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Children’s Toys in Gender Roles Context

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    Most of us grow up assuming that gender roles and stereotypes are natural ways of being or behaving, so we generally don’t question them. From the day we are born we receive messages about male and female gender roles. We learn about them through a number of ways. A good example of stereotyping gender roles is to think about how babies are colour coded, girls in pink and boys in blue for example. The kinds of toys that little girls receive give messages about feminine traits such as; dolls, dress ups and fairies. The kinds of toys that little boys receive give messages about masculinity for example; cars, trucks and building blocks.

    Infant toys tend to be the same for both boys and girls. These toys are mostly multicolored, make noise, play a song, light up or roll around. However from ages one to four children’s toys begin to send distinct messages about gender roles. Girl’s toys start to appear only in pink, purple, and yellow and if modeled after characters have only female names. At this stage boy’s toys are blue, red, or green and have male names. Girls learn to care for their baby dolls and boys begin to gain interest in cars and action figures. Society starts telling children what is expected of them.

    However the main message that is sent is boys and girls are not the same. Boys are masculine and girls are feminine. Barbie Dolls were the most famous toys for girl for a long time. She wears a gown like a princess with her crown on her head. She has smooth long blonde hair, which girls really like to comb even though it’s already perfect. Girls like to dress her with different type of outfits; sometime a cowgirl with boots, or a schoolgirl with her tiny backpack, or sometime a beautiful bride with white gown, high heels, with loose low bun hair style. She looks just like a princess.

    When girls first read “Barbie Doll,” it reminds one of their favorite toys. Next, Playing with Barbie dolls can also help show good role-playing, which will help them when they are older to make the right decision. As said in the book “the Good, the Bad, and the Barbie” by Tanya Lee Stone, shows that after a large study, eight out of ten women found that their career choice was based on their younger years playing with Barbie. Although on the other hand, many parents feel that the doll looks too perfect and would convince their kids that being skinny and white was the only way to be happy in life.

    Meanwhile, the young girls that were interviewed said that someone close telling them that they were fat and ugly would effect them more then a silly doll. Barbie gives mixed feelings to everyone, but one big effect was how at a local newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio said that the new Barbie movie helped many children learn the right choices when the bully went up to Skipper and asked her to shoplift, but she said no because she remembered Barbie told her to do what is right. Many of the dolls have children trying to act out something their dolls showed them.

    In general, toys even suggest that our society values young boys more highly than girls. Interestingly it appears that there may be more stereotyping regarding toys offered to boys. For their sons, parents tend to choose more masculine and gender-neutral toys, than female toys such are “Small Soldiers Action Figures,” “Small Soldiers Karate Fighters,” “Starwars Double Take Death Kit,” and “WWF Ring Warriors Wrestling Kit,” most masculine toys encourage competitive and aggressive behavior, but are also more constructive, conducive to handling, and much more reality based.

    Masculine traits associated with these toys are aggressive, active, dominant, and competitive. These toys reflect negativity because they send a message that violence can solve problems. Through their toys, boys receive a message of being active, assertive, often associating in violent activities, and war games. They learn that they must be strong and “Warrior-Like” in order to be accepted as a real man. These particular toys have become so popular due to the stereotype that all boys show more aggressive behavior than girls.

    It isn’t just where children play or what they play with. It’s also with whom they play. Young children tend to separate themselves by gender. One kindergarten teacher, Stacey Zeitlin (1997), describes how she purposely matched up boys and girls for a science activity. She made a conscious decision not to let the children select their own partners, as she usually did, but assigned them each a partner of the opposite sex. She was worried how it would work, because the children liked to team up with their same-gender best friends during activities like this one.

    Surprisingly, it worked very well, and she saw how it broke down gender barriers. Children who had never spent time together before spent the rest of the day together. Some continued to seek out their partners as playmates the rest of the year. Zeitlin is now committed to reducing the self- and peer-imposed gender segregation that she sees children practicing. All of this information has implications for families. Of course, gender role differentiation and segregation may be something some families value.

    It’s important not to just try to “educate” parents out of their beliefs, but to understand how the beliefs fit into their culture. At the same time it doesn’t hurt to put equity issues on the table for discussion. Parents who take note of some of the practices you are using may learn from them, come to support those practices, and even take them home besides. Parent group discussions that are respectful of differences and disagreement can be useful for helping parents examine their practices around arranging play dates, buying toys, setting up a nonsexist environment, and encouraging broader gender roles.

    The Barbie History”. www. barbiecollector. com. Mattel. 2010. http://www. barbiecollector. com/collecting/about/history. aspx Jean, Sarah. “Controversial Barbies”. Barbiefest. com. 2010. http://www. barbiefest. com/blog/20090514/7-controversial-barbies Kazdin, Alan. “Measuring Self-Esteem”. Encyclopedia of Phychology. Washington DC: OxfordUniversity Press, 2000. Excerpt from Child, Family, and Community: Family-Centered Early Care and Education, by J. Gonzalez-Mena, 2009 edition, p. 230-232.

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