Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gender biases and stereotypes in children's toys

Gender biases and stereotypes in children’s toys

I have a challenge for you all: whenever you have the free time to visit a local toy store (Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, etc.), walk over to the toy section and see if you spot any gender biases/stereotypes in their toys. Most often than not, you will notice a major difference between “boys” and “girls” toys. An assignment that I had to do for one of my classes was write a paper explaining if there were any gender biases for the toys at a local toy store. I will just briefly explain my experience during my visit:

I decided to go to the Babies R Us on Alafaya Trail. I walked over to the “pink” section first. Everything in the “Dolls” aisle was literally wrapped in bright pink packaging. From Barbie Dolls to Hello Kitty, the entire section was engulfed in pink. The only section in the girls’ aisle that was not bright pink was the Frozen section. This area was periwinkle. The selections of toys for girls were narrowed down to vampire, fairy and Barbie dolls, stuffed cats, ponies and unicorns, and pretend house items. The fake baby dolls were all in one section, however. There were also strollers and baby clothes provided for them. The box on these dolls said, “Perfect for Caring and Nurturing”. I also noticed that the dolls were predominantly white. There was only one baby doll that was of a darker skin tone. The last section was the “Pretend Play”. This section had pretend kitchen sets, pretend cookware, pretend iron with an ironing board, and pretend vacuum cleaners. Young, white girls were depicted on most these toys and the other toys in the “pink” section.

Next, I went to the boys’ section. This section was mostly dark blue, however there were other areas colored yellow and red. “Trucks & Cars” was exactly that: Hot Wheels, toy trucks, and a Star Wars spacecraft. The “Action Figures” were extremely fit and defined. I also noted that I did not see any action figures with a darker skin tone. There were either white or Hispanic, young boys depicted on these on the boxes. The bikes were also gendered. The girls’ bikes were pink and had frilly ribbons on the handlebars. They were significantly smaller than the boys’ bike. The boys’ bikes looked more durable and appeared more reliable.

This experience showed me how toy companies feed into the social construct of gender and how heavily of an influence they have on young children. I also learned that parents are more likely to give children a requested “gender-typical” toy than a requested cross-gender toy because this is how they want their children to be identified based on their biological sex. They want their children to behave a certain way based on their gender. Girls become aware that they are able to play with masculine items and not be penalized for it. Boys were always told not to play with feminine toys, so their preferences will most likely remain the same as they get older. By doing this, the kind of message parents are sending to their children is that their children should only be happy playing with toys for their gender and that if they played with cross-gendered toys they will not be “normal” and will be punished.

Representation is everything and heavily influences how a child perceives themselves. If a kid sees a child on a box that looks like them (i.e. same gender, race, age), then they are more likely to want that toy and believe that they are only allowed to play with that toy. Toy companies are very good at marketing to children this way. By being taught that girls and boys can only play with their gender-specified toys at a young age, this greatly influences how they choose to express the gender when they are older. The images and labeling of toys has a great influence to children’s gender identities.

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