How Do Children's Toys Affect Gender Roles?
Toy manufacturers market gender-specific toys towards to girls and boys, perpetuating traditional gender roles. Children learn about what it means to be a man or a woman through pretend play. While it is fine for a girl to have a room full of pink princess toys, she might enjoy building a train track or crashing a car. Boys might enjoy taking a break from building block towers and shooting squirt guns to make a pretend meal in a toy kitchen.
There is no mistaking what gender is being targeted when strolling through rows of pink shelves chock full of pink toys in pink packaging. Pink princess-themed, dress-up clothes are next to pink kitchen sets. Pink toy kitchens are next to the pink tea sets. Packages of pretend pink makeup exist side by side with fashion dolls dressed scantily in pink clothing. While your little girl may naturally gravitate towards blocks, squirt guns and action figures, she may start to feel pressure to succumb to pink pressure. Pink toys overwhelmingly are associated with submissive or care-taking behavior. Girls (and boys!) might learn that girls should take care of babies and cook, and worry about how their makeup and clothes look.
Even though action figures are dolls in disguise, they reinforce traditional gender roles. You will probably never see an action figure holding a baby or pushing a vacuum. Action figures teach boys to be tough and to fight to protect others. In the rare event that you can find an action figure portraying a girl, she will probably be wearing a sexy bikini, halter-top and tall boots. Not exactly the most conducive outfit for saving people from harm.
Toy Cars and Trucks
While you might find a pink Barbie car or mini-van, you are not likely to find many gender-neutral cars and trucks. You will find cars and trucks of all sizes marketed to little boys. While your little girl might enjoy pretending to be a race car driver or driving a dump truck more than dressing up in fairy wings, boys are the main target for these toys. These toys affect gender roles because they teach children that boys are more aggressive and dominant. Driving fast, hauling heavy loads and crashing cars becomes associated with male behavior.
Many little girls love pushing a stroller and pretending to be like mommy. However, many little boys would love to push a doll stroller around the block. Girls are the primary market for dolls, which promote traditional gender roles. While there is nothing wrong with teaching girls how to nurture and be caring, boys benefit from these lessons, too. Dolls tend to teach children a traditional gender role, reinforcing old cultural norms, which suggest that only girls should take care of babies.
- The New York Times: Guys and Dolls No More?
- Education.com: Gender Roles and Toys
- HealthyChildren: Gender Identity and Gender Confusion in Children
- University of North Carolina Wilmington: Children’s Gender-Based Reasoning About Toys
- National Public Radio: Girls, Boys And Toys: Rethinking Stereotypes In What Kids Play With
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images