Stereotypes of women in toys

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I was shopping for my goddaughter’s Christmas present the other day when I stopped to write her mom an email. “Why are all the ‘girls’ toys geared toward cleaning, childcare and looking attractive while doing it?” I wrote to her, fuming over the injustice of it all.

She wrote back, “Yeah but it’s not just kids toys. What about TV commercials? Most if not all cleaning/laundry/cooking commercials feature a woman.”

And when I thought about it, it totally made sense. If aliens crash-landed on our planet, not knowing anything about humans, and we let them make judgments about our species based solely on television commercials, they would think all females were thin and gorgeous and that our primary occupations were cleaning, laundry, serving our children meals, grocery shopping, having our periods while jumping in the middle of a meadow in slow motion, and modeling sexy underwear while making weird faces in a dark room with flashing lights.

My goddaughter is a big-time girly girl. She loves Disney princesses, playing dress-up, and caring for her baby dolls. So I began to wonder, how much of her “girliness” is innate, and how much of it is influenced by television commercials and toy manufacturers ideas of the things she should like? For that matter, not just my goddaughter, but all little girls?

I decided to do some research and stumbled across a study that was conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) where researchers examined 100 toys that were classified as either masculine, feminine or gender neutral. What they discovered was really interesting – toys classified as feminine were more closely related to physical appearance, nurturing, and domestic skills. So…looking pretty while taking care of a baby and vacuuming?

Even more interesting, toys they classified as “gender neutral” or “moderately masculine” were found to be more educational and a better choice if you are interesting in developing your children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills.

I’m not saying we should take away all the dress-up clothes, baby dolls and play cleaning supplies (yes they sell those) from all the girls in America. But maybe we should pay a little closer attention to what messages those toys are sending and perhaps throw in a few toys that focus on qualities that aren’t so gender-biased.

I ended up getting my goddaughter a “gender-neutral” arts-and-craft set that she can travel with in the car. If she wants to be a princess that is OK – but I want to make sure she knows it’s OK if she wants to be an artist or builder or sculpter as well.