Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Nature vs Nurture in the Toys Wars: Media Messages about Boys and Girls

Tinker Toys for GirlsTinker Toys for Boys

There are very clear lines drawn in advertisements directed to children between what toys are “for” boys or girls. Packed into these advertisements are consistent messages about behaviors, interests, and activities that are appropriate for girls and boys. Research has found that television commercials for children overwhelmingly present gender stereotypes, with pastel colors, cooperation, and indoor play associated primarily with girls and competition and outdoor play associated with boys (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010).

In a study conducted by Johnson and Young (2002), the researchers examined the themes of gendered voice and words present in children’s television commercials. Clear gender patterns were found in the types of verbs that were used:

  • Action, competition and destruction rating high in advertisements that featured boys and boy-targeted products.


  • Verbs that focused on limited activity and feelings and nurturing rated high in advertisements that featured girls and girl-targeted products.


Another pattern that was found involved the use of verbs of agency or control. These words were found more often in boys-oriented advertisements than girl-oriented advertisements, with a ratio being over 4:1.

When we consider the use of the word power and related words, 21% of boy oriented advertisements used the words power or powerful, but in all of the girl-oriented advertisements, there was only one incident of the word “power” being used, and it was in the context of identifying the maker of a Barbie car (Power Wheels). Johnson and Young conclude

“Toy makers and their advertisers either make no effort to associate or may consciously avoid associating girl-toys with power or their potential to transfer power to their users” (Johnson & Young, 2002, p. 477).

Ad for Boys

Ad for Boys

Ad for Girls

Ad for Girls

Hilliard, L.J. & Liben, L.S. (2010). Differing levels of gender salience in preschool classrooms: Effects on children’s gender attitudes and intergroup bias. Child Development, 81, 1787-1798.

Johnson, F.L. & Young, K. (2002). Gendered voices in children’s television advertising. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19, 461-480.

Kahlenberg, S.G. & Hein, M.M. (2010). Progression on Nickelodeon? Gender-role stereotypes in toy commercials. Sex Roles, 62, 830-847.

Miller, C.F., Lurye, L.E., Zosuls, K.M., & Ruble, D.N. (2009). Accessibility of gender stereotype domains: Developmental and gender differences in children. Sex Roles, 60, 870-881.

Pike, J.J. & Jennings, N.A. (2005). The effects of commercials on children’s perceptions of gender appropriate toy use. Sex Roles, 52, 83-91.

One comment on “Nature vs Nurture in the Toys Wars: Media Messages about Boys and Girls

  1. Pingback: Research: Toys and Ads Geared Towards Girls Steeped in Stereotypes | Adios Barbie

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2013 by in Recognizing and tagged , , , , , .
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