Toys have always been associated with children for years; toys are children’s outlets to playing, finding their creativity and exploring new worlds. It is estimated that over 221 million dollars is spent on toys every year in the U. S. (Wikipedia) Toys play a big role in helping babies and toddlers develop motor skills and can serve as learning tools. Toys are usually the most prized possessions of our little ones and they love them, and parents love giving them to them. As toys help shape a child’s learning and growth they can also shape their gender roles and can influence young children as to what or how they should be.
How do toys play a role in cognitive, social development and shape a child gender roles; and can it be true that we all have fallen victim to male and female stereo-typical gender roles starting at very early ages, the answer can be found relating theories from researcher‘s on child development and growth and by examining toy stores and the toy products that are marketed today. I visited my local Wal-Mart store, to see just what types of toys are being sold today. The stores toy section was located near the back of the store which is where the media and electronics are also displayed.
The Toy section was spread out over eight aisles, with toys shelved on each side. This is how it was arranged, the first aisles was labeled “Learning, Infant & Toddler”, the next two aisles after that was labeled “Dolls and Toys”, which all appeared to be girls toys and then the next aisle consisted of neutral board games craft activities and Legos, then then next two aisles after that consisted all of what appeared to be toys for boys, the aisle right after the boys toys was sporting equipment, basketballs, baseballs, and skateboards.
The infant and toddler aisle for the most part seemed gender neutral, the types of toys I seen were learning toys, building blocks and puzzles. There were toys that talked and made noises like musical instruments, which babies could interact with and soft animals. I wasn’t really surprised or shocked at what I saw, it seemed pretty normal. In the toddler section next to the infant toys I noticed a lot of mini toy computers, books, and learning flashcards. The next toy aisle was full of Barbie dolls, baby dolls, dress-up clothes, and play houses. There was a dramatic difference from waking from the infant and toddler aisle to this aisle.
The infant toys section displayed a lot of bright colors, blues, reds yellows, and greens; and the dolls section it was like and explosion if pinks and purples. The girls toy aisle consisted largely of Barbie dolls, the Barbie dolls had themes such as princess Barbie’s that represent dolls from original Disney movies, some dolls were labeled “Fashion Stars”, there was a display of Barbie’s that featured dolls that represent other countries of the world they were labeled “Dolls of the World” it included such as France, Sweden, Hawaii and India, which I though was very interesting.
There were two types of dolls that particularly stood out me one was a doll, the doll was a Michelle Obama doll, and the packaging on the outside labeled the doll “The White House Project” and the special feature of the doll was that it could stand on its own. Another type of doll I was shocked to see was a series of dolls labeled monster dolls, the dolls were very pale colored, they dolls had heavy eyeliner on their face, and the special feature on some if the dolls was that girls playing with them could draw tattoos on the dolls bodies.
This doll and the First Lady doll were two types of dolls I never expected to see in a girl’s toy department before. The other types of toys in this aisle were paint sets, coloring books, and doll houses, kitchen sets of dishes pots and pans, and baby dolls. What was interesting out the baby dolls in this aisle were all the special features that came with the baby dolls for example you could feed some of the baby dolls and change their diapers, and put them to sleep, these baby dolls also had sound effects like crying and giggling.
The aisle also had PlayDough sets, where kids could create When I walked down the next two aisles that consisted of boys toys, the atmosphere had changed again, I was no longer surrounded by pinks, red, and purples, Barbie and baby dolls; I was now seeing greens, blues, blacks, and brown colors, and toys with pictures of boys on the packaging. The types of toys in this aisle were construction and play tool sets; there were a lot more Lego building games, toy cars, and action figures such as Superman, Batman, and the Hulk.
There were building sets, like building model airplanes and helicopters. The boy’s toy aisle also had science toys like toy insects and magnifying glasses. I saw Nerf guns and pretend hunting equipment. Sports toys were also in this aisle like basketballs and race car tracks. There were wrestling action figures and costumes. We can see here that toys that are marketed and organizing on store shelves are different for boys and girls.
So how exactly do toys affect our gender concepts? The Dehart text says that children begin developing Gender role- concepts during their toddler years. “Learning gender-roles is based partly on cognitive maturation and partly on countless experience of being told and shown what is considered appropriate for boys and girls. (Dehart, Sroufe & Cooper, 2004) In the toys section the toys were specifically arranged as boy and girl, except for the infant and toddler toys.
It appears to me that the infant and toddler stages are all about learning and cognitive development and as children grow past baby stages they then begin to discover their gender identities. Authors George Bryjal and Michael Soroka say that, “Human beings are not born with any pre-existing knowledge of, or orientation to, their world. What we come to feel about life and about ourselves, we learn through socialization, the social mechanisms through which gender developments occur. (Bryjal & Soroka, 1997).
The way in which toys are marketed and advertises has a lot to do with how children are seeing gender roles. If they grow up at young ages seeing commercials of girls there ages playing with dolls, and are reinforced by this concept by parents and the children they play with, then girls will form the idea that they should be playing with dolls because that’s what girls do. The same hold true for boys with Legos and action figures.
We are not automatically born as Bryjak and Soroka said knowing these gender differences but because of what we are around and how we are influenced by toys, television, parents and interactions with others determine how we will see our gender roles. How exactly are children seeing their gender identities, they are seeing them largely through the stereotypical concepts about boys and girls through toys. For example I described earlier how the atmosphere had changed from walking form the different aisles of toys in Wal-Mart.
In the girls aisle were tons of Barbie dolls and because the dolls are female gender it lets girls know that these are the toys they should be playing with. It is in most cases the themes that Barbie dolls have that suggest how girls should be also. Most of what toys suggest is gender stereotypic roles. Barbie let girls know that they should be pretty and wear fashionable clothes, lots of dolls sets that are sold come with extra clothes and makeup accessories, and as I was shocked to see tattoos.
Toys for girls such as play Makeup sets, hair styling dolls, and pretend play beauty salons, also suggest the stereotype that girls care a lot about their appearance, and suggest to girls that beauty is about makeup and the clothes that you wear. Sexism is also mapped into the Barbie dolls toys suggesting to girls that a perfect body type is to be thin; all dolls that I have seen and played with all had the same body type that was long legs, busty chest, wide hips, a tiny stomach, and had a perfect proportioned flawless face.
In reality the average girl and woman isn’t equal at all to what a Barbie doll is. But because Barbie’s is expressed in different races like the “Doll of the world Collection and different professions like “I can be anything Barbie”, which consists of doll who have professions of nurses, ballerina’s, veterinarian’s, cooks, super models and office workers; many girls feel that these are the professions they should have on day, I know that’s what I used to think.
Other toys such as Baby dolls send messages to girls that at a young age they already have an instinct to take of babies like their mothers. Through pretending to care for a baby the actually will one day. I remember a little girl the “Baby Be Born” dolls that you could feed and change, and the popular slogan for that doll was “Without you, Baby Newborn could not survive. Through your love and support Baby Newborn can grow to be just like you. ” These messages associated with toys suggest to girls that they are already loving and caring nurturers.
Popular toys for girls like Tea sets, play kitchen and cleaning toys advertised to girls also suggests the stereotype that their gender roles as females is largely based on home life; cleaning, cooking and taking care of the home and children are what girls are supposed to do. Another aspect of girl’s toy that I noticed to be gender stereotyped were the princess Barbie dolls. The “Princess Barbie doll collection” is dolls that are characters from Disney movies such as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella.
What all of these characters have in common is that they are princess, and in the movies there was a critical time in their life when they needed help and the only one who could save them was prince, once a prince had saved them, all their troubles would disappear, they will kiss their prince, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. From these movies and dolls girls learn the stereotype that every girl is supposed to be a princess and will one day meet a prince, fall in love an live happily ever after. The stereotypical gender role in this example is that a woman’s life is not complete without a husband.
What I also noticed about the assembly of most girl toys, was that they were pre-assembled, whereas most boys’ toys are all about building and construction, being active explorers, and being superheroes. This feeds into the gender stereotype that boys are more masculine in building and construction and girls are more delicate, practical, and meek. Because the girls’ toys displayed all the stereotypes about females, the boys’ toys did the exact same thing. In the boy to aisle there were lots of car toys, suggesting that boys are high interested in cars and trucks and how they are made.
There were a lot of action figures, superheroes, toy soldiers and pro wrestlers, these types of toys suggest that boys are supposed to be tough and masculine, and there stereotyped gender role is all about fighting to protect, and saving the day. One major difference that I noticed between the girls and boys section was that the toys marketed to boys were all about enhancing their education and expanding their cognitive abilities and physical abilities; for example in the boys aisle the were building sets, that required work hard and a lot of effort to compete them.
There were a lot of toys in the boys’ aisle that was also sports related, such as basketball and baseball relates toys and games; because there were no sports related toys in the girls aisle it almost suggest that girls aren’t interested in sports and that boys are. Girls toy were all about being mothers and princess and being creative, boys toys send a different message of being masculine, and being protective superheroes, and there toy’s deal with more aspects of real- life situations. For example girls have dress-up princess costumes and boys have policeman and firefighter dress up costumes.
Where girls had cooking and cleaning sets in their toy aisle boy had construction and tool sets, suggesting boys are better able at fixing things, than girls are. One thing I noticed that was in the boys toys section but not in the girls was more learning toys and high education games there was a section in the boys’ toy aisle that had science kit toys, toy insects, and solar system discovery kit, but nothing like this in the girls aisle. I also noticed that a lot of the toys for boys had to do with being outdoors, like the adventure play sets were jungles and forests, and Nerf guns that were meant to be played outdoors.
Through boys toys they learn a lot about adventure and construction, and sports, all things that happen outside of the home, where the girls’ toys were about enhancing their physical appearances and taking care of things inside the home. I can be concluded that toys have a tremendous role in influencing gender and socialization development in children. As toys can play a role in children discovering their identities and gender role shaping, which at times seems very stereotypical, Toys can also help in social development as children interact with each other when they play.
When children play together they are learning to expresses their selves and communicate with others. When playing together children build friendships and they learn to share and work together. The Dehart text says that experiences within a child’s peer group can really affect a child’s self-concept and upcoming dealing with others. (Dehart, Sroufe & Cooper, 2004) That how well a child gets along with their peers strongly predicts their later success, and is also related with how well children are able to adjust, deal with problems, and school achievement.
Out of all the gender-biased toys sold for children and preadolescents today there still are gender neutral toys like board and card games such as “Chutes and Ladders”, “Candy land” , “Uno” and “Twister” that promote children to work together and help each other solve problems. The most important role toys can play in a child development would be toys influence in cognitive learning development. It has been said that children learn best buy repetition and hands on experiment, and while they’re having have fun. For infants and toddlers toys can help them understand lots of concepts at once.
As I looked at the toys that were in the infant and toy aisle, I noticed the toys were lots of different colors; they displayed numbers, letters, shapes and made noises. Researcher Gabriel Guyton explained that one simple toy such as a drum could explore more than one learning concept. For example, when a child bangs on a drum it produces a sound, in doing this the child learn how different sounds are produced, and they learn the concept of cause and effect, that for every action they do something will happen.
Through toys babies develop a lot of their gross motor skills such as grasping different objects, using walker toys and toy cars, to help them walk. Toys can also help language development, for infants simple talking toys can help them connect words with object; and for a lot of toddlers and preschoolers there are lots of toys sold today like Leapfrog and Fischer price toys can help children learn and read words. And finally toys can also play a small role in emotional development.
For example every child has that one favorite toy that they carry around with them, or put in a special place, for girls there is often times a special doll or for boys and action figure, and for babies there can be a toy the is a certain color they like or makes a special noise. For babies toys can help emotional development because they can serve as something familiar to the baby so if the baby is distress of being in and unfamiliar environment, having their favorite today, can help reduce their distress and make them a little more at ease (Dehart, Sroufe & Cooper, 2004); the same could be for older children as well.
Toys can also help children begin to understand what it means to value something or have a responsibility. I remember when I was growing up, I wanted to make sure all my dolls were in always put away neatly and all there accessories were organized; because I wanted to take care of them so they wouldn’t get damaged or broken, from that now that I’m older I have other things that I value and I have learned to be responsible for, and know I need to take care of.