Monday, October 1, 2007

Katie Kokoszka

WGS 220-05

Blog Post # 1

Online Toy Shopping

Gender socialization in children begins at an early age with the toys and products marketed to them and their parents or guardians. According to Newman, “socialization is the way that people learn to act in accordance with the rules and expectations of a particular society” (Newman 108). Through the toys currently marketed, society conveys its expectation of boys as tough, competitive, aggressive, and powerful males, with transforming action figures, large trucks, numchucks, swords, and other fighting objects. In contrast, society presents an image of girls who take the more passive role, with toys focused on beauty accessories and domestication like vanity stands/kits, toy ovens and vacuums, and pretty dolls. In this way, the society begins to instill concepts of which values and behaviors are overtly male and overtly female based on the toy of choice.

In addition, toys facilitate the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes in childhood because they create a dividing line between girls and boys. With the division, girls receive the domestic toys such as play kitchens, baby dolls, and toy houses teaching them to be caring housewives. Boys receive the sports cars, action figures, transformers, and guns showing competition, aggression, domination, power, and male protection. These stereotypes portray the hegemonic society we live in proving men have dominance and power over women. Furthermore, if males are caught playing with any toys considered “female”, they are referred to as a wimp or a sissy by older children or their peers, no matter how wrong that may be. Girls, on the other hand, receive the insult of being referred to as a tomboy if they engage in more aggressive behavior or play with “male” toys. A reason this situation occurs or why individuals might think this way is, “because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them” (Newman 111). Parents and guardians, who have developed their own impressions of gender roles, play an immensely influential role in conveying these expectations to their children, not only through their behavior, which children learn to imitate, but also through their choices of toys for their children, which are influenced by their own perceptions.

Johnson argues our patriarchal society is “about defining women and men as opposites, about the “naturalness” of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination” (Johnson 94). Toys identified as “male” or “female” facilitate the societal tendency to strongly define and contrast the normative gender roles. An example of the aforementioned argument is the doll. Dolls are seemingly benign but send the boy/girl message. The girls have baby dolls like Cabbage Patch Kids. Playing with these dolls teaches them that they are to be nurturing, loving, and the caretaker, particularly when naming the doll and receiving an adoption certificate. Contrastingly, boys’ “dolls” are the GI Joe and the Power Rangers, which teach tough ruggedness, battling and power over the more inferior characters. From these messages, girls gain an inferiority complex and the boys develop aggressive natures. Girls receive the message that boys fight and have all the power, defining girls as the weaker gender and perpetuating the stereotype that women have to acquiesce and let men protect them. This “inferiority becomes habitual” and is never questioned (Henley, Freedman 22).

Moreover, toys for the age range of 6-8 year olds send similar messages of male dominance and female submission. However, some of these toys also convey messages related to some aspects of adulthood. Many toys symbolize professions children will encounter or to which they will aspire to as they get older. Some children choose certain toys because they enjoy the idea or dream of being in a particular profession or job. An example of this is a male child wanting to be a firefighter and his favorite toy being the red fire truck. The messages toys send connect with adulthood in the fact that most toys signify jobs that usually are gender segregated as well.

Despite the prominence of toys that support or perpetuate gender stereotypes, not all toys segregate genders, and there are gender neutral toys available. Gender neutral toys are more prominent from infant-preschool age. Once children reach 5 or 6 years of age, boys and girls begin to realize and understand that there is a difference in their genders and how they are. When toy shopping for older children,

gender-biased toys are more prominent, although this should not be the case. Children gain awareness of which toys are considered more appropriate for boys and for girls. They achieve this understanding through the difference in the toys played with, from parental influences, and from teachers and peers. Gender lines are drawn all around children without realization so it becomes accepted by the children themselves. Toys designed for the respective genders are even separated when marketed and displayed in the department stores and toy stores. Though it is not impossible to find gender neutral toys for the ages after 5 years old, it is harder than with the younger ages. Those items that are typically gender neutral are informative, educational toys like some Sesame Street toys or the Leap Frog interactive games. Other examples of gender neutral toys are puzzles and some board games including Sorry, Trouble, and Chutes and Ladders. Pools and outdoor play-sets or jungle gyms are very much gender neutral as well.

In conclusion, male, female, boy, girl, brother, sister, adult, child, we are all products of our socializations and environments. We learn from our individual experiences and behave in response to the expectations. The majority of children will play with gender specific toys and choose the stereotypical male and female toys for themselves and exhibit separate boy/girl behaviors.


Johnson, Allan G. "Patriarchy, the System: an It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us." The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy (1997): 91-98.

Henley, Nancy, and Jo Freedman. Women: a Feminist Prospective. 5th ed. 84-92.

Newman, David. Identies and Inequalities Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill, 2007.

3 Images are from