How Toys Stereotype Children's Gender

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How Toys Stereotype Children's Gender

Children play an active role in their own and their peers' gender socialization. However, they are greatly influenced by the adult community, as represented by the institutions of family, neighborhood, school, and the media. These agents of socialization contribute to children's understanding of gender roles and expectations, and these in turn influence the toy preferences of children.

As they grow older, boys and girls differ not only in playmates but also in their preferred toys, games, and activities. The difference in regards to toy preference appears around the age of two and strengthens by the age of five, as children come under the socializing influences of peers, parents, and the media. While it is too simplistic to assume that children never like to play with toys and materials considered more appropriate for the other sex, nevertheless, there are overall patterns of preference and some commonly occurring themes specific to boys or girls. For the past 60 years, the literature on play has found distinctive patterns of gender-typed preferences in childhood toys and activities. (Campenni 121-138)

Girls' play tends to center on themes connected to domestic life and family. In many communities, girls can often be observed playing with household objects, dress-up, clothes, and dolls connected materials for creative expression. The dramatic play of young girls, even when highly imaginative, tends to be structured by goals or “scripts” with a specific sequence and outcome in mind from the onset, based on discussion and agreement. When girls start a dramatic play script in the preschool, they are upset when someone interferes and prevents them from completing the sequence of events they have agreed upon. (Cross 12-15)

The play activity of boys, in contrast, may be different in form and focus from that of girls. Boys are often found playing with transportation weapons, toys, and construction materials. They are often loud in their play, shouting out the “crash” of the car or the “swoosh” of the sword. As they grow older, boys engage in much large group competitive play, such as sports. There is a certain gender asymmetry in this, in that boys from kindergarten onward tend to be more concerned with selecting toys and activities that they consider appropriate to their sex than are girls. Boys may be quite concerned with not appearing “girl-like,” and they may closely monitor each other's play. (Jackson 139-145)

Studies have found that not only ...
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