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Gendered Toys and the Effect They Have

Gendered Toys and the Effect They Have on Children’s Socialization


Playing is a vital activity for children in terms of ensuring their comprehensive development and socialization for the first years of life and further, and toys are of great significance in this process. Since early childhood, boys and girls “spend time playing with toys by themselves as well as with their peers, parents, and other family members” (Auster & Mansbach, 2012, p. 375). Among various paradigms of knowledge a child acquires while performing manipulations with different toys, one learns to adapt specific gender roles implied by these means into his/her social behavior. For centuries, gendered toys and appropriate simulations have been used for bringing up children with a strict distinction what toys are male- or female-centric. Such gender-based division has been based on such characteristics as attractiveness, color, activities to be performed, aggressive or non-aggressive attributes, to list a few (Auster & Mansbach, 2012; Burton, 2009). With respect to these features, toys have been linked to specific educational or socialization goals. For instance, girls tended to play with household chores, similarly to their mothers, taking over this characteristic of female gender. On the other hand, boys stereotypically used to play with cars and different mechanisms to analyze their fillings and be able to shape such male-related factor as “constructiveness” (Blakemore & Centers, 2005).

However, time has changed substantially, and the role of gendered toys shifted to a rather neutral position as well. This transition has been possible not only due to sharing the roles between adults involving modified duties between parents within nuclear families but also constant marketing promotional campaigns throughout media. Therefore, the paper argues about the toy-focused “gendered childhood” as a means of stereotyping of children’s behavior and its impact on their socialization process.

Gendered Toy Choice through Parents’ Role Models

To start with, the initial stage of gendered childhood and toys division per gender is related to parents’ stereotypical perceptions of gender roles. Traditionally, parents attempt to socialize their children by means of toys specifically defined as either boys’ or girls’ ones. For instance, Witt (1997) has clarified that they encourage their children to get involved into “sex-typed activities,” such as “doll playing and engaging in housekeeping activities” for daughters and “playing with trucks and engaging in sports activities” for sons (p. 253). The stereotypical perceptions of gender roles by mothers and fathers prepare boys and girls to traditional positioning of both males and females as breadwinners and housekeepers respectively in family in particular and society at large.

Moreover, parents tend to buy their children gendered toys in order to develop specific femininity and masculinity traits they wish to see in their sons and daughters. To illustrate, girls’ dolls and home items are correspondent to “nurturance, manipulability, and attractiveness,” while boys’ toys, such as balls, cars, guns, and blocks are related to bringing up “sociability and competitiveness” (Blakemore & Centers, 2005, p. 620). Apart from that, this gendered approach to playing with toys contributes to further development of curriculum-related skills of children. Specifically, whereas boys prefer to entertain themselves with constructive toys and mechanisms at the preschool age, they become good performers and gain substantial academic achievements in math and science in general (Francis, 2010). In contrast, since girls enjoy role-playing with their animal stuff or home items, they are more likely to be successful in “emotional literacy and humanities” (Francis, 2010, p. 326). Moreover, parents encourage their children to play gender-mediated games with representatives of the same sex: namely, boys should play with boys, while girls ought to share their playgrounds with girls (Witt, 1997). Such explanation of learning of either male or female behavioral patterns through gender-typed toys is appropriate for role theory. In this way, children become either feminine (girls) or masculine (boys) due to societal aspects that have been traditionally ascribed to particular gendered toys. Thus, this point is another evidence of stereotypical socialization patterns used by parents with respect to their children’s bringing up.

Also, it is to be noted that some gender-typed toys are also comprehended as items bringing negative aspects to children socialization behavior. For example, boys playing with soldiers and transformers tend to play within fantasy world and remove themselves from daily life (Blakemore & Centers, 2005). By the same token, they develop manifestations of aggressiveness in their social behavior (Burton, 2009; Hardin & Greer, 2009). Such an illustration is relevant to stereotypical perception of male gender.

Nonetheless, feminism and the fight for gender equality within community have transformed contemporary stereotypes regarding gender roles redistribution, making intra-family responsibilities androgynous. Frequently, mothers are able to repair cars successfully, while fathers adore baking cookies or other stereotypically female-related activities. Such findings have been outlined by Burton (2009) and Witt (1997), who have accented on reshaping of these role models when playing with toys by children. However, redirection and mixing traditional gender roles has not become a regression in socialization of children within families of this type. On the contrary, boys and girls raised within androgynous parenting environment prove to have “higher self-esteem” and “levels of identity achievement,” and “flexibility in dating and love relationships” as compared to those brought up in ordinary families (Witt, 1997, p. 259).

Socialization through the Lens of Toys’ Characteristics and Manipulations with Them

Specification of toys per gender is connected with their functionality and certain characteristics they possess, which also impacts the process of children’s socialization.

For instance, Hull, Hull and Knopp (2011) have researched the influence of color on differing toys on boys and girls’ ones in relation with following of appropriate gender models by children. Again, stereotypes play a substantial role in this case. In particular, the scholars have concluded that toys may be gendered in three color domains: (a) gray, green, and black color is linked to masculinity traits; (b) purple and pink refers to femininity; (c) neutral and relevant to both sexes is manifested by red, yellow, white, and orange (Hull, Hull & Knopp, 2011). Although the aforementioned range of colors is generally believed to be attributed to gender or neutral groups, as discussed above, there is another controversial tendency. It has been found that with age, girls tend to play with boys’ toys, even though gender-related colors are not taken into account in this case (Hull, Hull & Knopp, 2011). It follows that color characteristics of toys, as overwhelmingly ascribed to different genders since early childhood, are insufficient features for socialization of children. To be more precise, color preferences change with time, and toys gendered with respect to this feature shift to the neutral rather than gender-specific category. Apart from that, boys’ toys are perceived as more interesting by both genders (see Figure 1), while female-gender typed ones are found to be uninteresting (Hull, Hull & Knopp, 2011). On the other hand, this aspect is irrelevant for boys as they rarely want to play with pink- or purple-colored toys linking them to girls’ stuff (Hull, Hull & Knopp, 2011). Hence, the influence of stereotypes on gendered playing is still substantial.

Gender-typed toys as children socialization tools are also distinguished in accordance with specific actions they are called to teach or, simply put, their determination. Such point is especially topical in terms of sports activities among other issues. Referring to stereotypes that dominate over public opinion, it is generally accepted that the majority of sports are male-centric. As a result, toys and attributes of sports, such as basketballs or baseball bats, are supposed to be men-related approaches to socialization through team engagement, competition, and partially even aggression with regard to certain sports (Hardin & Greer, 2009). However, far-reaching and continuous feminization of sports that is broadcasted by media and supported by numerous successes of women in the field has led to re-considering this stereotype as well. In this regard, previously perceived as solely male occupation, sports activities has shifted to a genderless paradigm, widening the scope of socialization opportunities for both genders, the frequency of which increases with age. It is due to the fact that sport-related activities involve numerous interactions with people of different genders, age, and qualification, to list a few. Such state of things enhances children’s communication and cognitive skills, develops cooperation, competition, and abilities to work in groups (Hardin & Greer, 2009).

Not less important is to mention computer games dimension with respect to gender-mediated socialization of children. Such domain is an extremely significant issue in the light of children inclusiveness in life of society as the greater part of boys and girls worldwide, if not all, spends much time online, especially teenagers. Nevertheless, this aspect of technology-centered use of gendered toys for children socialization is sufficiently overwhelmed with patriarchal implications. Even more, Jackson (n.d.), in his book review “From Barbie to Mortal Combat,” has emphasized that this industry is “both male-dominated and computer-based” (n.d., p. 2). As a result, this field is also characterized by a range of specific gender traits, strictly distinguishing males and females as potential consumers. In other words, games created for boys are often violent, involving fighting and shooting, and explicating aggressiveness among other issues. Even though the internet or computer-based approach to boys’ socialization is of notable value, it can hardly be regarded as amply positive. It rather provokes an occurrence of concerns and debates about whether this paradigm should be used at all or how the situation can be improved to result into success but not harm for children of male gender. The perspective of computer games for girls is also veiled with controversies. On the one side, the number of games developed for young females specifically is too little. On the other hand, the products offered for girls incorporate solely girlish traits. To illustrate, they are based on “central female character,” contain no aggression, “pretend playing,” and “problem-solving” (Jackson, n.d., p. 3). Thus, games for girls attempt to perpetuate stereotypical female behavior and activities of players. These factors are grounded on fashion issues, appearance, maintenance of relationships, flirting, to list a few (Jackson, n.d.; Blakemore & Centers, 2005). As a result, “boys become their toys in play; and girls take care of their toys” (Auster & Mansbach, 2012, p. 377). Consequently, this part of discussion proves that stereotypical role modeling for girls’ and boys’ socialization is traceable even through the prism of computer devices.

Gender-Typed Toys in Advertising as an Influential Socialization Domain

As it has been previously noted, media make a substantial impact on either shaping of gender behavior models through toys or socialization with regard to this issue. Television, the internet, printed advertising or video commercials are only several examples that are able to influence children’s gender relations and social behavior. In this case, it is relevant to distinguish theoretically and practically “gender as a role and gender as a display” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, pp. 126-127). The two dimensions are frequently used by marketers within the intended field in order to promote and sell their goods. Gender as a role refers to perception of natural implications of a particular gender, either male or female. Gender as a display involves the process of interaction, when specific features of a certain gender are revealed. To illustrate, Figure 2 below depicts a girl braiding a doll. It is an ordinary action for women as they “have fun dressing a girl and doing her hair” (Witt, 1997, p. 253). On the contrast, a boy who is styling another girl’s hair with a toy-dryer (see Figure 2) is a manifestation of displaying a gender role as a result of interactions with different gender.

It follows that marketers manipulate stereotypical perceptions of the viewers in line with their own marketing goals and strategies. As a consequence, united gender perceptions occur. For instance, Auster and Mansbach (2012) have defined such notions as “gender crossing” and “gender neutrality” (p. 377). The former concept involves shifting one-gender-oriented toy towards another gender’s socialization models. In this case, Figure 2 may be used as an example as well since the boy playing with seemingly girl-like beauty set is a bright contradiction of traditional comprehension of masculinity features. Gender neutrality is explained as positioning and perceptions of toys as appropriate for both genders along with available distinctive features relevant to a specific either male or female gender-typed toy group. Particularly, Figure 3 demonstrates a boy playing with fluffy dogs. First, the pets are pink, with bright pink bows. Such circumstance evidences girl-related characteristics of gender-typed toys. Second, the scholars, such as Witt (1997) and Burton (2009), have proved that boys do not like to play with animal toys as this is a prerogative of young females. However, advertisers tend to expand the scope of their market segmentation and consumer base. Therefore, they choose a non-traditional and anti-stereotypical positioning of their goods.

Needless to state that media in general and advertisements in particular are influential agents of children socialization as boys and girls are substantially manipulated by these modes and sometimes even addicted to viewing of their content. The abovementioned examples refer to genderless perceptions of toys depicted and can be boldly called a way to overcoming stereotypical prejudices regarding gender. Basically, “previously gender-typed activities, if modeled often enough by men and women, eventually confer neutrality on them” (Hardin & Greer, 2009). Such approach is connected to equality with respect to neutral-gender toy choice, which enhances young male and female socialization without actually emphasizing any gender dominance or superiority.


Drawing upon the above analysis, it is to be stressed that, in majority of cases, toys are distinguished into two gender groups in accordance with existing stereotypes within society. Such generally accepted division comes from such important domains of human life as family, peers, relatives, and media sources, to name a few. All of them notably impact the process of children socialization during their gendered childhood. Specifically chosen toys for boys and girls allow them to cognize adult world through adoption of gender-typed role models. Traditionally, sons are encouraged to play with boys in masculinity games, while girls are taught girlish activities. The entire process involves not only domestic issues, but even influences curriculum activities and academic achievements of children of a particular gender.

There is one sufficient concern in the discussion on the topic, which relates to implications of patriarchal prejudices within different dimensions of gendered-toy socialization of children. To be more precise, these manifestations of inequity are especially evident with regard to currently the most popular toy paradigm: computing. In this case, male superiority as a targeted audience is too evident. Nonetheless, Brenda Laurel, a girls’ computer games designer, has aptly noted, “if you want to make a difference in a major way, you have to do it at the level of popular culture” (Jackson, n.d., p. 45). Therefore, this factor has to be thoroughly considered by both scholars and practitioners to equalize socialization of boys and girls through computer-mediated dimension. Such paradigm offers an array of opportunities to ensure a comprehensive development of any person, regardless of gender. Thus, this aspect has to be holistically approached by the researchers.

Apart from that, the androgynous instead of gender-free approach should be considered when developing gender-typed toy socialization strategies of children development. It means that parents ought to allow their sons and daughters to experiment with gender roles, rather than strictly demand following what they propose or have to do in accordance with generally accepted social rules and norms. On the other hand, eliminating gender-related traits with regard to previously gender-typed activities would be unfavorable as well. In this case, children would be confused and would not understand distinguishing characteristics and values of femininity and masculinity and their various layers.

With respect to media representation of gendered toys and children socialization, it varies in line with market demands and competitive positioning of this or another firm on the market. Of course, referring to gender neutrality in its entirety as a central concept is winning for businesses as this factor is linked to a wider scope of potential consumers. Nonetheless, it is relevant to underline an earlier considered androgynous angle or cross gendering rather than neutrality. Such issue concerns a broader range of opportunities to learn from different genders rather than disregard the most salient gender-typed attributes. In other words, both males and females have something to learn from each other. For instance, girls may be more constructive, while boys can be more creative or emotional. Thus, media, especially advertising field, have to regard educative aspect prior to solely money-making and winning market shares.


Therefore, the paper has argued about the evolution of toy-focused “gendered childhood” as a means of stereotyping of children’s behavior and its impact on their socialization process. It has been clarified that in majority of cases, both young males and females tend to interact with society and its members in a way they perceive from the outside world through the parents, peers, or media. In accordance with contemporary redistribution of gender roles, girls are taught to be housekeepers, and boys tend to adapt to a role of breadwinners. Further, such behavior impacts children’s engagement with different activities that are mediated through gendered toys among other issues. For instance, it has been asserted that gender-typed toys facilitate children’s learning capabilities. Since boys tend to play with toy-cars or blocks, they are more likely to be successful mathematics or technical disciplines. Whereas girls enjoy taking care of their dolls or imitating cooking activities, they enhance their emotional state and would probably be good performers in humanities.

Stereotypes regarding the issue in question have incorporated even color of toys (e.g. pink for girls, blue for boys) as well as their functionality measures. However, this aspect is grounded sufficiently on the overall male-dominance perspective. Moreover, there characteristics are temporary attributes of children’s socialization. To illustrate, significance of color perception of toys as either for boys or girls decreases with age. Additionally, while becoming older, girls prefer to play with boys’ toys as they perceive them more interesting, but this trend is not two-sided.

Media and advertising of toys may present gender-related items within several paradigms, involving traditional or stereotypical, cross-gender or gender-neutral vision. such circumstance is followed to ensure a broader scope of potential consumers. Nevertheless, such an approach should not be set as a priority, and diversity or androgynous framework ought to be supported instead, allowing a more comprehensive development and socialization of different-gender children.

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