Toys and Gender Stereotypes
There are hundreds of thousands of toys sold in stores all over the world that are geared towards a particular sex. Many toys are an extension of popular television shows on Cartoon Network and other stations that air animated and other live-action programming targeted for children. When watching a primetime channel on television, you can rarely watch a commercial break (especially during the day), that does not feature a commercial for the latest greatest toy on the market.
The goal of this essay is to examine just a few toys that are aimed at boys and girls, as well as neutral or unisex toys, determine what makes them “gendered” or “neutral,” analyze how they are marketed, and assess what is accomplished in society by having such gender-based toys. After looking at the online catalogue on Walmart. com, it was not difficult to find a plethora of toys aimed at boys, from trucks and race tracks to action figures of some of the most popular characters from movies, animated television programs, and so on.
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One of the first toys that caught my attention that is targeted toward boys was the Bakugan Special Attack Figure. Bakugan is a very popular animated television show that airs on Cartoon Network every morning that has a significant following of young males. It is about a group of friends who battle each other using their Bakugans, creatures that one day fell from the sky in the form of little balls that when used in a brawl can be called upon to open and show their true, very large form, and battle each other using their own unique attacks and abilities.
One of the reasons this toy is definitely geared toward boys is simply because it is a replica of one of the Bakugan from the series, an action figure, so to speak, that also comes with one Bakugan Ability Card and one Gate Card. The fact alone that the Abilities and Gate cards are included with the Bakugan would make any fan of the show want to buy this toy. Like the days when boys would have Pokemon battles, now boys can have Bakugan brawls. Just the words “brawl” and “battle” make any toy desirable since boys are considered to be aggressive and crave action and excitement in a very physical sense.
Watching a fight is exciting but actually being involved in a brawl is even more thrilling to a young boy. With this toy, a boy can have a battle without physically harming himself or the other person. The child can just throw down his Bakugan and play his Ability and/or Gate card and have an electrifying experience. Another male oriented toy that caught my attention was the Beyblade Metal Fusion, Dragon Bite Strike 2-Pack. This is yet another toy that is paraphernalia of a television show that airs on Cartoon Network in the morning.
Beyblade is a fairly new animated show that is basically about a group of boys that use magic spinning tops to battle against villains who want to use their magic for evil purposes. I have never personally watched even a single episode, but I am aware that it is filled with special effects, fighting, and excitement; every boy’s dream. Any boy who has this toy can battle it out in any Beystadium arena, which of course is sold separately, with their friends for hours until their Beyblade skills are top form.
The desire to be the best at an activity is universal among both boys and girls, but the appeal of being the best Beyblade warrior is more likely an achievement a boy would want to have. Again, this is a very “active” toy that can be used to extinguish a lot of male aggression and angst. Another reason this is a toy geared more towards males, other than the fact it is a more masculine toy is the fact that many girls are not or barely aware of the television show in the first place since it airs very early in the morning and is not known to have a very large female following.
Television shows, like any other fad do come and go, but most girls and boys follow what is popular so they can fit in and it is certainly not admired by most female cliques in elementary schools, etc. for females to watch Beyblade or Bakugan Battle Brawlers. Though I saw many other male oriented toys in the Wal-Mart Online Catalogue, I will only write about one more, Star Wars Jabba’s Throne. Jabba’s thrown is a three-pack of characters from the Star Wars saga, including Jabba the Hut, Salacious Crumb, and Dancing Girl Oola.
This particular toy most certainly would not be considered a toy desirable to the average girl and if a girl was found to own one of these and not have a little brother whom she could blame the possession on, she could easily be humiliated on a regular basis by the female members of her class. Jabba’s Thrown is perfectly geared toward Star Wars fanatics and little boys who grew up watching the movies with their parents (most likely their father).
Boys can reenact the scene in Jabba’s Thrown where Princess Lea is held captive by Jabba and Han Solo is presented to Jabba by the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy Boba Fet, if they have those action figures as well. Though this is a toy set geared toward boys, it is targeted toward grown men collectors of Star Wars paraphernalia as well. Even for males, you could be considered pretty nerdy for owning or wanting this toy, yet it is still a popular toy for boys nonetheless because like any action figure, boys can fight with them, throw them and do basically any violent or nonviolent thing he might want to with it.
However, even though there’s a possibility the child may be considered a nerd, geek, or dork, they are still considered a real boy or “man,” since action figures are not considered dolls. If a boy plays with a Barbie doll, he could be considered by people who have a stereotypical view of what boys are and what they should and should not play with, homosexual or to have homosexual tendencies. In the eyes of a person who thinks this way, the closest thing to a doll that a boy should play with is an action figure of some sort, the manlier the better: like G.
I. Joe or a Bumblebee robot-to-vehicle Transformer. Such stereotypes are real and since a homosexual male is not considered a “real man” as an adult, most homophobic parents or parents that worry about how their son may be treated by other children, would rather nip such activities, like playing with dolls in the bud rather than deal with the consequences. It is certainly manlier to play with Star Wars action figures than a Barbie doll.
While on the Wal-Mart website I also viewed a surplus of toys targeted to make girls want to scream and beg for their mothers to buy them. One of the most elaborate of these toys that I noticed was the Barbie3-Story Dream Townhouse. Each room in the house is filled with furniture and appliances that could make the average girl drool and best of all; the color of the entire house is pink. Almost every little girl I have ever babysat, played with in school, etc. has said at one point or other that her favorite color is pink.
That fact alone illustrates that this product is designed for a little girl. The house is incredibly feminine not only because it is mainly pink, but the furniture, appliances, and everything else inside is frilly and no girl could resist walking her Barbie doll through the kitchen and having her cook a make-believe meal for her Ken doll sitting at the dining room table. Any little girl that had this Barbie 3-StoryDream Townhouse would basically act out with her dolls anything she could possibly fanaticize.
The little consumer could escape the real world and spend the afternoon in the world of fantasy and make believe. A toy I came across that was very obviously geared towards little girls was the 4 -Ever Kidz Fairy Tales Deluxe Doll Pack, Yasmin. Basically, this toy is a small female doll with snap on clothing that are fairy tale themed, allowing for little girls to act out some of their favorite fairy tales, including Little Bo Peep, the Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood, Repunzel, Frog Princess, and Goldilocks.
Of course, regardless of what dress or other accessory a little girl dresses Yasmin in, she can create any story she wants to perform with her. The 4 -Ever Kidz Fairy Tales Deluxe Doll Pack, Yasmin is most definitely aimed at girls not only because the doll is female, but because the designed themes of the outfits and other accessories are based on fairy tales that little girls are known to love. One thing all these stories have in common is that the leading character is a girl which is why so many little girls relate to these stories and love to dress like these characters on Halloween nd act out them out. These tales also have a very feminine ambience that revolves either around love or learning to mind your parents and manners, all things that most boys have very little if any interest in. Girls love a happy ending, joy, and love while boys like action, pain, revenge, and so on. That is why a doll that allows a girl to not only act out their favorite tales, but dress the doll like the leading character, is a toy that can be considered a product targeted for girls.
Another toy targeted for the young female that I found was the Littlest Pet Shop Online – Harmony the Dancing Dog. There are many reasons the Littlest Pet Shop Online – Harmony the Dancing Dog seems gendered. The first reason that this toy is attractive to little girls is that it is the color pink. As I have previously explained, girls of a young age are often attracted to the color pink. In some cases pink makes objects, etc. look feminine, but in this case, pink makes Harmony look very endearing. Harmony also has very large, adorable, blue eyes.
Large eyes on a character, whether male or female, are generally a sign that, that person, or in this case a dog, are virtuous as apposed to small eyes which symbolize evil. Though this rule is mainly used in anime, it also applies in this case for Harmony, which I doubt his name was a happy coincidence. An additional reason why Harmony could be appealing to little girls is that he is not only pink but he has blue and pink hearts and flower designs on his forehead, ears, and feet which not only make him look delightful, but stylish as well.
Most little girls and even many adult women love style and would love owning a fashionable toy. On top of the fact that Harmony is a trendy toy, he functions as both a cute pet and a dancing speaker that flashes lights as it plays music. These functions are pleasing to girls because the average girl loves to listen to her music and dance and if she had a precious dog dance with her with lights flashing like a strobe light it would be like the ultimate iPod docking station.
The packaging of toys marketed for boys often have a boy playing with the said toy on the actual package, making it obvious that, that particular toy is designed to be played with by a boy. Often times packaging for toys made for boys (if the toy is based off of a popular television show) has a character on the package in an action pose; a pose in which they are fighting or in the case of Bakugan Special Attack Figure, the main character of the show throwing the physical Bakugan.
The packaging for toys targeted for boys often have very angular and edgy decals with angled lines, known as action lines, in their designs that read as rough and masculine to the consumer. All such qualities are considered attractive to a boy. In commercials boys are often running and jumping, throwing and using the said toy in an active and often times aggressive manner that makes the product seem exhilarating to a boy. The marketing and packaging of toys for boys suggest that boys should be aggressive, emotionally tough, and independent, have feelings of superiority, and be decisive.
Boys that play with these aggressive games send a message to boys to be assertive and as winners of these somewhat violence oriented games and toys allow boys the feeling of superiority as being a winner or controller of the action. And if the boy should lose to a game of Bakugan Battle Brawlers he learns to be emotionally tough since he doesn’t want to act like a sore loser and throw a tantrum and/or cry. Some boys never really grasp such a concept of being a good loser, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with a toy or a game, that has more to do with the behaviors taught by the boy’s parents, peers, and by experience.
The packaging of toys marketed for girls often have curved lines and tinted or soft colors, such as tinted red (pink) or tinted blue (baby blue). These colors and lines that are curvy used in designs read to a consumer as gentle and feminine, the qualities any parent would want in their female child. Sometimes, packaging that is considered attractive to girls might have flowers and other comforting objects, while other times girls want to see flashy and shiny colors that read as stylish and chic, depending on the age and the girl’s interest and current fads.
In commercials girls are often brushing or doing other things with a doll’s hair, painting their nails and applying decals to their fake nails, baking cupcakes in an Easy Bake Oven, or performing other activities with the product that are considered feminine. The marketing and packaging for girls emphasize passivity, compliance, physical attractiveness, and being a wife and mother. Many toys aimed for girls, such as baby dolls and Easy Bake Ovens teach girls early on in a sense how to be both a wife and mother. The baby doll is a precursor for girls on how to take care of their future children and the Easy Bake Oven and fake vacuums etc. end a message to girls that they should be stay at home mothers and wives and cook for their kids and husbands, very traditional beliefs for females in general. Barbie dolls and other dolls of the like send a message to girls to be physically attractive and are representations of the standard of physical beauty no matter how unrealistic that standard may be. When looking at the Wal-Mart online Toy Catalogue I noticed that the percentage of toys that were aimed towards boys outnumbered that of toys geared towards girls by a descent amount.
The reason I think this is, is because there are so many animated and live action television shows and movies that are followed more by males than by females that have action figures to model characters of these shows and movies. Also, boys tend to tire of their toys feaster than most girls and as soon as they see a commercial for the latest greatest transformer, action figure, vehicle, etc. that is based on one of their favorite television programs or just looks exciting and full of action, they have to have it.
That is why in the Wal-Mart Online Toy Catalogue; about 90 percent of the toys shown on the home page were aimed toward boys. However, the reason there is not a huge margin between male and female oriented toys is because there are just as many if not more television commercials that advertise new dolls, accessories, and other toys that girls desire. Like I mentioned before, pretty much during every commercial break on primetime television in the daytime, at least one commercial advertising a new toy is aired. Of those toy commercials I would say at least 70 percent are advertising a toy aimed for girls.
That is why when you go to a store, there is an entire isle for female toys as well as a whole isle for toys aimed for boys. It was difficult for me to find more than, maybe, a dozen toys that could be considered “neutral” on the Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or Toys R Us websites that weren’t for infants. I didn’t expect to find many toys that could be considered unisex that were for children over the age of three or four since by the age of 4 or 5; children have learned a wide array of social stereotypes about how boys and girls should behave.
So by the time a girl turns five she knows how she should act like a girl and what a girl should want to play with, just as a boy should know the type of toys and other entertainment he should be interested in. Since girls are supposed to be interested in feminine objects and activities and boys are supposed to be interested in more masculine objects and activities, there are fewer unisex toys for children; but they do exist. One toy that I found that can be considered a neutral toy is the Color Wonder Lap Desk.
Great for on the go creativity, the lap desk features new, with re-stick Color Wonder paper that stays in place so children can display their creations. It is comfortable and fun for hours of enjoyment. Coloring is an activity that both boys and girls enjoy and the fact that children can color while in the car and not have to worry about papers moving and falling all over the floor just makes the toy that much more acceptable to parents.
In commercials as well as on the Wal-Mart Online Toy Catalogue, the Color Wonder Lap Desk is marketed in a way that shows how convenient the toy is and how it allows your child to be as creative as they want without having to worry about making such a mess. There are similar products on the market, some that are even more accessible and use markers that do not leave marks on anything other than the product, so you don’t have to worry about stains on clothing, etc. But most kids don’t care about making a mess on their clothing or the carpet.
They just want to draw and color and that is the basis for the marketing strategy for this product; that it is enjoyable for kids to draw with colored markers, but not have to worry about the paper moving while they are on the go. Another toy that I came across that could be considered a unisex toy is My Very Own Kitchen. My Very Own Kitchen offers plenty of great play features in a compact size. My Very Own Kitchen Play set includes a microwave, range, grill area, conventional oven, dish organizer and plenty of shelf space.
Boys and girls can play together in this kitchen set up, making believe they are cooking, grilling, and washing dishes, and so on. When I was in preschool I used to do just that with some of my male friends and had a blast doing it. Just because the toy’s name has kitchen in the title, does not mean that the toy is only appropriate and acceptable for girls to play with. The marketing strategy for this product, to show that it can be played with by both boys and girls is to show in the catalogue a two toddlers, one a male and the other a female playing make believe in their kitchen and having a ball doing it.
Though some parents might be a bit hesitant to buy such a toy for their son, if they look at the accessories, such as the grill, range, and even the oven, they might not become so timid or bias to think that such a toy is for females only. When I was a child, my parents bought me gender based toys. Every Christmas and birthday I got at least one of the newest line in Barbie dolls and doll accessories, and at some point my parents bought me what was at the time, the top of the line in Barbie Dream houses.
They bought me most of the gender based toys they did because they wanted to spoil me when they were financially able and thought that Barbie dolls and things of the like were what I wanted because all the other girls in my classes had them and since I was a sensitive, feminine girl, they figured I would want toys that reflected my personality. The benefit of my parents buying me gender-based toys was that I fit in with everyone at school. Rarely did I ever have to say to my friends that I could not or do not play with a certain doll, etc. ecause my parents could not afford to buy that toy for me. The downside to my parents buying me gender-based toys, Barbie dolls in particular, was that my dog would eat my doll’s hair. Admittedly it never bothered me that much because I was never a fan of Barbie dolls, but when I had to play with my mangled Barbies with my friends I felt pretty embarrassed. Another downside to my parents buying me gender-based toys was that specific gendered toys that they bought me frightened me and I am still bothered by them to this day. The toys I am talking about are porcelain dolls and troll olls. I became petrified of porcelain dolls because I felt that their eyes were watching me at night and had nightmares that at night they came alive and were waiting for the day to get a knife from the kitchen and kill me with it. I am no longer afraid of troll dolls, but what scared me as a child was a story of friend of mine told me about troll dolls that ate a child that neglected them and of course I had a few troll dolls that I never paid attention to so I lost a lot of sleep between them and the porcelain dolls in my room.
Another downside to the gender-based toys that my parents often bought me, Barbie dolls in particular, is that I grew up thinking that I was not pretty, my body was disgusting, and I just wasn’t good enough in general because I didn’t have anywhere near as good a figure or the looks of Barbie. Now I cannot blame the dolls entirely, since I also felt incredibly inferior to models in magazines that were considered, like Barbie the object of perfection and beauty. I do not and probably will never have a great figure and I have been overweight for as long as I can remember.
I have a gap in my teeth that would be incredibly expensive to fix, I need glasses because I am allergic to contacts, the best physical attributes that I have to offer are my good skin (even though I cannot tan and my own fiance calls me his ghost of a fiance because of how pail I am), my pretty face, and my long slightly curly hair. I am not in any way a representation of what is popularly considered beautiful and I have always been that way. Because of that fact I have had severe bouts of depression, I have emotional eaten or stress eaten frequently, and have developed astonishingly low self-esteem because I hate my self-image.
Even as I lose weight I often feel ugly, all because of the incredibly high standards placed on women in society to be beautiful that start from a young age with Barbie dolls and the like. I am not as obsessed with my appearance anymore and am not as miserable as I once was since I met my fiance who loves me as I am and does not care if I lose weight, etc. In fact he tries to get me to eat more because he thinks I don’t eat enough. He is one of the sweetest men alive and because of him and his support my esteem has risen a great deal and I have realized that I am beautiful egardless of the standards set by Barbies and models. I am more comfortable with my body and I have begun to accept myself for all my imperfections. However, I am one of the lucky girls. There are so many girls out there that feel inferior to these stereotypes and these high standards placed on women from such young ages as I did that develop eating disorders that can lead to sever nutrition deficiency and even death. I feel the standards for beauty are set too high by Barbie dolls and models and the like and are a serious downside to not only my parents, but other parents by their daughter gender-based toys like Barbies.
I am not a parent but one day I hope to have children. When I do have children I do not want to “channel” my children by directing their attention to specific toys that are differentiated by gender. As a result of this class, I plan on buying as many unisex toys as possible because I do not want to influence my children’s sexual identity more than necessary. If my children want gender-based toys and I am financially able I will most likely buy them, as long as I don’t feel they might cause physical harm and such.
But I will not force gender-based toys on my children because they will realize very early without the use of these toys what sex they are and I can personally teach them the manners I want them to possess to be kind and descent human beings. But I want my child to feel free to choose their gender role, not have it chosen for them. If my son wants an Easy Bake Oven, if I can, I will get him one. If my daughter wants a G. I. Joe action figure, if I can afford it I will be happy to get it for her. I refuse to decide for my child what she/he should like as a girl/boy.
I have made it quite obvious how I feel about gender-based toys for girls, like Barbies, and I have no intention of guying such a toy for my daughter if I ever have one. I do not want her to go through the pain that I did if at all possible. If my daughter does grow up to have the same self-esteem problems that I have, I don’t want them to start when she is just beginning her journey in life by comparing herself to Barbie or the Bratz dolls, or whatever new “sexy” and “beautiful” doll is released during her lifetime.
I know I cannot protect my children from everything and even if I tried I would ultimately fail, but I want to be able to give either my daughters or my sons the opportunity of a fighting chance. If my daughter chooses a Barbie, etc. as her toy of choice then by all means if I am able I will get it for her, but I will make sure and be there for her if she ever begins to feel insufficient to let her know that regardless of what society says is beautiful and sexy, that she is perfect the way she is and she should not change who she is just to be and look like a doll or picture in a magazine.
Dolls are not real people and the photos of models in magazines are often altered in Photoshop and other programs to get them to look so perfect, and I want my daughter to know that regardless of how perfect a model may look on the outside physical beauty is not permanent. What is permanent is the person inside and that is where true beauty lies in a person, their heart, and I would want my baby girl to always remember that.
That lesson I want to express to my son as well because even boys have self-esteem issues that can be similar to the female self-image crisis, as well as other sometimes physical and sexual crisis for both girls and boys. But one reason I would want to buy a neutral toy for my son would be because many toys that are aimed for boys advocate aggressive behavior and young boys have more than enough childhood angst to go around before trying to play with a toy that enhances their aggression and violent tendencies.
Another reason I want to buy more unisex toys for either my son or daughter is because of the growing addiction to computers and the internet in both females and males. Even though when the topic is brought up on the news or in articles, boys are usually the main target of such publicity on the subject, but females are just as susceptible to the addiction as boys. The reason I bring this up is because with an overabundance of toys on the market for both boys and girls, the toys either strongly suggest or actually require using a companion site for the product.
If the child thoroughly enjoys the product and the internet program of course they want to keep playing, and people who really enjoy a game, etc. can continue that activity for hours on end. Also, if a parent does not monitor their children’s activity in the computer they can get off of the companion site and spend countless hours browsing the web. I am not saying that being curious or knowing how the search the internet is bad, certainly not, it can be a useful to do research for homework and even for enjoyment.
But there is a serious danger of your child becoming addicted to the internet and computer games. I cannot even tell you how many people I know who spend every spare moment of their day on the computer playing mindless games that do not even allow the player to win, the player just plays till he/she gets to the next level, then once their done with that level, they go on to the next and so on, and this is a continuous cycle that never ends till the person finally gets off the computer.
My fiance’s sister is one of these people and every time I visit his home she spend every waking moment playing a game called Perfect World on the computer and only stops to use the restroom, eat, and go to bed. This woman has a child and does not even pay attention to him, relying completely on my fiance and her mother to take care of and raise her child. It is a disgrace and she is the not the only person in the world that has that deep of a addiction and she has had it since she was first introduced to a computer as a young child.
So if I do buy either my son or daughter a toy or game that involves internet use, I will regulate their use to make sure they do not become like my fiance’s sister and other poor souls like her. What I think is accomplished in society by having gender-based toys are the unrealistic physical expectations for girls and assistance in the growing computer addiction in boys. The unrealistic physical expectations that I speak of when it comes to girls comes mainly from Barbie dolls and the like.
Barbies suggest to girls that Barbies are object of perfect beauty and if you don’t grow up to look like them and the models in magazines, you are insufficient. They suggest that a beautiful woman is a woman who is paper thin with huge perfectly shaped breasts, long-flowing hair, and perfect pearly white teeth, and a great tan. Those are unrealistic expectations to try and live up to. Not all girls have all those attributes and it can cause girls to become incredibly self conscious and have low self-esteem.
I also think that girls that play with gender-based toys are taught not to be individualistic because if they are supposed to grow up to look act, dress, and so on like Barbie dolls and Bratz dolls they are basically taught not to think for themselves and follow the latest trends and fads. If a girl chooses toys that are designed for boys or plays with unisex toys, she is giving herself the opportunity to develop her own personal identity, unique for her alone. She can set herself apart from all the other girls wearing pink and wear green or blue or any other color she chooses.
The only problem with this idea is that especially during childhood, children often times do not accept others who do not fit the norm, who stand out in the crowd, which is yet another argument for why I think that gendered-based toys can be a negative thing for either boys or girls. Kids want to fit in, but fitting in does not necessarily allow for individuality and creativity which can be highly destructive for children who feel differently about certain things and like different toys, movies, television shows, and so on and can force such individuals to hold themselves back.
This is a truly depressing reality, but one that occurs all the time. By doing this assignment, I learned that consumer products geared towards children are mainly gender-based and not unisex even though it would be beneficial to have more neutral toys. I learned that gender-based toys put unnecessary expectations on girls. I also learned that gender-based toys could possibly help aid in not only computer addiction in children that can continue and worsen throughout a child’s youth and into adulthood, but in the rise in aggression levels in boys which could lead to violent behavior later in life.
I learned that it might be wise to have parental supervision when letting your children play with toys that also involve the computer or are aggressive in nature and if you let your child play with either type, it would be a good idea to regulate how long you allow your child to play with that particular toy. Another thing that I learned from this assignment was the fact that most people don’t even put into consideration the advantages or disadvantages of gendered-based toys. The average person just buys whatever toy they think heir female or male child might like and not even think about whether that toy might possible influence their child in a positive or negative way. Honestly other than my own experiences with Barbies, I wouldn’t have given the topic of gender-based toys a second glance had this assignment not been designated. In conclusion, I feel this assignment was a very beneficial that allowed me to gather great amounts information on gender-based toys that grants me the knowledge to decide when the time comes what toys I would want to buy for my children, whether gender-based or neutral.