Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes | The Achilles Effect

Ads targeting girls word cloud

Ads targeting boys word cloud

Crystal Smith of The Achilles Effect developed these word clouds from watching television advertisements aimed at children. Her goal was to understand the ways that gender stereotypes are presented to boys and girls through advertisements. When I talk with parents about gender stereotypes and why they are harmful to children, one of the things that I often hear is, “But aren’t some of them true? Isn’t it okay for girls to be girls and boys to be boys?”

This is an interesting question. There are some gender differences in the way that people tend to behave. However, we all know males and females that are naturally loud and those that are quiet, those of both genders who are naturally athletic or nurturing and those who are not. I could go on here, but my point is that if you think closely about the adults who you know, they very likely do not fall into these rigid categories of gendered behaviors and interests that are presented to children through media stereotypes.

I think what Crystal’s word clouds illustrate so eloquently is that gender stereotypes are constricting for children. Instead of celebrating their uniqueness, they serve to put them into little pink and blue boxes, where girls are passive and focused on their looks while boys are active, loud, and destructive. Our children deserve to have a wider view of themselves, to dream bigger dreams for themselves.

These word clouds would be amazing tools to use with your kids to help them learn to be more critical consumers of media. Share them with your kids and ask them:

  1. Who is this talking about, boys or girls?
  2. What makes you think these words are about boys/girls?
  3. What do you think about that message? Does this sound like the boys/girls you know or not? How? Share examples of both males and females that you both know who do and do not fit each description.
  4. Point out that some people of each gender will have qualities from each word cloud.
  5. Ask them which words from both clouds describe them, and share which describe you.

These word clouds are a fun way to help your child start thinking beyond gendered media stereotypes and to learn to identify how they do and don’t agree with media messages. As you help your child learn to view media messages more critically, they will learn to question rather than just accept those messages. That’s a vital tool in this media-drenched culture!

Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes | The Achilles Effect

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One comment on “How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes | The Achilles Effect

  1. Khadim Soomro
    May 21, 2011

    Hi Jennifer,

    Glad to see ur blog and appreciate your struggle

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