Gender stereotypes are introduced to children at a very young age through the media’s attempts at selling certain kinds of toys. Characteristics young people are expected to have are illustrated very clearly through pictures and language in commercials and websites that sell these toys. Colors and design also indicate whether certain toys were meant for boys or girls. The names of a product often allow children to recognize whether the toy was meant for them or the opposite sex. Children are beginning to learn their identity at a very young age and the toys they play with become a big part of that.
Boys are subject to violence at a very young age through toys. The popular brand Nerf advertises guns and violence very clearly to only boys. The main website offers toy selection through gender with links such as “Browse by Girl” and “Top toys for Boys” (Hasbro). The differences of these categories are quite clear as the list of girls’ toys include stuffed animals with bottles and other accessories, “get together” games, and lots of pink things, while the boys’ toys include cars, guns, action figures, and lots of blue.
These toy stereotypes can be seen all over television, the internet, and the rest of the media. Even the names of products such as Game Boy suggest if toys are appropriate or meant for boys or girls. If the product is about sports, such as Frisbee, only men will be advertised using it. “The development of athletic careers is best explained as a process of development of gender identity and status in relations to same sex peers.” (Messner 126) This development starts with these “boy toys”. If the toy is about makeup, caring, or friends it is it is displayed by young girls’ who are often wearing dresses and smiling shyly with friends. This images and words display stereotypes for children at an age when they are most vulnerable. By watching these commercials or seeing these advertisements, children become aware of the toys and want them. If they obtain them, they are learning the way society expects them to act simply through their play.
As girls play with dolls and pom-poms (even made by the popular company that makes Slinky) they learn to become passive. “Decades of research show that ‘girls’ toys’ still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood.” (Newman Chapter 4) They unconsciously learn that they are supposed to sit back and watch while the boys actively play. Girls learn that they are the care givers and are to take in the characteristics of nurturing and sensitive. They start to assume that gossip and friends is the new way of life, while boys reject these things as soon as they see the color pink.
On the other hand boys are introduced to violence and guns as being “cool”. “Boys’ toys emphasize action and adventure.” (Newman Chapter 4) Action figures with big muscles, sunglasses, and huge machine guns make up some of the most popular boys’ toys, and video games clearly meant for boys (Game Boy) are full of shooting and violence. Power and strength is displayed as an important trait to a young boy through these figures possessions and bodies. They learn that they must be tough and active. These ads sculpt the vulnerable children who play with them as they begin to learn who they are. Ultimately these toys will affect their thoughts and help to mold their views for the rest of their life.
Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. January 1990. (1990). 126.
"Nerf" Hasbro. 2004-2005. <http://www.hasbro.com/nerf/>
Newman "Chapter Four: Learning Difference".