Gender is a very differentiating factor when it comes to many aspects of life. What people learn from their earliest years often serves to reinforce certain gender norms that have existed for many generations. Girls and women are expected to fulfill a certain niche in society, and so are boys and men. This type of gender socialization is instituted at a very young age and tends to inform society that this is what is expected. Boys and girls are taught to embrace societal roles with toys that are designed for each specific gender.
The thought that kids are being essentially brainwashed to think one way or another is not too far off the mark. Society has practiced this type of social stratification for many generations, clinging to a faded and somewhat outdated patriarchy that continues to hold sway over much of the world. There have been recent developments in years that have led to a slight lessening of the average patriarchal society, but persistence of such a system continues to spread its influence over the lives of many, including children. Simply walking down a toy aisle can grant one the belief that sexism is still alive and well within the world.
The bright and shiny toys that are placed upon the shelves of most retail stores that carry
such items will differentiate “boy toys” from “girl toys”, only integrating those items that are
typically seen as universal between the two genders. Toys that are designed for girls will often
focus more upon care work or housekeeping. On the opposite side, toys designed for boys will
feature more blue collar-oriented themes that feed into the old stereotypes. In other words, boys
should learn skills to provide and support a family later in life while girls should learn how to tend to the home and the children. Despite the progression of the modern era the old stereotypes are still being pushed upon children.
It has been seen in the recent past that boys and girls enjoy a much wider spectrum of play. However, toy manufacturers and the retail stores they sell to still cling to the masculine and feminine aspects that continue to divide men and women, or boys and girls in this matter. The following toys make a valid case that boys and girls can enjoy many of the same toys, while others seemed specifically designed for one gender or the other.
The first toy to be described is a child’s workbench. This item features various tools and a design suited more to the type of male, blue collar worker that many young boys are expected to become in their adult years. It is seen in some cases to be gender neutral, but when photographed always features a boy to give the belief that it is a “boy” toy. This is the ideal that many young boys seem to aspire to and enjoy during their play. While many toys seem to inspire blue collar attitudes, many more have begun to emerge as white collar work and its allure becomes more prevalent in childhood play.
Next is a pleasing kitchen set that is decorated in soft colors that denotes its more
feminine appearance. This is a throwback to the generations in which a woman was expected to
be the dutiful housewife and enjoy her place as the housekeeper, the mother, and the wife. While
it is not indicative of current generations; this toy is very much geared towards the interests of
young girls thanks to its colors and design. Such a toy is considered less gender neutral thanks to
its colors, which are far lighter than the child’s workbench, which features darker and more
A toy cash register such as the one shown might have been deemed more appropriate for
a girl at one point and time. However as times have changed such a toy is considered to be truly
gender neutral as men and women alike have taken up the role of cashier and as such are
required to learn how to operate such a machine. By marketing this kind of toy manufacturers are
at the very least recognizing the need to unify boys and girls in their level of play and learning
opportunities. Toys that attract boys and girls in the same manner are better able to offer a
chance at equality and a sense of fairness in gender that might otherwise be lacking.
Toys are used to teach more than a future vocation however, as many toys are designed
with gender-specific ideas that feed into the stereotypes that surround each gender. As an example, the toy sword that is a common item within any toy aisle. The appearance of such an item often brings to mind scenes of aggression and struggle during which such an implement is useful. This is a stereotypical masculine quality that is designed to teach young boys to be tough, brave, and offers them a chance to show their more aggressive tendencies. From the color to the construction this toy says “boy”, further confirming the fact that within society and relationships, boys are supposed to be the aggressive protector.
Quite the opposite of this stereotype, the next toy featured for girls is that of a tea party set. It is elegant, colorful, and non-threatening, much as many within society would wish to see young girls emulate as they grow into young ladies. This is another extreme stereotype that paints girls as those that are far more refined and even more delicate than their male counterparts. In fact it even perpetuates the beauty myth that females are bound by, insinuating that women must be proper, ladylike, and always polished in look as well as character. This might seem stretched in regards to the myth, but the mere fact that toys are labeled as “boys” and “girls” furthers agenda of toymakers to instill very stereotypical values within society from a very young age.
The last toy to be presented is another kitchen, but one that is far more gender neutral
than those used to attract the attention of little girls. This deluxe kitchen is quite expansive and
features more neutral and even masculine colors that can be easily accepted by either gender.
While play kitchens are often marketed more to girls with softer colors and a slightly different
design, the more modern toy kitchens are being redesigned to appeal to both genders. The simplicity and style caters to both boys and girls grants a type of unity that has become a norm when looking at many play sets.
Gender norms exist in part to separate men and women in regards to their sexual orientation and specific needs. Regarding society, gender norms were to recognize and even adjust for the disparity between men and women in regards to the workplace and how each gender related to one another. People came to accept these norms, which resulted in the current dilemma of the modern age. The separation of the genders is still necessary in regards to physiology, but this is where the differences between genders end.
Children in the modern age are more likely to see their level of play as a pleasant and inclusive time in their lives. It is by the efforts of their parents or guardians that they learn to apply gender-specific attitudes and behaviors to their play. In order to inspire children of both genders to achieve their goals it is necessary to allow each child to make their own choice when deciding which toy to play with. The psychological and behavioral attitudes of boys and girls are more positive when they are allowed the choice to play with those toys that please them the most.
Society attempts to indoctrinate children through play. In this manner kids are taught how to behave and what is expected of them. Play is meant to be a learning method for children. Instead it has become a way to maintain the status quo in terms of gender stratification.