Gender roles are taught to us early on in our lives. At the hospital, when babies are newly born they are wrapped up in either a pink or blue blanket depending on the sex of the child. As early as our first few moments in the world, we are inundated by ideas of what it means to be a girl or a boy. Learning about gender roles is an important aspect of a child’s socialization. Ideas about masculinity and femininity can come from a variety of sources - parents, media, the school system and so much more. However, certainly a subject less discussed, toys also play a huge role in introducing gender roles to children. A great example of this comes from the Toys “R” Us website. On this website, consumers can search for toys by gender. This kind of categorization of toys based on sex has become quite controversial over the last decade. Where does this notion of associating pink with girls and blue with boys come from? Why is Barbie considered a girls toy and Lego considered a boys toy? This essay will discuss how toy manufacturers reflect gender stereotypes through design and advertising of toys and how these gendered toys impact socialization. It is important to understand how toys perpetuate sex role stereotypes in order to become better informed consumers in a convoluted, ad-centric world.
Gender Marketing by Color
The most visually obvious way that toy manufacturers advertise girl and boy toys is through color. According to a study by Auster & Mansbach (2012), “color palette… is an important aspect of gendered learning that allows children to begin to associate objects, including toys, with one gender or the other”. No secret to toy marketers, this fact is an integral piece of knowledge for toy manufactures and directly impacts the way they design and package toys. In research, Auster & Mansbach (2012) discovered that “pastel colored toys” were marketed heavily toward girls and “bright or neon” colored toys were marketed towards boys. It is interesting to note that lighter, weaker colors are marketed to girls and strong, bold colors are marketed towards boys. Could this be a reflection of the historically controversial belief that men are stronger and more dominant than women? A good way to see this kind of gender marketing of colors is to visit Toys ‘R’ Us in-store. Immediately visible is the separation of girl and boy toys by color. The girls section is decorated with pink and purple signs, while the boys section in blue and red.
Defining ‘Boy Toys’ and ‘Girl Toys’ From a Marketers Perspective
Girl Toys. There are quite a few differences between the types of toys targeted to girls and boys. A lot of these gendered toys reflect underlying cultural stereotypes of the sexes. When visiting the Toys ‘R’ Us website online, one is able to conduct a search for ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys. Therefore, I decided to do a general search for girl toys. The first toy that came up was a Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner – a toy made by a company called Just Like Home. It is...