Gender stereotypes woven into language of toy ads


Crystal transcribed a number of "boys'" and "girls'" toy commercials and made word-clouds out of the result. The difference is stark and immediately visible.

Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes (Thanks, Alice!)

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  1. Would the toy corporations make more money by gender scrubbing their ads? Showing both boys and girls playing with every toy? I guess I’m wondering whether this is deliberate or just the best way to make the most money by segmenting the market. I suppose the action items could be segmented towards both boys and girls who prefer action ultimate battle force type toys and similarly in the party family happy time toy area. But if this is the best way to segment the market, it just is.

  2. Our first few kids grew up playing mostly with themselves since they didn’t speak the local language yet. They created their imaginary play lands by themselves based on what they liked. They were allowed a few leapfrog reading and math videos a month since I don’t like video brain death, I consider leapfrog pretty gender neutral.
    Brother land had dinosaurs and volcanoes and swords, bows, arrows, armor, slingshots, and spears. Princess land had bunnies and baby goats and other soft pink things. We tried to curb the violence play with the boys but the kids would bring home sticks and rocks and make stuff, who can stop them? We were shocked with my wife being the rock climbing girlscout leader tomboy to get a pretty pink princess with no outside encouragement.

  3. I don’t think the message is all that clear. Notice that ‘killer-boots’ appears on the girl’s list!

    1. If you think that makes the message unclear, you don’t know what “killer boots” are. That means boots that are to-die-for, from a fashion standpoint. It’s current fashion mag lingo.

      –K

  4. What criteria did she use to evaluate whether the ad was “boy” or “girl”? Hopefully not the content of the ad, because then the argument simply begs the question. This study seems to simply show me what Crystal’s gender stereotypes are.

    1. Do kids toy adverts still always depict children playing with the toys at some point? If so, you can just judge it by whether boys or girls appear in the advert.

    2. If you read the comments on the post, she explains how she decided which were girls’ and boys’ toys. They are sold in either the girls or boys section of the Toys R Us catalog, the TV ads feature either only girls or only boys playing with the toys, and the narrator of the ads is male for the boys and female for the girls. So, nothing to do with the content except for the gender of the children shown in the ad.

      Also, this makes me sad.

    3. Fran, I would guess by WHO is shown in the commercial playing with the toys. I understand what you’re trying to get at, but seriously, it’s pretty obvious who they’re trying to market the toys to in any given commercial.

  5. Go gender scrub yourself. Boys are boys, girls are girls, and vive le difference. (Or not, which is also hot).

    1. It’s not that boys and girls are different. It’s what we do with those differences. We value males over females, and this valuing begins with the messages we receive as small children, progressing into adulthood where women are still paid less than men are even for the same types of positions. If we ignore how you and I play into this, how can we continue to make progress towards social equality? No one denies girls and boys are different, but we hate to talk about what we’ve made of those differences.

  6. Modern marketing is psychological warfare on the populace. It is incredibly sophisticated and way more mentally invasive than people seem to want to admit. It is literally designed to make the viewer unhappy.

    I cannot imagine why people expose their children to it on a regular basis.

    1. Modern marketing is psychological warfare on the populace. It is incredibly sophisticated and way more mentally invasive than people seem to want to admit. It is literally designed to make the viewer unhappy. I cannot imagine why people expose their children to it on a regular basis.

      Agreed. I think many of the corporatist marketers are actually sociopathic. The great documentary The Corporation goes into this quite a bit (that link goes to the part on children). The way they go after children without much of any regard for their well being is sick.

      And, yes, exposing children to these sociopathic wolves without parental guidance is stupid. I honestly believe this sort of previous exposure has helped to create dunces and fools we deal with in society today like tea baggers and other idiots.

  7. My mother bought me a baby’s pushchair when I was about 2, in an attempt to challenge gender stereotypes. She said I loved it, and my favourite thing to do with it was smashing it against the wall repeatedly.

    Perhaps people ought to consider that toy companies don’t make any profit from ‘reinforcing gender stereotypes’ and instead rely on something called ‘making something that children want their parents to buy for them’. It just so happens that most girls like perfect magic fashion babies and most boys like ultimate battle stealth heroes.

    1. It would be more accurate to say that toy manufacturers make toys that research says will be popular with a large percentage of their target market, and then they spend millions of dollars on advertising to convince even more of their target market that this is the toy that they must have to be happy.

      I can’t help but think that the corporations’ segmenting of their markets, and the way they speak to that audience, leads to consumers self-identifying as that particular market. And thus the feeedback loop is established, and the stereotypes are perpetuated.

  8. If those word clouds really reflect what appeals to each gender then I think we need to lock up all the boys.

    But I kinda doubt it.

    It probably reflects what parents are willing to buy for their sons and daughters. I remember as a child how desperately I wanted a gun and holster set, or a bow and arrows, all of which my parents refused to get me. Yet I still have pictures of my 6 year old MALE cousin with a holster and a REAL gun. No, he didn’t kill anyone with it. But I wasn’t allowed to even target shoot till I was in college and my mother kept giving me dolls, dolls!, which I always hated. I think to a large extent it is parents that force their kids into these gender stereotypes. I read a poll once that showed that something like 98% of boys wanted toy weapons, but so did 89% of girls. So when you see these little girls on TV, dressed like whores, concerned only with fashion, look to the parents.

  9. check out Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine if you’re interested in further information on this debate.

    “Delusions of Gender takes on that tricky question, Why exactly are men from Mars and women from Venus?, and eviscerates both the neuroscientists who claim to have found the answers and the popularizers who take their findings and run with them. … What all this adds up to, she says, is neurosexism. It’s all in the brain. But Dr. Fine persuasively argues that it is, in fact, all in the mind. … Dr. Fine’s research is well documented, with 82 pages of footnotes. … [R]ead this book and see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is.”

    New York Times

  10. I don’t necessarily get the message here that gender stereotypes should be blurred or equalized, but it sure does make you wonder if the differences ought to be what they are, namely the two halves of the sado-masochistic relationship. What a load of baggage to expose the little ones to.

    Also, “mommy” jumped out at me on the girl’s cloud, but I couldn’t find “daddy”, “dad” or “father” anywhere in the boy’s cloud. I had an awesome father, so that kinda makes me sad.

  11. On a related note, I’ve long since wondered why parents differentiate between what’s acceptable for their little boys versus girls.

    For example, I know several guys at work who’re just as proud as can be that their very young sons are quite adept at performing efficient killshots in first-person shooter games. But would any of these Dads be equally proud of their little daughters being just as skillfull at shedding virtual blood? I’d bet not.

    (I find it altogether reprehensible that parents allow and encourage children to engage in ultra-violent, hyper-realistic video games, regardless of gender, but that’s another rant for another time.)

  12. That’s completely terrifying.

    We didn’t have a tv when I was growing up, and I played at Knights of the Round Table, football, Robin Hood, build-a-fort, etc. with my brothers, and so did my sisters. It makes me wonder just how influential these ads are in shaping the minds of our kids to what they’re “supposed” to want, especially when their parents reinforce it by purchasing such heavily gender-coded toys.

    If my daughter tells me she wants to be a princess, I’ll support her in that…but remind her to take her battle axe with her, in case she encounters any pesky dragons.

  13. Manufactured outrage failure? I don’t think the first 13 comments were what the blogger envisioned them to be.

  14. I’m a lot more bothered by the fetishization of military might than the whole gender thing.

  15. I’d like to point out that this applies to the market in the US, and it is not necessarily applicable to the entire world. Basically, the US is training soldiers from the crib.

  16. HA!

    You’re telling me that “water” appears more often then “robots” for boy’s toys?

    Imposserus.

    I mean, even if you look at the toys selected:

    Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Nerf, Bakugan, Beyblades, and Kung Zhu.

    Nerf does not mean Nerf basketball most times. It means Nerf guns.
    Bakugan is a battle manga, made into a battle game.
    Beyblades is a game with combat tops based on the historical beigoma tops of Japan.
    I have NO idea what Kung Zhu is, but I’m voting it’s fighting.

    Make 80% of the ads selected about head to head competition and, yeah, battle and power are gonna come up.

  17. I had Meccano as a kid, that was a great toy. I don’t see “engineering” appear in the boys list anywhere.

    It was the old-fashioned Meccano too, not what it became in the 80s, as it was from the 1950s. So metal, not plastic. I’d inherited it from my mother.

    Yes my mother. My grandfather was cool. He used to give my older sister electronics kits as a present (because she liked them)

  18. This topic is not particularly important to me, but I’m glad to see the link to the word cloud generator, which I stumbled across sometime last year but have been unable to locate since. A couple years worth of facebook postings is a great corpus. Also works of classic literature. You see people really do have favorite words and turns of phrases.

  19. Anyone who doubts the methodology or findings can easily replicate this study. I find it’s easy to argue that someone’s results are invalid, but this is research we can do ourselves. Why not give it a try?

  20. I am glad my father was as cool as he was. He bought this spoiled little girl Erector sets, kits for building my own shortwave and wide band receivers, a chemistry set, a telescope, a real lab quality microscope, a fishing pole, tons of Star Wars guys (and the Millennium Falcon, which I still have), pocketknives, and my own hatchet with a leather holster. I made my first catapult when I was 8. It was awesome. He was awesome. :)

  21. Hey, I’d rather buy ultimate-action rapid stealth-power battle heroes than magic love-hair-style friendship-girl fun-fashion mommy babies.

    After writing that I think I lost all hope for humanity and no longer like boys or girls.

  22. I am a human of the penis-having variety and I played with dolls growing up… and still have a sizable toy, doll, and figure collection to this day… but I still never really feel like I’m on the same side as these ‘let’s challenge gender roles’ people.

    At what point are we supposed to breath easy and draw the line? When there’s some sort of sex-organless-uni-gender that doesn’t like make up, princesses, robots, dinosaurs or guns?

  23. I recommend that Crystal go and make a “ultimate action special-forces battle power hero” toy and try to sell it to little girls, and then make a “magic mommy glam style love babies” and try to sell it to little boys.

    My guess is that her sales are going to be in the single digits, and beyond the parent factor, not a whole lot of little boys are going to be nagging their parents for the love babies and not a lot of little girls are going to be nagging their parents for the battle power hero

    /omg boys and girls are different
    //everybody panic
    ///somehow the fact that 1/1000 little girls will like GI Joe and 1/1000 little boys will like Barbie suddenly means that all gender differences are instilled in us culturally by our society and shame, shame on us.

  24. Keep in mind: this graphic was created using a very selective, small set of TV promoted toys, that’s all. So right off, most toys are not included, only a few that are “tv promotable” which explains the results.

    You also have to understand how toy marketing works. Toy marketers don’t waste money advertising toys on TV that won’t sell significantly more: you won’t find any ads for checkers or chess sets or American Girlâ„¢ dolls, or craft kits or any number of other things that boys or girls, or boys AND girls both like, and that parents will buy. This graphic is just showing TV ads for the kind of toys that work on TV. Very skewed and exaggerated, by design.

    In a 30 second TV ad there is no time or room for subtly. They are out to generate toy sales (or cereal, or candy, or lately, shoes (Sketchers!). Manipulative?, sure–that’s what advertising is.

    Is it fair to advertise to kids at all in the first place? Good question.

    That’s been a debate or a long time. There’s a famous argument made that by mass-producing toys (plastic!) and by mass-marketing them (TV!), the consumer (mom and kids) gets a far greater selection of toys and far more value (actually LOWER toy prices). All true, and very much the “American way.” We’re free to buy gas-guzzling pick up trucks and have guns and read whatever you like and watch whatever TV the free marketplace will produce. That’$ America. You (and everybody else’s purchasing power) decide.

  25. Look how big “fun” is in the girls’ cloud. Now try to find it in the boys’.

    It’s not there. Boys are not targeted for fun. Beyond how disturbing all the gender essentialism is, I find this incredibly weird.

    1. It’s because we boys were only concerned with our NINJA BATTLE ARMOR STEALTH POWER VEHICLE being able to TRANSFORM to the DEFEAT the ROBOTS and COMPLETE the MISSION. It’s the ULTIMATE in RAPID FIRE HIT LAUNCH TAKEDOWN! Being one of the HEROES is what’s fun. We don’t need an announcer to tell us that. Also, the six-year-old in me now wants this toy, whatever it is.

    2. That’s because girls’ toys are all so lame they have to tell you “IT’S FUN!!!” in big flashing letters. It goes without saying that Ultimate Battle Power Heroes are fun. Duh.

  26. Free market, and there isn’t anything wrong with boys playing with dolls or girls playing with jeeps. Take your homophobia back to Moscow.

  27. If I gave my 6 year old boy an easy bake oven he would weaponize it within minutes, as he has done with almost everything else. I don’t preselect those toys for him, but I don’t bar him from them either, and they are definitely what he wants.

    Chicken and egg. Marketers focus on what sells – their job is not to form gender identities, it is to sell product. They test and retest these things, and the above stuff is what sells. I have trouble blaming the marketers.

    1. Anonymous/#45 wins the thread. Since we can’t credit your BoingBoing account directly, please contact Cory within 72 hours to claim your prize. Otherwise all winnings will be donated to the BoingBoing username of Cory’s choosing.

  28. This is sooo the tail wagging the dog. Taking my own gender as an example, here are a few games I enjoyed while I was young:

    Cowboys and Indians
    Cops and Robbers
    Airwolf (one of us got to be Air Wolf, and hunted down all the ‘baddies’
    Streethawk (see above, but with motorbike noises)

    See a pattern there? Not much in the way of Magic or cute going on…

    These arent’t stereotypes inposed upon a helpless population, they’re selling things to boys that boys will like, and things to girls that girls will like.
    The sexes are different, and I for one am rather glad of it!

    1. #46 gets it. Women are born only liking fashion and having the perfect pair of boots and hair and nails! Boys just love to kill everything and like pretending to have all cool jobs which girls would never want…

      Yeah I don’t think you get how little children know about the world and their place in it and take in what ever they can to figure it out.

      A few decades ago girl toys were designed to mimic being a mother and doing house work like doing dishes and vacuuming. Now it all seems to be about creepy sexualized dolls and glamorizing. Yep instead of telling them what they should like I guess girls have just evolved in the last 30 years.

  29. Contrary to folk sociology and the ever-present, “my child was never socialized and still loves pink princesses/camo gun trucks”:

    1) we swim in gender contexts from the moment we have any conscious perception.
    See Sandra Bem (1989). Genital knowledge and gender constancy in preschool children.

    2) the existence of “princess girls” is asserted as if non-princess girls don’t exist, or that the number of princess girls at any given time can’t fluctuate, in direct relation to the socio-linguistic context.

    Furthermore, the whole ‘sexes are different! accept it!’ narrative that drives so much of this dismissive sentiment is, in fact, not all that true.

    See Hyde, JS. “The gender similarities hypothesis.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16173891

    Shorter Hyde: Contrary to dominant popular beliefs about entrenched differences in attributes between the sexes, in fact, for almost all measured attributes, the variance among a sex is far greater than that between the sexes. The differences between sexes take on far more symbolic weight than they should (and thus serve a different purpose than “merely reflecting reality”), given that the similarities between sexes far outweigh the differences.

  30. Well, it seems that the transcriber is the one deciding which words are for boys and which ones are for girls. All we are seeing is which words Crystal thinks are for boys or girls.

  31. There are a few comments that seems to suggest that just because boys and girls are already treating toys differently or having different preferences at early ages, that it has to be something they were born with. This just isn’t the case. I certainly think there are gender differences in some things, but this is one of those areas where culture has an early impact. Even from birth people treat boys and girls differently — being more willing to play rough and tumble with boys, but speaking more with little girls and treating them more softly.

  32. Who… cares??

    Boys and girls are different. Of course you are going to market to them differently. Sure, there is a cross pollination of interests, and some who don’t fit any mold, but I don’t know why one wouldn’t market to the majority.

  33. It may well be that kids come out of the chute pre-wired for certain gender bias’, but parents don’t have to cater to (and encourage) those socially-accepted default.

    My brother & I had the old classic 12″ G.I. Joe action figures and we played with those cool dudes in much the same way as girls play with dolls. We accessorized and re-dressed them constantly. They went on grand adventures. Little of the playtime with them centered around them being of military origin – honestly, I had no idea that they were soldiers until I was long past childhood. So, boys can certainly play with dolls.

    Likewise, little girls can be encouraged to play with tactile toys. No offense intended, but if you’re only encouraging your little girl to be a princess, you’re not preparing her for a self-sufficient life. For gosh sakes, little girls aren’t porcelein dolls to be dressed up and treated like delicate, fragile little decorations – they need to get dirty, skin up their knees, and do all of the hands-on things that sdturdy little boys do.

  34. I agree that children are engaged in a gendered world from the moment they are born and that their attempts to form their own gender identities are influenced from infancy by everything they see around them and the roles that are being modeled for them, which probably plays a large part in the “girls like princesses, boys like battle” divide that manifests around age 4-5. Far more disturbing to me, though, are the divides like power vs. perfect/ love vs. heroes that clearly play into the psyche from childhood to adulthood. I don’t see may people making (or sustaining) the argument that women are naturally less powerful, yet more perfect or that girls are more naturally interested in love and less in being a hero. Yet, we see how these messages play out in women’s neuroses about being (and looking) perfect from a young age or prepubescent girls being obsessed with love relationships (e.g. getting the perfect boyfriend). I’m sure parallel comments could be made for boys (although being told you are powerful and heroic may be less traumatic for young boys- until they become adults and realize that they aren’t).

  35. All ethical implications of the content aside, children´s toys commercials should be generally prohibited, i.m.o. The manipulation is just too easy and shameless.

    1. I feel that way too, and if/when I have kids I will probably shield them from advertising (that’s the *only* thing I think kids should be shielded from, mind you).

      However, thinking to my own childhood, there were some major life lessons that I learned as a direct result of advertisements. Everyone goes through the same thing, and those that don’t are life-long suckers (one’s born every minute). The lesson you learn from advertising is that advertisers lie. You see something advertised that sounds awesome, you beg your parents or save up your hard-earned money to buy it, and then it’s a huge disappointment (and you can’t return it for a refund).

      If I shield my kids from advertising, will they learn that lesson? Probably, but possibly much later in life, which means larger amounts of money are potentially at stake. To a 10-year-old, $20 is tons of money (at least it was when I was 10), and the psychological impact of losing it to misleading advertising is much greater – but the stakes in reality are quite low.

      So, it’s a tough question. Advertising aimed at kids is vile, but it’s also quite educational, from a certain point of view.

  36. I dispair. I managed to steer my daughter away from pink pink and more fucking pink by talking about how ubiquitous it is, and how always choosing pink stuff limits your options. She took this idea and ran with it. She now hates pink/purple/glitter because in her opinion that is what all the boring people without a clue chose.

    I have swapped pink princess for hipster, I don’t know what is worse.

  37. I don’t know. The prize is just gonna be some banana thing. I guess it’s the winning that counts.

  38. I really wish I could get high resolution images (or a vector graphic version) because I would really love to get that printed on a t-shirt.

  39. This is rather stark, but I’m not sure it’s fair to chalk it all up to sexism. They do it because it sells. Maybe it shouldn’t, maybe it’s due to a culturally ingrained bias, maybe it’s because we don’t give them an option, but it does sell.

    It’s possible that little boys play with trucks and guns because little boys like trucks and guns, and little girls play with dolls because they like dolls. It doesn’t justify painting everything in the universe pink and covering it with glitter but at some point we need to let kids do as they please. Even if they please to reinforce gender stereotypes.

    A kid doesn’t want to change the world. A kid just wants to play.

  40. The real interesting thing here is not the wordclouds – which are not terribly surprising – but the anger that people are revealing in their responses.

  41. Not surprising, no, but good data, especially to use over time to monitor change. If we had a similar cloud from five years past and then have another one five years hence, we can see precisely how gender scripts change and then argue even more persuasively that gendered behavior is most definitely under the sway of very powerful social forces, EVEN as there are seemingly inherent proclivities toward different gender expressions.

    The idea that words and culture don’t “do” anything, that they merely “reflect reality” as opposed to “shape reality” is so entrenched that any threat to that theory brings immediate and swift retribution.

    The irony is that if gender differences are indeed so unbelievably stark, why do people care so much when others bemoan or deny that ‘fact’ or dare to suggest that these differences are socially constructed? I would think the anger would be replaced by bemusement, the feeling one would get while watching someone yell at the geese for flying south in winter. But that’s not the reaction.

    If language and culture didn’t fundamentally shape behavior – why would companies advertise? Advertisements are nothing but language / images influencing behavior. That they would influence gender shaped behavior is seemingly undeniable. Yet… it’s as if Cory was arguing that all butches must now be femme and vice versa.

  42. Fine. “Boyish” is this and “girlish” is that, but how about letting kids think it’s okay to be a bit of both. Make ads with boys doing glitter and girls battling dragons. Doesn’t matter, really, as long as everyone knows that NOBODY fits these templates completely.

  43. If there were a ban on conflict related toys and all children were shielded from the concept of violence, boys would pick up sticks and go “pew pew pew” at each other. They’re hardwired for it. My friends have a little girl that has never been in a chain store, never watched a TV, and she is a princess through and through. They have no idea where she got it from. Her deepest desire is to always wear pink and carry a sparkley wand (that she made herself) at all times. It’s genetic.

    1. My daughters all went through the sparkly princess stage. It doesn’t stick around for long if you don’t actively support it, fortunately. The “picking up of sticks and going ‘pew pew pew’ at each other”, on the other hand, started sooner and has never gone away.

      No one would accuse them of being “hardwired” like boys. They’re hardwired like HUMANS.

  44. Who knew there were so many “gender wolf children” – i.e. children who have NEVER had ANY gender influences touch their primal sensory organs whatsoever?

    Game, set, match – gender essentialists!

  45. My son used to carry around a baby doll which was his baby, and he protected it by building all kinds of weaponry out of any stick-shaped objects he could find. It was really quite touching.

    When he took his doll outside, though, he would get all kinds of weird looks. I think he kind of realized that it wasn’t cool for a boy to play with a doll, and he abandoned it.

    The point is, everyone should play with whatever damned toy they want: play is satisfying/stimulating some kind of intellectual development drive.

    There’s a balance which advertisers should maintain: sure, you can market something for a particular gender. But the kinds of commercials which plead that this particular toy is an inherent and necessary part of boyhood/girlhood etc. is obviously being very manipulative.

  46. Has someone gone, “So? Boys and girls are different! What’s your point!?!?!!” yet? Yes? Many, many times? Okay, I guess there’s nothing more to learn here, I’ll shut my curiosity down, now.

  47. Gender stereotypes?

    This just in. Males and females really ARE different in many ways.

    And marketing is different depending what audience you are appealing to. This not only goes for gender but age group, ethnic or national origin, etc.

    This is what advertising departments do. They target an audience and try to appeal to them. Rest assured both of those montages represent what actually appeals to the majority of male and female children. Marketing departments don’t care about political correctness. They only care about what sells, because if they don’t sell their companies don’t make money.

  48. The question is who determined whether something was a boy or girl toy? If the methodology was not scientifically sound this result may only show the stereotypes of the person categorizing the ads.

  49. Something I don’t understand in this is why it all matters. This may be because I just “don’t get it”, as in the South Park episode where the kids realize they’ll never understand what it is like for a black man to be called the n-word. Maybe I “don’t get” why gender or sex matters outside of an academic context. Maybe some parts of boy or girl behavior is innate, maybe it is all cultural. Maybe toys reinforce gender roles, maybe they don’t. But why does it matter? Kids will turn out as they turn out; sometimes they fit the stereotypes and sometimes they don’t. (I’m proof of that myself.) I don’t understand this desire to engineer one’s children to be gendered in particular direction (or genderless, for that matter). Then again, I don’t have kids, so maybe that is something I would feel about differently in a different situation.

    1. I’d like to think you really didn’t get it, but I can’t help but think you’re playing willfully obtuse.

      You don’t understand that many, many children don’t fit into gender roles and suffer substantially, up to and including death, as a result? That’s why it matters, if you haven’t been paying attention to, uh, life, everywhere.

      You don’t get that the whole process of hitting children over the head with a metaphorical bat telling them precisely what the expectations are for their gender role < > already a form of engineering? You don’t understand that desiring a world where this sort of stereotyping doesn’t absolutely permeate the environment of one’s child is the precise < > of “engineering one’s children to be gendered in a particular direction”?

      Sorry I call gender ignorance bullshit and your unfrozen caveman lawyer impression, “these ideas of gender construction are just … too… complex … for me” is equally bullshit, to the point of outright callousness.

      My impression of the collective wisdom of boingboing commenters has taken a serious hit with this thread. So too my impression of the article author who couldn’t be bothered to take part.

  50. apology if double-posted…
    while i played as a girl with dolls and dumptrucks simultaneously, the ‘rough play’ part was in the narrative, which was always inspired by books and tv. so when i got into an adult conversation about Barbie and all the perverted stories we used to act out, it wasn’t long before a woman blurted, “we used to play Barbie abortion!” load that in your gun and pew-pew-pew it.

    the only toy of note i requested was one of those big Barbie styling heads, and to this day, my mother loves to complain that i never played with it; how could she understand that to me it was the perfect blend of kitsch and pagan idolatry which demanded to be worshipped by her Malibu minions? — if a tv ad were directed at seven-year-old me, it would have to include “goddess,” “she,” “leopard woman,” “freak out,” and “amazon” — not ‘glamazon.’

  51. I’m surprised by the amount of comments here that seem to be missing the point. This is a reflection of the gender segregated values that are reinforced to us, through our cultural products, in this case toys. The significant words: battle for boys, and love for girls are indisputable as powerful reinforces of what we are told is gender.
    In reality, gender is a lot more complex than what these companies are telling us, and I don’t think we should just blindly accept it, or dispute that it’s happening.

    My boy barely likes anything on that boy cloud, and I get annoyed when we walk down the toy isle, and that’s all we see. Power and big freakin trucks. What to do about it? Raise your children to dispute it. Make them aware of it. Then maybe it won’t be as outrageously gendered in 20 years time, the way it is now.

  52. I’m kind of glad my parents didn’t say to me, “Sorry, Gloria, you can’t have LEGO because you’re a girl and boys play with LEGOs and you are different from a boy. Says the internet!”

    Forget I can define my own gender just the way I want, thanks. A girl playing with soldiers isn’t “genderless.” That’s just borderline phobic language.

    Girls and boys are different, ergo, they should have segregated interests? What kind of logic leap is that? Hell, I’M different from any other girl in many different ways — does that mean we can’t share interests? I can’t expose her to different ideas or hobbies?

    All the “gender scrub” or “genderless” comments miss the point. The issue here isn’t to ensure your child is engineered towards genderlessness, but to let your child grow into whatever they want — be it a princess OR ninja (or a ninja-princess). It’s about providing an environment that promotes CHOICE and agency.

    It’s also making sure that as a parent you are nurturing interests and also challenging them to an appropriate degree. Yes, it’s healthy to let your kid “be” but it’s also healthy to make sure your kid realizes that being exposed to different ideas isn’t about engineering or brainwashing; it’s about having the luxury to make more informed choices.

    For rock-climbing parents confused that their girls love pink tutus, don’t forget peer influence, or the fact parental influence cuts the other way — you don’t think being exposed to your parents ever convinced you to make *different* choices, out of over-familiarity, boredom, or rebellion? “I already know everything I want about rock-climbing! How about some ballerinas for a change?” And vice versa.

    My boyfriend has speculated that his parents’ hardline anti-violence stance with toys only drove him harder towards video games and interest in air guns. On the other hand, I was an unrepentant bookworm despite my parents’ super-strong book slant.

  53. they do it because it taps the unconscious mind that reacts to those stimuli. exceptions abound, naturally, but generally speaking that’s how boys and girls react.

    the target informs the tactics, not the other way round. marketing wonks spend thousands on getting inside the heads of their demographic to make the most effective advertisements, whereas you lot have nothing but biased personal anecdotes. funny that, for a readership who boost themselves up on their “grokking” of science and evidence.

  54. um, OBVIOUSLY?

    now, if you were to compare wordclouds for boys’ toys and gilette razors, that would be interesting.

  55. I like how the criteria is if toy ads aren’t inventing gender divisions entirely out of whole cloth, then there’s nothing of note here.

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