The Psych Behind “Gendered” Children’s Toys

As soon as a child enters the toy department of almost any store, ideas and standards of their gender are immediately and unconsciously being absorbed into their developing minds.  Take, for example, the fact that most boys’ toys are colored blue, while most girls’ toys are colored pink.  This gives kids the impression that only certain toys and games are okay for them to use.

Toys that are generally marketed towards young boys have the implication that there is a certain way a boy should look and act.  For example, action figures and toy weapons teach boys that they need to be abnormally strong and self-reliant. They teach boys that they are not allowed to be soft and that it is important to mask their emotions.  On the other hand, girls are given the idea that they are not supposed to be strong and self-sufficient.  Instead, by offering girls makeup kits and baby dolls dressed in pink, they are forced to fit into the stereotypical notion that a female’s main goal in life is being able to look good enough to find a reasonable suitor to raise a child with.  By gender stereotyping toys, children are forced to believe that there is only one way that they can act.  If they step outside the norm, they risk being bullied or being seen as if they  have something wrong with them.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.58.30 PM

“Tag or be tagged in this intense, real-life lazer combat game! The complete 2-player system includes 2 Phoenix LTX taggers that register hits with lights, sounds and vibrations for thrilling minute-to-minute action! The rumble pack lets you  know when you’ve been hit, while the recoil feature engages with every shot fired. Invite your friends to join you in multi-player modes and watch your back if you don’t want to get tagged!”—The “Nerf Lazer Tag Phoenix LTX Tagger” is one of the top-selling toys for boys.  The fact that it is blue and modeled after a weapon are two unmistakable clues telling you that this toy is intended to be used by young boys.  This reinforces the idea stated earlier that “boys are not allowed to be soft;” that they need guns and weapons to feel strong. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.58.43 PM“The perfect pretend makeup set – with all of the essentials! You won’t believe how realistic this fake makeup looks. With vibrant shades and a realistic texture this set is sure to please your little girl. And like all Little Cosmetics products, the makeup is completely fake and absolutely mess free! Little Cosmetics is quality pretend makeup that looks and feels realistic…Little Cosmetics is fake, toy makeup intended for creative play.” —As of so far, the “Little Cosmetics Pretend Makeup Essential Set” is one of the top selling toys for girls.  This is clearly a girl’s toy for two very obvious reasons: one, it is pink and two, it is a beauty product. I believe this gives girls the idea that they need to wear make up to in order to fit society’s definition of beautiful.

Without some people maybe even realizing it, gender stereotyped toys inadvertently promote fears of homosexuality and/or transsexuality.  For example, there is a common belief that boys can not play role playing games like “house” or use toy kitchen sets for the fear of being called a “sissy” by his fellow peers.  Likewise, society tells little girls that it is wrong for them to play with toy weapons or construction sets.  The idea that if a child plays with a toy that is not directed towards his or her gender, he or she may grow up to lead a homosexual or transsexual lifestyle, reinforces the idea that children who do not abide by the societal gender roles are outcasts in society—which is just wrong.

Work Cited:

I would like to thank Rachel Fredette for providing with me the information needed to write this paper.

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  1. I love the concept behind this article, a wonderful idea but I think it could definitely go further in depth with the topic. I think you choses some wonderful examples for showing the differences between traditionally male and female toys.

    I think the article could greatly benefit however from going further into the effects on these toys on child development. There was a fantastic article done by The Guardian exploring this that I’ll link below.

    The points brought up about how the breaking of these stereotypes could lead to harmful bulling, but the reinforcement of them having the possibility of promoting homo and or transphobic ideals was very interesting and I think could be a very compelling investigation of the doubled edge sword nature of this issue if further explored.

    Finally I do think it would still be important to bring up some of the pros that can be gained from the removal of these stereo types i.e. helping boys learn helping boys learn earlier about how to care for others via doll play. That would of course require some further research.

    Overall some huge potation behind this article that I would love to see brought to fruition. Still a wonderful read, I would love to see this topic revisited in the future.

  2. I recently took a class in child psychology and one of the studies we learned of was about the role of biology in children’s toy preferences. A group of monkeys was given the choice to play with more “masculine” or “feminine” toys. Surprisingly, the male monkeys spent more time playing with “masculine” toys while the female monkeys spent more time playing with “feminine” toys. Also, the female monkeys were more likely to play with both types of toys than the males were (much like with children, it is more common to see a girl playing with “boy” toys than a boy playing with “girl” toys). Because monkeys aren’t exposed to the same social factors as humans, it could be argued that there are biological factors that influence gender identity and toy choice. Maybe it isn’t just about parents or peers influencing the child’s developing mind. Even though the pressure to conform to gender roles in society are undeniably strong, it’s interesting to think that it may not be the complete reason young children seem to prefer to play with certain toys.

    With that being said, I agree with this article and how wrong it is to put this much pressure on children to be interested in certain things and to play certain ways. Play should be a time where children can express themselves and have fun without having to worry about being ridiculed.


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