Gender Stereotypes in Toys: Its Influence on Child's Development

Gender discourse and inclusivity are becoming more mainstream than ever. As Mattel introduces their first line of gender neutral dolls (Bellware, 2019), it would seem to be an indicator of the progress we have made so far. However, the pink and blue aisles in majority of the toy shops, displaying collections of highly gendered toys are sufficient to challenge the notion. That the toy manufacturing companies have been allowed to build a wall bifurcating gender, creativity and opportunities into neat binaries may not be that astonishing. It would not be uncommon to assume that play is largely trivial amusement and toys are mere props meant to entertain. I would argue such suppositions have dire consequences. Gendered toys have deleterious effects on a child’s mental and social development; they also encourage dangerous gender stereotypes.

Toys aimed at a young male audience like puzzles and building blocks help to develop spatial ability unlike the toys meant for girls. Spatial ability can be described as “a set of mental skills that enable us to reason about space and the relationships between objects”. In a research conducted by the team of Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the spatial skills of undergraduate students were assessed. The team investigated various factors that could potentially influence the spatial cognition of the subjects. Interpreting the results of standardized tests attempted by the group of undergraduate students, it was found that students who had played with construction based toys in their childhood scored better. The research also takes into consideration the socialized attitudes towards Legos and the attached label of masculinity which resulted in greater number of men having played with the toy than women. According to Eason and Levine, parents are more inclined to block play with boys than they are with girls; encouraging girls to incorporate blocks and puzzles in their play supports their spatial growth. The effect of playing with dolls, kitchen sets and games with role play on mental growth is a comparatively much less researched subject. Group play amongst kids involving doll makeovers, pretend tea parties and babysitting is believed to teach them team coordination, better communication and nurturing skills. These set of skills are important in their own right, but gendered toys actively prevent women from achieving spatial skills which is a key factor behind less representation of women in STEM.

Gender specific toys have serious implications for the social development of young children. According to Sweet the pink-blue-divide is the strongest and most alienating than it has ever been. Toy manufacturers market their products under the labels of boys and girls-blue and pink- an approach which divides the consumers into two inflexible categories. If boys choose to play with feminine toys or the other way round, children risk being ridiculed, ostracized or worse bullied by other kids. It can be seen in the case of Grayson Bruce, a 9-year-old who was subjected to bullying for carrying a lunch bag of My Little Pony, a show primarily meant for girls. Incidents like this result in children eventually succumbing to societal pressures and choosing toys that are thought to be gender appropriate. This suppresses their creativity and they lose their sense of individuality.

Gender specific toys reinforce gender stereotypes. Toys inhabiting the girl aisles lean towards ideas of femininity; fragility, empathy and domesticity. Toys for boys, on the other hand, invite their young male audience towards stereotypical and often toxic representations of masculinity that men are powerful, controlling and violent. Girls’ toys are quite and tender; boys’ toys are loud and rough. Varney highlights the introduction of Barbie and G.I. Joe in 1959 and 1964 respectively to argue how the toy industry actively feeds gender stereotypes. Barbie, the fun-loving, beautiful young woman, passionate about shopping and going out with her boyfriend and G.I. Joe, a strong, determined and emotionally detached military soldier thus set the definition of a man and a woman for a child. Baby Annabell is another example of how feminine toys strive to develop the soft and empathetic nature – traditionally associated with females – with the play requiring motherly care as stated explicitly in the packaging itself. Children thus, form their identities in the narrow and exclusionary world of toys.

In conclusion, toys should be made with the intention of promoting inclusivity, developing mental abilities and allowing kids to accept and explore their creativity in their play time. They are one of the earliest teaching tools that develop a child’s understanding of the social world. Hence, the influence of gender specific toys on young minds must not be taken lightly. They perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes, deepen the differences in cognitive abilities between boys and girls which results in the weakening of the latter, and negatively impact the identity and social lives of children.

Works Cited

  • Bellware, K. (2019, September 25). Mattel helped define gender norms for decades with Barbie and Ken. Now it's defying them. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  • Daly, N. (2016, December 15). How Today's Toys May Be Harming Your Daughter. National Geographic. Retrieved from
  • Francis, B. (2010). Gender, toys and learning. Oxford Review of Education, 36(3), 325-344. Retrieved from
  • Gaddis, J. (2012, September 26). My Son Wears Pink Sunglasses, He's Either Gay or a Girl Right? Retrieved from
  • Gagnier, K., Fisher, K. Spatial Thinking: A missing building block in STEM education. (2016, July). Retrieved from
  • Gander, K. (2014, March 18). Schoolboy 'My Little Pony' fan Grayson Bruce told to stop wearing Rainbow Dash bag to school after he was bullied. The Independent. Retrieved from
  • Gold, A. U., Pendergast, P. M., Ormand, C. J., Budd, D. A., Stempien, J. A., Mueller, K. J., & Kravitz, K. A. (2018, April 1). Spatial skills in undergraduate students-Influence of gender, motivation, academic training, and childhood play. Geosphere. Retrieved from
  • Pepler, D. J., & Ross, H. S. (1981). The Effects of Play on Convergent and Divergent Problem Solving. Child Development, 52(4), 1202-1210. doi:10.2307/1129507
  • Sweet, E. (2014). Why Should Toys Come in Pink and Blue? The New York Times. Retrieved from
  • Varney, W. (2002). Of Men and Machines: Images of Masculinity in Boys' Toys. Feminist Studies, 28(1), 153-174. doi:10.2307/3178498 
08 December 2022
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