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Gender Differences In Children’S Toys

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Gender differences are apparent in many aspects of life but especially in the products we buy. Some examples of gender differences can be seen in many different products such as hygiene products including shavers and shampoo. There are even differences in prices for male and female products despite the items being the same other than the colour of packaging. These differences do not start in adulthood though, in fact, gender differences in the products we buy is apparent even in very young children. When current adults were children they likely used to play with sex-typed toys and use sex-typed furniture and accessories when they were infants. These early gender differences are essentially preparing children for the future gender differences they will be experiencing throughout their life. This gender preparation also seems to sensitize many people to these gender differences to a point of accepting these gender differences. To fully understand this grooming of gender difference, we look to the early items and toys available for children.

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Despite movement towards more gender-neutral products, there are still vast gender differences in the products available. When thinking about the gender differences we encounter it poses the question of when these differences arise. To answer, we assess toys commonly available for newborns and infants. Looking at newborn products, we can see that even though there tends to be more neutral similarities such as neutral colours including greys and yellows than in the past, there are still many items that still clearly use the colours blue and pink, blue for boy and pink for girls, as a gender sorting system. Such products include sheets for the crib, blankets, clothing and especially toys. An example of infant toys that are gendered is the Fisher Price smart stages puppy toy which has two versions. The original version is the regular smart stages puppy which has blue accents such as its ears and shirt, the second version is the smart stages puppy sis (i. e. , sister) which features a tutu and pink ears and outfit.

Despite the toys not having any difference in ability or technological design, the appearance shows clear gender differences. Another thing worth mentioning is that the “girl version” is the alternative as the original is for boys which, despite children not being totally aware of this difference, it still suggests that males are the norm and females are the alternative. Another way in which infant toys differ in gender can be seen in the stuffed animals available. A big trend in stuffed animals for females right now are unicorns which are usually light pink, purple and rainbow colours. Male plush toys seem to display more dinosaurs and zoo animals such as elephants and monkeys. Another example of how stuffed animals tend to be more gendered is when baby girls are given pink stuffed bears, but baby boys are more likely to receive a regular coloured bear (e. g. , brown or black stuffed bears). These examples demonstrate a clear difference between female and male plush toys because female plush toys are mystical or designed with unrealistic colours for an animal and the boys plush toys are more realistic not only in actual existence but also in the colours which usually represent a realistic portrayal of the animal it is supposed to be. This evaluation of available infant toys demonstrates that gender differences in toys seems to begin as an infant and even newborn.

There are many ways that toys are packaged and advertised to attract certain genders. Firstly, and most obviously, toys and their packaging are coloured very differently. Boys toys tend to be blue, green, whereas female toys tend to be pink and purple. One-way packaging is used to attract certain genders is the word choice and pictures used on the packaging. Boys’ toys tend to use words like fight, danger, rescue, destroy, and power while girls’ toys tend to use words such as friends, love, princess, dress-up, and style. These different choices in words suggests that boys are destructive, hard working and fight crime whereas girls are vain, fragile and friendly. Packaging for girls also tend to have girls on the packaging playing with the toy and boy toys tend to have boys on the packaging playing with the toy. These are clearer indicators for children as to which toy they should play with or want; they see someone who looks like them (being the same apparent gender as them) and thus are more likely to want to play with that toy. Packaging also tends to have popular characters on them which have also been gendered. Girls toys tend to display princesses and female characters such as Minnie Mouse and My Little Pony whereas boys’ toys tend to display superheroes and male characters such as Darth Vader and Chase from paw patrol. These certain characters also tend to attract certain genders because the movies and shows that star these characters tend to be more popular with certain genders. Princess movies are usually more popular with girls and superhero movies tend to be popular with boys.

By examining the toys available for each gender, we can see that these toys are grooming little boys and girls to be certain kinds of men and women. Boy’s toys seem to have similar aspects in common which include that of saving lives, being strong, problem solving, powerful and working hard. These qualities also seem to be inline with the stereotypical man such that they are seen as hardworking, strong men that need to protect and save women in the midst of danger. These qualities of course do not consider that women are strong, hardworking and powerful beings as well. The girl’s toys also seem to be grooming little girls to be stereotypical women. By stereotypical women, it is meant by nurturing, being beautiful, wearing makeup, caring for children and being rescued. Of course in reality these female stereotypes seem more subtle than that of a princess in a far away castle in need of rescuing from a dragon but it still holds the belief that women need protecting because they are emotional, beautiful and caring which doesn’t consider that men also have emotions and are beautiful humans that also need help sometimes too. Another interesting observation is that female toys with a colour typically for boys such as blue, tends to be a lighter or pastel version of that colour. For example, the smart stages puppy discussed earlier has a couple blue accents on the girl version, but the blue is a lighter blue than the blue displayed on the boy version, the original version. Same goes for boys but instead of light colours, they tend to be deeper versions of that colour. For example, there is a purple accent on the original version of the puppy, but it is a dark purple rather than the light purple used on the female version. The difference in colour shades may be mimicking the fragility or softness that women are known for such as being soft spoken, soft skin, soft hair, fragile physically and emotionally. Though the use of lighter colours for females may be a miniscule detail that is not naturally thought of, it does exhibit clear differences in boys’ and girls’ toys which children may subconsciously be aware of when choosing a toy. Essentially these toys are grooming boys and girls to be that of the stereotypical woman and man rather than a women who likes to get dirty, be tough and/or not want children and the man who can express and regulate emotion, be tidy and/or take care of his children.

The messages that these toys are sending to boys and girls is really that boys should act and play one way and that girls act and play another way. This message of course is usually taken very literally despite the creativity and diversity each child possesses and thus encourages children to act in gendered roles rather than encouraging individuality and creativity. Although some toys do allow quite a bit of release for that creativity and diversity such as through many neutral toys like play doh which tends to be used by both genders more equally, sometimes even toys like this have versions that do demonstrate a bit of gender stereotypical messages. For example, play doh sells individual colours of play doh allowing lots of creativity and diversity but they also have sets like the unicorn ice-cream mold set with a girl on the packaging or the construction mold set with a boy on the packaging. The gender related sets give the message that girls cook and serve while men work and build things thus fitting into the gender stereotypes that women stay home and cook for the husband and the man goes to work to provide for the family. The fact that these are the messages that these toys are sending also sends the message that these stereotypes are okay. These messages also implicitly suggest that it may not be okay to act out of the expected gender norms because there is no indication that it is okay for boys to play with toys typically used by girls and for girls to play with toys typically used by boys. For example, when a little girl sees a boy playing with a toy truck on toy packaging, she is not likely going to want that toy just as a little boy who sees a girl playing with a doll on the toy packaging is not likely to pick that toy to play with. If a toy has a boy and a girl on it, children of both gender would be more likely to play with it because it indicates that it is acceptable to do so (Helgeson, 2017).

The gender differences in children’s toys is still clearly demonstrated despite movement towards more neutral upbringings. These neutral upbringings seem to be up to parents own discretion as there definitely do not seem to be very many options for neutrality compared to the options for clearly indicated boy and girl toys. Colouring isn’t the only gender differences, and as discussed, may not be the most important indicator as a big indicator is that of who is on the packaging, meaning is it a boy playing with the toy or a girl. The messages these toys send are also a big influence on the gender divide as they still strongly adhere to the gender stereotypes of a strong working man and a fragile nurturing woman.

References

  1. Helgeson, V. S. (2017). Psychology of gender. Routledge.
31 October 2020

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