sex peers when it comes to choosing toys (Shell & Eisenber, 1990,...
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