Introduction to Sociology
Gender Socialization through Toys
In the many stages of a child’s development, one thing that remains generally constant, at least here in the United States, is that children have toys. Essentially from the earliest stages of their lives until adolescence, children play with toys. Toys certainly play a major role in the socialization of children, given that toys can teach children to read and write, to engage with others, and especially how to act within the confines of ‘acceptable’ behavior for their genders. Today more than ever, toys are incredibly gendered, and send highly gendered messages to the children who play with them about what an ideal male or female looks like, acts like, and how he or she lives their life. This project aims to look at the ways in which toys are so gendered (based on one trip to a Toys R Us store in Greensboro, North Carolina) and to describe the gendering of toys through three sociological perspectives. Section One- Observations
In this particular Toys R Us, items were displayed in segregated zones; meaning that there were very clear areas that were for girls’ toys and separate, very clear areas that were for boy’s toys. From far away, these sections could be easily distinguished from one another by the headings above each of the aisles that held the toys. On the left side of the store, the signs hanging above the aisles read- Star Wars, Action Figures, and Sports, respectively. On the right side of the store the aisles were marked- Dolls, Dolls, and Pretend Play. Clearly the toys on the right side of the store were meant for girls, and the left side toys were meant for boys. The segregated zones were also easily distinguishable at a glance by the packaging and presentation of the toys on their shelves. Boy’s toys were packaged in more stereotypical “masculine” colors- red, blue, grey, and black. Further, all the boxes containing boys’ toys portrayed some sort of motion or action on the boxes. The action portrayed was almost always violent in one way or another; a tank moving, a fist or bullet flying through the air, etc. Girls’ toys, by contrast, were packaged completely differently. The boxes for girls’ toys were pink, purple, covered in glitter and sparkles, and almost all had light, feminine language on them- words like “magical”, “sparkly”, and “princess”, to name a few. Toys R Us’ selection of Nerf- brand toys1 are an excellent example of how using different packaging and presentation for essentially the same item can be heavily gendered. Being a toy whose concept is rooted in violence, Nerf toys are typically for boys. However, Nerf recently released a line of toy weapons for girls called Rebelle. All the Rebelle toys are pink or purple with flowers and glitter on them to make them appear more ‘feminine’, and they also have very girly names, such as ‘Heartbreaker Bow’, ‘Diamondista’, ‘Dart Diva’, ‘Femme Fire’, ‘Angel Aim’, ‘Pink Crush’, etc. Even if two Nerf guns of the same make and model were presented side-by side, no shopper would have any trouble knowing which one was being marketed to girls and which to boys. This loaded difference in packaging and presentation was also present in displays of toys that were less heavily gendered than play weaponry. Literally everything in the store, whether it could carry a perceived gender role or not, was gendered. Instruments, pens and pencils, notebooks, walkie-talkies, playing balls, and several other kinds of toys were packaged in ways in which two items that were essentially the same would be obviously be marketed to one gender or another. Toys that recreate stereotypical home life are essentially having children play out their societally predetermined future roles. This is seen specifically in the ‘pretend play’ genre of toys. These are model replicas of the realms that children ‘should’ grow up to occupy. What this means for girls is child-size kitchens and...
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