Gendering Children Based on Toys
What kind of toy should I get for my child is the question of every parent? Should the toy be masculine representing a superhero, or should it be feminine, representing a Barbie "as a model of ideal teenhood (Messner, 775)?" Children are gendered from the second that they are born. The sex of a baby is automatically compared to a color, which is pink or blue. Parents or the primary agents are the people that gender children, and the easiest way to do it is through toys. For my project I picked this topic due to my brother who is seven years old. I used two research methods to prove my hypothesis, which is gendering is based primary by toys that later results in generalization of specific groups. The first method was giving out fifty surveys to a diverse amount of people. The second method was collecting data from five different sources that describe human behavior and how it is tied to a sociological research of gendering children due to toys, resulting in generalization of specific groups later in life.
At first I had a really hard time finding a question that I would elaborate on, but then after the project was assigned, I took my seven year old brother to Toy R Us with his friend Kenny. Even though he is a boy always played with unisex toys. For example, he likes to play with a Barbie because he can drive it around in his cars that are automatically controlled. When we went to Toys R US he wanted a new Barbie because it broke. Therefore, I bought him the Barbie and his friend Kenny started laughing at him, shouting that it's for girls. Afterwards, Dylan told him how he plays with the Barbie and Kenny became extremely interested in the Barbie as well. I purchased the doll for my brother and his friend and we went home. Later that day, I received a phone call from Kenny's mother, indicating that I am promoting homosexuality in her "boy". It struck me how a simple toy like a Barbie can make parents so worried and gender their kids based on what they play with.
When conducting my research, I made seven different questions, with sub questions. The name of my survey was "Gender Stereotyping." After the heading, I made two questions to make people more interested in my survey. The questions included "have you ever looked at a boy under the age of 10 and wanted to buy him a doll?" and "have you ever looked at a girl under the age of 10 and wanted to buy her an army tank?" Afterwards, I asked simple questions like the people's gender, ethnicity, and age. Then, I asked people if they remembered what kind of toy they played with, and what it was. My three last questions inquired whether the people have noticed a distinction in the way girls and boys are treated, does it create stereotyping later in life and would they do anything about it.
The neighborhood where I conducted my surveys was at Marine Park, located in Kings County. The Census Bureau for this specific area states that the estimated population for 2006 is 2,508,820. There are 52.9 percent female and 47.1 percent males in this area. The white population is 50.6 percent, black population is 38.3 percent, Asian population 8.9 percent, 1.5 percent of the people have two or more races, and the 0.7 percent is other. The median household income for 2004 was $32,339.
I gave out my survey in three different parts of Marine Park. At first I conducted it in the playgrounds where I saw mostly mothers with their kids, so I moved onto the basketball courts to get a view of the male population and then I took surveys from the older citizens that sat on the benches. When I gave out the surveys, several people either refused or became frustrated by filling them out.
After conducting my fifty surveys, I reviewed them and I found the outcome to be almost what I had expected. Sixteen surveys out of twenty-seven surveys given to males, proved they do see a distinction how society treats boys and girls. From the twenty- seven surveys that were given to females, fourteen stated that they see a distinction between boys and girls. However, more than half of the surveys conducted stated that children are treated differently because boys are looked upon as masculine, and if treated as girls, they would result to be homosexuals or not masculine. On the other hand, the surveys stated that if girls are treated more masculine it can result in homosexuality. Nevertheless, people said that girls and boys should be treated the same but should still be prescribed feminine and masculine characteristics due to their gender. When asked if people would do something to stop this generalization, the majority said no while some said that they would give unisex toys.
"In addition, young children make gender typed classification of objects like toys, clothing, and household items at an even earlier age than they make gender-typed attributions of personal and social characteristics (Gender-Role Stereotypes 185)." As said in the study, "Children Gender-Role Stereotypes," the most knowledge of gender comes to children until the age of four. Based on the same study, black children are less generalized than white children.
Therefore, the primary agents in stereotyping gender are the parents. This argument can also be proven in an article by Susan D. Witt, PhD, where she states that "activities, opportunities, encouragements, discouragements, overt behavior, covert suggestions, and various forms of guidance, children experience the process of gender role socialization (Widd 1)." If a person gives a child a doll to play with at a young age and demonstrates how to braid and dress a doll, then either gender would be more accustomed to this manner. This ideology can be interpreted based on Mead's Theory. According to the Mead's Theory, infants often imitate adults and children between the ages of four and five that distinguish between "me" and "I". These distinctions allow the child to interpret as it is shown to "me", "I" have to follow it. Over time, a child becomes accustomed to this way and between the age of eight to nine understands its values, morality, and a distinction from right and wrong.
"A further reinforcement of acceptable and appropriate behavior is shown to children through the media, in particular, television (Widd 1)", however; if the major generalization process is until the age of nine, do the second agents, as media, make a big impression on children? I would say it does, but the parents are the people that encourage or discourage specific behaviors. In article, "Barbie Girls versus Sea Monsters," a group of children that are four or five years old play soccer. The soccer matches are organized so the boys would play on one team, and the girls would play on the other.
The boys name their team "Sea Monsters (Messner 767)" and the Girls name themselves "Barbie Girls (Messner 768)." Also the children had to pick out their team colors. The boys picked their colors to be "green and blue (Messner 767)" and the girls picked their colors to be "green and white (Messner 768)." Not only the names, but the colors reveal the different social groups just like in gender likes. For example, when the girls were coming out, the boys were screaming "No Barbie (Messner 768)" and their "faces begin to show signs of distaste (Messner 768)." On the other hand, the girls were protesting against the boy's team. When the parents saw this, they said "They are so different (Messner 768)." After the boys protested, by yelling "No Barbie," "they begin to dash, in two and threes, invading the girls' space, and yelling menacingly (Messner 769)."
By protesting and invading each others boundaries the children are "performing gender." The girls are shown to be more feminine and boys more masculine in the way they control their situation, picking out team colors, and forming their team's name. The name Barbie doll for the girl's team is seen as sweet and feminine. Overall, the doll itself represents "a model of ideal teenhood (Messner 775)." Barbies today can be found by different age and ethnicity. In general, the doll represents perfection which each mother dreams in her daughter.
As a Barbie is a feminine doll, the Sea monster is a masculine doll that destroys and rules. Parents try to put these kinds of characteristics into the gender of their boys. In situations between both genders, parents have picked and enforced different kinds of norms, morals and needs into their kids that shape their gender and creates a barrier in between.
The barriers that are enforced in early stages of life puts boys on a higher perspective than girls. There are more expectations from boys such as education and employment. In the early stages of life, boys are given nice cars to represent the luxury they need to achieve later in their lives. Another example is figuring out a puzzle that represents leadership and intellectual competence in boys (Gender-Role Stereotypes 197). Yet, girls are embraced with dolls and fake kitchenware that represent good housekeeping and beauty.
Later in life, gender differences reflects on how one gender performs socially, and economically, and also physically. "One the whole, men and women sit, stand, gesture, walk, and throw differently (Martin 494)." According to Turner, social life depends upon the successful presenting, monitoring and interpreting of bodies (Martin 495). "Gendered bodies create particular contexts for social relations as the signal, manage, and negotiate information about power and status (Martine 495)." Therefore, power and status should not be reflected on one's gender. Unisex toys just like colors should be taught to children, and boys and girls should be treated on the same spectrum.
The theories that we learned could be related to this topic include the social learning theory and cognitive-developmental theory. Social learning theory "emphasizes the rewards and punishments that children receive sex appropriate and sex inappropriate behaviors (Bem 599)." It concentrates on "development of psychological femaleness and maleness the very same principles of learning that are already known to account for the development of multitude of other behaviors (Bem 600)."
Cognitive-development theory concentrates "on the child as the primary agent of his or her own sex typing follows naturally and inevitably from universal principles of cognitive development (Bem 601)." An example of this theory is "once the boy has stably identified himself as male, he then values positively those objectives and acts consistent with his gender identity (Bem 601)." Overall, it talks about how children are taught how to reflect themselves to their surrounding environment.
Overall, my research project had proved to me that generalization occurs from the second we are born to the second of our last breath. We are distinguished by our requirements that our norms and morals put on us. However, our first pattern in learning and distinguishing gender are the toys that are bought to for us. We are taught to play in a specific way and with specific things to reflect on who we are. As my surveys have shown, we are aware of this distinction, but going out of this cycle will mean going out of what our society believes in.
Albert; Alexa A; Porter Judith R. Sociological Forum, Vol. 3, No.2. (Spring, 1988), pp. 184-210.
Bem, Sandra Lipsitz. Signs, No.4 (Summer, 1983), pp. 598-616.
Martin, Karin A. American Sociological Review, Vol.63, No. 4. ( Aug., 1998), pp. 494-511.
Messner, Michael A. Gender and Society, Vol.14, No. 6. (Dec., 2000), pp. 765-784.
U.S. Census Bureau. Kings County, New York.
Witt, Susan. Parental Influence on Children's Socialization to Gender Roles (Summer, 1997).