Children's Perceptions of Gender Defined Toys

Packaging itself is a loaded gun for gender stereotypes, but even the children’s toy alone oozes with stereotypes. We have been told that trucks are boy toys, and Barbie dolls are made for girls. The fascinating factor of this societal behavior is that children react to the gender defined toys in a very strict manner.

In one study, pre-schooler’s perceptions of gender appropriate toys were examined. The main focus of the research involved the participation of 3-5 year olds in which they were asked to identify gender targeted toys as being girl toys or boy toys. Along with that, they were asked to predict what their parents’ predictions would be about these same toys. Each group was asked on their opinion if they agreed a subject toy was either girl toy or boy toy, depending on whether or not they were reviewing the boy toy set or girl toy set. Some toys examined in the girl defined toy set were tea sets and tutus. Toys in the boy category were items such as a skateboard and a baseball mitt. These researchers examined the agreement and belief of the gender defined toys, and then asked the child if they believed their parents would agree on the gender defined toy as well. Whether or not the parent’s true beliefs followed that of their kids, the results proved that children at the young and impressionable ages of three and five were already following the societal definitions of gender. (Freeman).

The research also concluded that kids are already acting within how gender has been defined for them. Children thought that as they got older, their parents would be less supportive of non-traditional gender choices. Also, kids expected their parents to act completely within gender stereotypes, when in reality, many parents said they would buy their kids gender bending toys.

There was also evidence that proved gender stereotypes become more solidified and rigid in older children than pre-schooler aged kids. The research also found that boys who engage in stereotypical girl activities become more criticized because there is a fear of the boy becoming increasingly feminine. Perhaps this explains the over masculinizing of such toys for boys, to over compensate for the feared criticism one boy child could face. However, the research stated that girls who are tomboys will “outgrow” this and are not as frowned upon. Perhaps this is why advertisements give girls leeway on Razor Scooters and electric guitars, rather than the other way around.

Further research examines whether or not peer influence creates a strict determination to follow a gender definition or not. Boys and girls, ages four through nine, were asked to define themselves with regards to their specific activity interests and preference of toys. It was found that boys defined themselves most gender appropriate and specific in front of an audience of other boys. As age increased, or without the presence of an audience the gender definitions become less rigid. (Benerjee).

Research has been conducted to see if children who play with other children of their same sex have a higher frequency of playing with their specific gender-defined toys, but the results do not conclude that there is such a correlation. The results are inconsistent and vary with age and gender. However, there is a noticeable tendency for children to play with their own gender friends. (Eisenberg). Although this specific correlation found its way to a dead end, the continuing research in support of children’s attitudes toward gender stereotypes can be seen through the direction relationship they have with advertisements.

When children were asked about their favorite educational programs, their reports were scanned for gender stereotyping. Researchers were curious as to which gender, when presented in a program, would be more likely to have influence on the child and what gender the majority of children remembered. As hypothesized, males dominated the pages across the board, and masculine traits were mostly represented and accounted for. (Calvert). From this, the conclusion can be drawn that children, whether it is a boy or girl, are more drawn to the masculine model in advertising.

Work Cited:

Freeman, Nancy. "Preschoolers’ Perceptions of Gender Appropriate Toys and their Parents’ Beliefs About Genderized Behaviors: Miscommunication, Mixed Messages, or Hidden Truths?." Early Childhood Education Journal. 34.5 (2007): 357-66. Print.

Benerjee, Robin. "Boys will be Boys: The Effect of Social Evaluation Concerns on Gender-Typing.." Social Development. 9.3 (2000): 397-08. Print.

Eisenberg, Nancy. "The Relation of Preschooler's Peer Interaction to Their Sex-typed Toy Choices.." Child Development. 55.3 1044-050. Print.

Calvert, Sandra. "Gender Stereotyping in Children's Reports About Educational and Informational Television Programs.." Media Psychology. 5.2 (2003): 139-162. Print.