Nature vs Nurture in the Toy Wars: Let’s Make a Change!
In this series, Nature vs Nurture in the Toy Wars, we’ve been talking about how media and marketing depictions impact children. Research has shown us that there are patterns of how girls and boys are depicted, and that when children consistently see these patterns, they begin to believe them.
But guess what else research has shown? When both boys and girls are depicted as playing with the same toy in a commercial, children are more likely to later identify that toy as being “for boys and girls” (Pike & Jennings, 2005).
In fact, advertising research has suggested that instead of developing two different sets of advertisements for boys and girls, advertisers can more effectively appeal to preadolescent boys and girls by choosing themes that either focus on agency or community.
Preadolescent boys and girls are both interested in the idea of promoting agency though acting independently and in building community and relationships. By the age of eight, girls actually begin to show more favorable toward advertisements that promote agency (Bakir, Blodgett, & Rose, 2008).
So here are the questions that I have as I think about what we’ve learned in this series:
Why don’t we see more advertisements that depict boys and girls playing together?
Why don’t we see more commercials that promote agency for girls and community for boys, since we know that those can be effective as well?
Some have suggested that it’s because segmenting the market is more profitable (Johnson & Young, 2002). If I can sell two different sets of the same toy to one household because the parents think they must have different ones for their son and daughter, then I make more money!
But the thing is, this type of advertising also promotes stereotypes that feed into these destructive and unhealthy ideas:
That girls are less capable of acting on their own behalf as agents,
That girls are less interested in activities that tend to lead to interest in STEM fields,
That boys are not interested in relationship and community, and
That people of different sexes should not play and in the long-term work together.
None of these ideas are healthy, effective ways of helping children develop into strong men and women. Parents and other caring adults need to understand this so that they can begin to use their buying power to pressure companies to produce something different. That’s where change will come, but it all starts with parental awareness.
When most parents list the characteristics that they hope to see in their child as they grow, they include things like compassion, integrity, leadership, and strong character for children of both genders. In order to produce those things, we must become more aware of the messages that our children are absorbing. We must become critical consumers and help our children learn to do the same so that their ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl are shaped thoughtfully, and so that whatever their talents, our children learn to envision a way to use them to make this world a better place.
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.