Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Influence of Gender Specific Toys on Kids

Rachel Giordano - Unnecessarily Gendered Products
When we were young, we all had our own hopes and dreams for our future. We always knew what we wanted to be when we were at the age of our parents, but we always knew that we wanted to fit in and be like the cool kids in school. As we started to focus more on fitting into social norms, we started to let go of our original dreams, having them tainted by what the marketing world has taught us to be normal. In the twenty-first century, the influence of marketing is at its strongest, and starting to affect the kids in the United States at such a young age. It starts, on the first day of our lives, when we are born, and passed down their first toy. The marketing of toys influences children into acting with false assumptions of what a man is and what a woman is.

 "...Moms have noticed a 25% drop in the number of gender-neutral toys their daughters play with now compared to the toys moms,” reports Elizabeth Plank. Also according to her, companies have run out of ways to sell new toys, so they base new ideas that are specific for what we call (in society) “girly” or “manly” off of their original toys for children. The mothers then buy their children these new toys and give the girls the girly toys and the boys the manly toys. This all started in the 1970’s, when toys first started to become ‘gendered’ according to The New York Times. Children then learn that this is normal and what they should like instead of the other, so they no longer play with toys together. For example, in the twentieth century, the Lego company only created normal Legos for both genders. The model Rachel Giordano, who is now a 37-year-old naturopathic doctor said, "In 1981, Legos were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it's the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender." In 1981, you would see boys and girls in magazines both flying helicopters they built together. Now I want you to picture something: a construction worker. Did you picture a man? Most people in this century do, because they were taught that men do the big and hard work, while girls do the chores around the house, which is why the Easy Bake oven by Kenner Products is now colored in pink for girls, at such a young age.

Also, baby dolls. When was the last time you saw an article and/or an ad with a boy holding a baby doll? Never, right? Do you want to know why? The marketing is telling us that a boy should not have a fatherly bone in his body, and he needs to act like a man with Nerf guns, and such. In a study reported by Peggy Orenstein in 2014, “Psychologists randomly assigned girls ages 4-7 to play with one of three dolls. Two were Barbies: a fashion Barbie... and a “career” Barbie... The third, “control” doll was a Mrs. Potato Head, who... doesn’t have Barbie’s sexualized curves.” They all played with the toys for 10 minutes. They were then asked about the jobs they think they could do. The results were that, “Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.” Knowing how many girls play with Barbie’s and not Mrs. Potato Head now-a-days, one may be able to see where all of this thought of what is “feminine” really comes from, and when. It comes from the first few days of life, from the toys the marketing tricks us into believing are good for our children’s growth and individuality.

On the other side of this argument, a lot of people say that it is okay that there are new toys for each gender. After all, the genders are different, so we might as well teach our kids the difference at such a young age, right? The English Columnist, James Delingpole, made the argument that if we now educate girls that it is okay and that they should do male jobs and vice versa, then they will only do those jobs and then the false assumption of what is masculine and what is feminine would just flip. He is making the argument that it is okay to let girls play with dolls, and to let boys play with action figures. Along with that, he is also saying that it is okay to tell a boy not to play with dolls and to tell a girl not to play with action figures. Also, he says that, “it appears that boys are the prime market for test tubes, chemicals and smelly potions, why waste time and effort trying to drag girls away from their hair and makeup sets... where exactly is the social benefit in frustrating their natural urges?” Just let boys be boys and girls be girls. 

Although Delingpole and people like him make a point, the children’s natural urges would not have been the same if we didn’t lead them to believe that the natural thing to do is have a certain type of toy because of your gender. The original natural urge would have been to pick up one of the toys, depending on the person and their mood, and that would be that. Also, since we have started to notice the changes in toys, we have been pushing people to do the opposite of what marketing is telling us to do. That is good, but we cannot completely go opposite, or else marketing would have won, just in another way. Girls would then think that they should be tough and that playing violent games is the right thing to do, while guys would think that playing with baby dolls and not violent games would be normal. In order to get to an equal gender world properly, and just have it to be normal for kids to play with toys in general, we must find a balance between these two arguments. We must stop buying kids certain toys based off of the color of the aisle in the store, and buy whatever we think they would truly like based off of their personality. If we even switch the first toy for a girl to be a dinosaur, or maybe keep it a baby doll, but dressed in blue, we are already twenty steps closer into a gender-equal world.


Conclusion. Updated May 24th 2014

Writing this blog was a ton of fun! Also, I did learn a lot, and my whole thinking about society has changed drastically over the course of creating this blog. I originally came in to this topic thinking, "Oh yeah, let's just write a paper about something the teachers would like so I can get a good grade." I remember one day in my class, my teachers were discussing genders and toys. I then thought, "why not mix the two?" Then this blog was created. It did not take me a while to get interested. The first article I read about toys and what it has to do with gender roles was actually just a picture I randomly found on the internet. It was of the makeover of Dora. They changed her to make her look more 'feminine.' I did not believe it! They changed one of my favorite childhood characters! They made her hair longer, and added more makeup! Makeup and long hair does not make you a girl. That is how I really got fired up and excited to do a blog with gender roles. But how did I get fired up for the toy part? Easy. I remember when I was a little girl, I would always play with boy stuff, but then my grandmother visited us one time and told me I needed to play with girl things. I didn't understand, but ever since that day, I started playing with Barbies more. When I found a picture of a little girl playing with Legos (the picture from above on the left) and then a picture of the new Lego toys just for girls, I immediately thought of when I was a little girl, and that is what triggered me into wanting to talk about toys. As I said earlier, I mixed the two together, and bam! This blog came out. At the end of it, I do care for my grade, but right now I care that people read this blog and learn from it. This is actually a huge thing in society that we could change if we all just become aware to it! Originally, my argument was to simply just stop telling girls what to play with and telling boys what to play with. If guys want to play with dolls, and girls want to play with action figures, then let them. Also, if girls do want to play with dolls and boys action figures, then that is fine, too. After reading comments though, I have realized that violent behavior is promoted with lots of toys that kids play with. For example, Nerf guns, and video games. I now do not think that we should be promoting violence as much as we do in children's toys. If you read Davin Mckinley's blog about violence and kids, I think you will agree with me if you don't already. Anyways, I would like to say thank you to my teachers for handing me this assignment and opening my eyes to the truth of society, and thank you for the people who read this and took it to heart. It means a lot to me. 


  1. I like how you tackled a very basic issue of society - why do we categorize people into specific 'buckets'? Is it for making it easier to define a person and thus make them uniform in some way? Or is it to drive what s/he thinks, feels, and does?

    I really like the balance perspective and viewpoints in this article. I especially like the Lego example- so true!

    1. Good questions! You know, I am not really sure why we started categorizing people, I guess we all just may have thought it was the way to do things and it would never really change us. It hasn't done any physical harm to anyone, but it has effected society and we need to recognize it now. It is easier, but it is could also be rude because, not every girl loves pink and wants to play with Barbies until told that is what they should want to do and vice versa with boys. Once we tell someone what they should do, especially little kids, they do it because they want to be like us. We need to teach them that being themselves is the best thing to do.

  2. Hi Abby! This is a very impassioned piece. Thank you for raising our awareness of the increasingly gendered marketing of toys. I would like to add an additional concern that you touch on with your point on dolls v action figures and the nature of "boys' toys." A blog that deals with gender issues,Girl w/Pen! points out that toys for girls may be dolls and pink legos, but boys are getting toys such as "action figures laden with a variety of weapons who are designed to defeat the bad guys." Construction sets focus on "Super Star Destroyers and Monster Fighter Vampyre Castle" for boys and homes for girls. There is arguably an unhealthy emphasis on fighting, violence, and destruction. Would you like to see all toys reflect healthier and gender-neutral roles for children to explore? Thanks again -- Ms. Riches

    1. Hey Ms. Riches!

      YES! I would love if our toys did reflect a healthier and gender-neutral roles. The violence has started to become out of hand. I know that my little brother, in fourth grade, chooses to play with a toy gun rather than a basketball (in order to play basketball). That scares me! I really wish that he would like to play with other toys rather than a mock object of a weapon. I hope it does not influence him, and kids like him, to be violent when they grow up! As for the action figures, that is just the start the violent toy trend in a young child's life, and that also scares me.

  3. This is a great article Abby! There is a shocking difference between toy aisles in stores and it is not hard at all to tell which one is the "boy aisle" and which one is the "girl aisle." At fast food restaurants in kids meals there are even "boy toys" and "girl toys" that kids can pick from. This could lead to a child picking a toy that they would not want to play with because of their gender and what they are taught. Efforts have been made to give girls more toys other than barbies like the Nerf Rebelle Collection of dart bows and arrows and crossbows. Although this effort should be noted, there are two things that bother me. First, the name of the collection is Rebelle instead of just Rebel to emphasize that it is feminine and for girls. Second, the toys are pink and purple and frilly instead of what I would consider gender neutral colors like green, orange, or yellow. Still, I will admit that I got one of the bows despite their flaws regarding gender, because they are much more fun to play with than barbies and I love channeling my inner Katniss. And yes, I do still play with toys if they are fun. While steps are being made, there is still a long way to go. When you were a kid what did you play with? More barbies and baby dolls? Or action figures and legos?
    - Vashti

    1. You are so right about the fast food restaraunts and the toys! Makes me mad because my little brother will sometimes want the girl toy but is embarrassed to ask for it because it is called a, "girl toy." About the Nerf guns, you are completely right, but I do wish that gender-nuetral toys would not be so violent. I would like to see kids play with toys that encourage kids to be nice people when they grow up. Not barbies and baby dolls, legos, and/or action figures per say, but what makes them happy and does not influence bad behavior and/or thought.

  4. Hi Abby:

    I happened to come across an Upworthy Video that I thought you might enjoy. It shows how silly the gendered approach to colors and roles is if we look at it from an adult as opposed to a child's perspective. --Ms. Riches

    1. Wow, thank you so much! I hope other people watch these videos and come up with a new way of thinking from this!

  5. Hey Abby, Your article brings back a lot of memories from elementary/ pre school. I specifically remember the girls one one side of the room playing with pink things and the boys on the other side of the room playing with dinosaurs. I agree with Riley. I think toy companies shouldn't make gender specific toys such as barbies. I go to Toys R Us whenever I go to the mall and I see huge gender divided sections, especially the LEGOs. The boys get Star Wars, Castle, LOTR ect and the girls get houses with furniture and dresses. I feel like this just gives kids opinions about themselves and the other gender at a very early age.

    Why do you think the toy companies started making gender specific toys?

    1. Haha, while writing this blog, I thought a lot about elementary school! I agree with you and Riley in a way. I think that they could still make those toys, but I feel that the way the advertises it needs to be opened to both genders, and not just one (ex. Barbies and girls). It really does! Kids will do whatever they feel like is the right thing and makes them who they are. In other words, they are influenced very easily. I think they started with a nice thought, that it would be nice and fun for different types of kids to do different things, and that just happened to be genders. It was a good idea that just got exploited and we have yet to realize it.

  6. Hey Abby! Interesting topic and great job! I as well have noticed these differences in what is the societal norm for children toys. It can be scary knowing that this new generation will not be aware that this is not "normal". I believe that it is our responsibility to try to prevent it further and keep the social world aware. Children should not be afraid to like a certain toy because they feel they'll be rejected. But, what people do not notice as much, we see this all the time in clothing stores. There is girl clothing aisles and a boys clothing aisles. How is this any different? Do you think that this is different from gender oriented toys?

  7. Hey Abby,
    Your article is very interesting and informative. I see this issue all the. I have a little sister who is a toddler and her hair hasn't quite grown in yet and she sometimes wheres blue, green or red clothing rather than the usual pink and purple. People come up to us all the time and say, "Oh! Your little boy is so cute!" And my mom thinks its so annoying because they automatically assume she is a boy because of the colors she is wearing and her short hair. So I can relate to the issue. I have always found this topic interesting and I like how in depth you went into it. I always wonder about young women who have short hair and if people think having short hair automatically makes you a tomboy, etc.


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