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Gender Series - Female Gender Roles and Toys

08/11/2014 07:25:22 PM


By Amanda Youmans, NCCJ Intern

Growing up, some of my fondest memories are from the holidays. I loved being around friends and family, and naturally, I loved getting new presents. But looking back I can't help but think, how did those toys effect my childhood and how did they shape the person I am today?

When walking into any toy store, it is easy to recognize the divide between products targeted for boys and products targeted for girls. One second you're in a world of sports, cars and action figures, and the next you're surrounded by pink dresses, Barbie dolls and plastic cleaning supplies. As one amazing little girl points out in this video, companies try to trick girls into buying the stereotypical girl toys, or as she puts it, “pink stuff,” instead of marketing the same types of toys for all different genders. While you may be thinking, “C'mon, how much damage could a baby doll really do?” It is proven that gender socialization, especially through toys, teaches and reinforces stereotypical gender roles. In this interview with young kids it is blatantly apparent that they have already been socialized to believe in a rigid divide between males and females. As stated in the video, “Young children begin to acquire gender role stereotypes at about the same time they develop gender identity and by the age of 3 or 4 most children, when asked about the activities appropriate for a male doll and a female doll, readily give stereotypical responses.” So, the gender specific toys children play with are proven to be damaging on how they view other genders, and how they view themselves.

If forcing stereotypes on little children wasn't bad enough, gendered toys can also redirect the interests and development of kids. This is especially apparent in young females.  It is said that making girls wear pink and play with specially made female toys is not only wrong but also could harm their future. More and more girls are pushed towards the traditional gender role of a female through toys and advertisements for things that girls “should” want. For example, an extremely sexist ad exhibits a little girl cooking, cleaning, caring for a baby and doing laundry. Ironically the catch phrase is, “The Rose Petal Cottage where her dreams have room to grow.” Yes, because all the 4-year-old girls I know dream of cleaning and doing laundry. However, this ad is one of many examples of girls being particularly affected by toys. In their minds, it creates a dangerous mentality of what a woman “should” like and what a woman “should” want to do. As a result, it steers women from seeking careers in engineering, science and math. Boys on the other hand are encouraged to play with toys such as Legos that provoke creativity and build strong engineering skills.  A video on Legos explores the targeted boy audience and shows how Legos took a drastic turn when trying to expand their product to girls. Covering everything in pink and purple and insuring that the new Lego City only contained bakeries, salons, and dollhouses in the girl edition unsurprisingly did not solve the still urgent problem of blatantly gendered toys.

Personally, I can see how gender specific toys have altered the way I view things, the most apparent being how I view myself. When I was a little girl, I, like everyone else, was exposed to the impossible and unachievable standards of beauty. What can I say? I loved my Barbie dolls. However my love for Barbie and my strong desire to look and be just like her always made me feel inferior. I was always too fat or too short or too something to reach my dream of looking like, what I thought was, a “normal” girl. Unfortunately, my fears were not mine alone, as this article explains; four out of five children are overly concerned with their weight. I wish I could say that as a young adult I have overcome my body image issues. Sadly, that is not the case. I still struggle with feeling beautiful because I spent my childhood believing I never could be. I grew up idolizing plastic perfection that didn't encourage me to be the best I could be but taunted me with flawless beauty that I never could achieve. While I'm confident in the origin of the problem, I still face all the pressures of what “being a woman” means and continue to perpetuate a bad habit of comparing myself to others.

As you can see, gendered toys prove to be a real problem that has affected many boys and girls, me included. So the next time you pick up a toy for a baby shower or birthday party please take a moment to think about what sort of message it sends. Don't let the toys you played with or the toys your loved ones play with define who they are or who they will be.  

The Entire Gender Blog Series:

Monday, August 4 - Gender Blog Series Introduction

Monday, August 11 - Female Gender and Toys

Monday, August 18 - Male Gender and Toys

Monday, August 25 - Female Gender and School

Monday, September 1 - Male Gender and School

Monday, September 8 - Female Gender and Sports

Monday, September 15 - Male Gender and Sports

Monday, September 22 - Female Gender and Body Image

Monday, September 29 - Male Gender and Body Image

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