Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Nature vs Nurture in the Toy Wars: Do Toys Really Matter?

Children are buying into the stereotypes that I mentioned in my previous post in this series. And their accepting the message that certain products, interests, and activities are gender specific.

A study in 2009 (Miller, Lurye, Zosuls, & Ruble) examined the accessibility of gender stereotypes and found that both girls and boys tended to say that:

  • Girls are nice, like to play with dolls, and have their value linked with appearance. This focus on appearance seemed to be particularly strong for girls in late elementary school when compared to younger children, with an average of half of that age girls describing appearance as an important component of a girl’s identity.
  • The traits most often associated with boys included being active, athletic, and aggressive.

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So does it matter if products and media consistently promote separate girl/boy play?

When children are exposed to high levels of gender salience, which is when people are clearly in one group as opposed to another, they tend to:

  • Demonstrate increased gender stereotypes
  • Have less positive feelings about opposite-sex peers
  • Not play with them as much (Hilliard & Liben, 2010).

So, when advertisers, such as Lego, consistently depict their products being played with mostly by only one gender, children of the opposite gender will not see that toy as accessible to them.

When children are consistently exposed to the idea that girls and boys are very different and should play separately, they will begin to function that way in the real world, preferring to only play with children of their same sex.

When commercials show toys being manipulated by only one gender, children are likely to identify that toy as “for” the gender of the child shown in the commercial. This is the reason behind the Brave Girls Want campaign to encourage Lego to produce more female minifigures. Media and marketing depictions do matter, and it’s time for companies to show some corporate responsibility.

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.

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.

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This entry was posted on July 26, 2013 by in Acting, Recognizing and tagged , , , , .
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