Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Educator, Author

Girls and Pink Toys Part 3: Do toy ads really matter?

Children are buying into the stereotypes promoted by media messaging. And they’re 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.



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 ads for companies, such as Lego or Goldieblox or Disney, 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. 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.


6 comments on “Girls and Pink Toys Part 3: Do toy ads really matter?

  1. Pingback: LEGO Objectifying Little Girls: Makeovers for the under 12’s | Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

  2. Kristina Zosuls
    April 28, 2014

    I just came across this post and was really pleased to see your excellent description of work that many of my colleagues and I have done in the field of gender development. It is an uphill battle to convince people why the extreme gender categorization of toys in our culture is problematic. Thank you! Kristina Zosuls

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      April 28, 2014

      Thank you, Kristina, it’s so good to get your feedback!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      April 28, 2014

      I was just reading your Pink Frilly Dresses article. You and your colleagues are doing such important work in this area!

  3. Pingback: I’m dreaming of a non pink and blue Christmas | Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

  4. Anonymous
    December 9, 2013

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your great articles on toy ads. Yes! They matter!

    I’d like to introduce you and your readers to an organisation called Play Unlimited which is based in Australia. The organisation was established by a group of concerned parents working towards eliminating gendered marketing of toys.

    We have a website full of articles we’ve written about the impacts of gendered marketing on children, along with links to a petition we have raised targeting Toys R Us, appealing to the CEO to adopt a more inclusive way of marketing toys to children.

    You can also find us on Facebook (where we have shared a link to your article with our readers!) and on Twitter.

    Please, drop by and say hello some time. We’d love to interview you for an article, should you be interested in supporting our organisation by sharing your knowledge with our readers…

    Thanks for providing a great read and further inspiration 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Thea Hughes
    Founder, Play Unlimited

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2013 by in Acting, Recognizing, Talking and tagged , , , , , .
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