Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Stereotyping Childhood

Why does the pink and blue division of toys matter? Why should we care about the gendered marketing schemes running rampant?

In the Huffington Post, there was an article last year around this time detailing the “10 Worst Toys for Girls.” These ranged from a cleaning trolley to a Barbie that comes with tattoos, to a “pole dancing” doll. No, I’m not making that last one up.  Frankly, I think that may have been a novelty toy. But, even in stores such as Toys-R-Us, I’ve seen a temporary back tattoo for little girls.

Some of the toys on this list may seem okay to you, while others are definitely not going to make it into your kids room… ever.  What do you think? Are there other toys out there that you think are terrible? What about those that are a great alternative? Frankly, it’s really easy to find examples of toys that promote very narrow gender stereotypes. When you look at toy catalogues online, there’s an entire section labeled “girl.” What do you think is in that section? If you guessed babies and play houses, you’re right. All of the outside toys are depicted with boys riding on them, not girls. Sometimes the girls are in the passenger seat.

These are clear examples of what the research tells us about gender stereotypes in both advertisements and entertainment aimed at children. Even in educational software, you see over and over that boys are represented as aggressive, active, and competitive while girls are dependent and passive. When children repeatedly see these gender stereotypes, they begin to believe them.

We see in the research literature that kids identify with activities that they see someone of their own gender engaging in. If we want our daughters to be able to see themselves being a soccer player, doctor, politician, etc. someday, then we need to be sure that we’re showing them examples of women doing those things. If we want our sons to be able to see themselves as being a positive father, teacher, artist, etc. someday, then we need to be sure that they get the opportunity to see men doing those things.  If they aren’t allowed to dream of certain options, that closes doors for them. Let’s work on sharing big ideas with our kids about what they can do, about who they can be. Don’t let them be limited by narrow gender stereotyping. Allow them to dream big dreams.

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2 comments on “Stereotyping Childhood

  1. amattina
    December 23, 2011

    Great post Jen, I agree the overwhelming messages “normalize” these categories for both genders, and then they become even more difficult to change. I think the harm caused to girls is more significant in that boys already have more choices.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      December 23, 2011

      Right, the cues we send about what it means to be male or female becomes so narrow.

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This entry was posted on December 23, 2011 by in Acting, Planning, Recognizing.

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