Toys Create Gender

By Jessica Garriga

I work at a toy store. There’s a girl’s side and a boy’s side. The girl’s side is suffocated with pink and purple — with a small section of black and pink for the ‘rebellious’ little girl. This side stocks Barbies, Brats, Maxie dolls, baby dolls, stuffed animals, kitchen and food sets, cleaning sets, accessories, make up kits, pretend hair kits and real beauty products that are child safe.

Some girls hate pink and refuse to buy it. I can understand why. It has nothing to do with the color, really, but that is seems like the only color they are allowed.

The boy’s side has lots of colors – except pink. This side has video games, legos, super hero action figures and masks, toy swords and super hero themed weapons, Nerf guns, sport equipment and balls, army toys and weapons, battle ships, musical instruments, board games and chess. Boy toys celebrate violence and being tough. Even the boxes they come in are drawn with explosive effects.

Science themed toys have only pictures of boys — unless they’re painted pink or purple. A guitar aimed at boys is dark blue and painted with flames. The girl guitar is pink with flowers. Legos for girls are in pink and purple boxes with nice ‘friendship’ themed characters and sets. The action, city, and car themed Legos are for boys.

Parents are funny.

One father insisted the Nerf guns he bought were not for his daughter, but for her male friend. When I told him I did not care if his daughter played with Nerf guns and told him I’d played with them, myself, he insisted the toys were not for his daughter and seemed offended by my playing with Nerf guns.

Another dad wanted a pink science kit with princesses on them. With none available, he settled on a pink princess electric piano.

A mom refused to buy Elmo or music themed toys unless they enforced the socialization she wished to impose on her daughter.

And parents seem to avoid bringing their sons anywhere near the girls’ side. Do they fear their sons might like the baby dolls or the pink makeup sets and don’t want to risk it?  One dad told me he only lets his three year old son go to the boy’s side because he likes the pink baby dolls, so dad wants to avoid them.

Toy segregation has consequences. As Katrin Bennhold at the New York Times explained:

Male and female stereotypes are established early: It is not hard to see a connection between girls playing with dolls and boys playing with cars, and the widespread segregation of labor markets into “female” and “male” professions. (Lower-paid, lower-status) nurses, primary school teachers and caregivers of most kinds are overwhelmingly female. Engineers, computer scientists and mechanics tend to be male.

Maybe parents believe that gender is biological and that their children won’t like toys that don’t “fit” the sex. But they’re unwittingly (or wittingly) creating gender through the toys they choose – with a lot of help from society and toy stores.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 21, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. All the plastic glittery cooking toys never had any effect on me. Just ask my husband who does all the cooking.

    😉

  2. I have two sons. One is blue as blue can be. He has always been that way, despite my attempts to lure him into other colors. His room is blue, very blue. Anything remotely resembling the stereotypical image of a boy, has been him.
    The other one. Well, if there has ever been a person in this world who has loved pink, he has to be it. My goodness. We bought him pink pj’s, pink socks, painted glitter on his boots and painted his room pink. He had five dolls who were his children and again, if ever there was a care-taker born into this world, he has been it.

  3. Here’s to the parents that don’t buy into this, and celebrate their daughters’ playing with cars and Lego, and Lincoln Logs, like mine! Hard to resist a tide like this one.

  4. Part of why parents accept the gender segregation is because they believe their son will be bullied if he shows up with a princess toy or that their daughter won’t fit in if she plays with monster trucks. I see it with my own daughters (age 4), who don’t play with barbies (we don’t own any) and love Batman (but dislike Power Rangers, which they say limits their ability to play with the boys).

  5. That’s so sad that even science kits have to be pink and boys aren’t allowed dolls – is it fear their sons will become gay if they touch a doll? And giving girls dolls means teaching them to be mothers first and foremost. I’ve always hated gendered toys.

    As a kid, I was a tomboy, hated dolls and played with toys you had to match, or puzzles. I wore boys’ clothes and refused to wear skirts until I was 9 (when I began to have sexual thoughts, so perhaps I was beginning puberty?) so obviously society’s socialization was beginning to work on me at age 9. I stopped wearing boys’ clothes at age 11/12. At age 13 I began to grow my hair out from my short cut. Now style is very important to me but my style isn’t feminine. So I don’t think being a tomboy or ‘sissy’ is related to sexuality or to your style as an adult; I pay more attention to my style than some women even though I was a tomboy. I’m so fed up with how society creates and exacerbates gender differences with toys, social norms, hairstyles, clothes and grooming.

  6. I have a girl and boy set of twins. Family and friends would buy my son cars and trucks etc, while my daughter got dolls and tea sets and other girlie things. The funny thing is my daughter had no interest in the ‘girl’ toys, but loved the cars and trucks. Eventually all her gifts were similar to her brothers. Family would joke that it was like buying for two boys. That convinced me that gender roles are created and not biological.

  7. Neither of my girls are what you would call “pink side of the aisle” girls. One is a math wonk obsessed with statistics and probability and the other wants to start a Ramones-style cover band so she can play bass in it. While this tends to argue against gender as nature, I can’t put my hand on much of anything that would have made it part of nurture, either. It’s not as if their mother has gone out of her way to expose them to anything outside of the traditional gender expectations and the god forsaken Michigan backwater they live in doesn’t really have the metropolitan aspects that could account for accidental exposure. I can’t say I’m not delighted with the way things turned out, but it does seem mysterious in terms of the hows and whys!

    • Turns out there are 3 primary forces that shape who we are

      1. Culture
      2. Social interaction
      3. Personality (the basic one we’re born with)

      So you find that people in most cultures comply with norms, but there are outliers. If your daughters naturally have what are called strong “masculine” personalities, and it wasn’t drummed out of them, they’ll go the way they naturally want. Sounds like you and their mom let them be.

      + We live in a culture that is more mixed now so that girls have more varieties of role models than in the past — even while we have certain strong forces, like toy stores and the parents who succumb to, and reinforce, them.

  8. Very true, I work for the gap store and the girls section seems to be the center of attention with all the ruffle dresses and glittery prints. Boys on the other hand have nothing but graphic tees and other shirts that mention quotes like “Rock and Roll Play it loud”. This quote shows how boys are supposed to be the more rebellious, and out going compare to girls. As this blog states, yes girls seem to only be allowed to wear pink since that is the color that dominates the girl’s department. I also have seen that girls who don’t like the pink color, parents tend to have a harder time in stores finding other colors that can also be consider appropriate for a girl. If pink is not an option they will most likely go for white, or pastel colors.

  9. even though after reading that it seems kind of ridiculous to not allow a boy to enter the girl section and even try avoiding it as much as possible, i see myself doing those same kinds of things with my son. Not something i did on purpose “i think” but more like just naturally. i guess its something society has just taught me, especially being the mother of a boy.

  10. Vanessa Cantillo

    Growing up, and still to this day I have never been fond of bright, “girly” colors such as pink or purple. So it’s bizarre that we live in a society where colors are determining our gender. I personally love the colors blue and green, but does that make me less feminine? I also wonder why the boy’s toys are associated with violence. I believe from a young age boys are taught to be tough, while girls are suppose to be dainty and affectionate. As a little girl I had plenty of baby dolls, and I would “play” and take care of this plastic object as if it were my actual child.

  11. I am a nanny for a four year old girl, Addie, and two year old boy, Hudson. Addie is the definition of being a “girly girl” so of course her favorite color is pink, she loves her dolls and art projects, and would have me paint her nails every day if she could. Hudson reaches for Addie’s toys most of the time and even orders the pink frosted donut at the donut shop. I was very much a tomboy growing up and still am to this day, but that has had no negative effect on my life. It seems as though the majority of parents who push gender specific items onto their kids worry about how their child will grow up, as if wearing a pink shirt as a boy will dictate where his life will be headed. Gender inequality is greatly influenced by parents at a very young age.

  12. I have three older brothers, so growing up for me was quite different. I would watch home videos from when I was a toddler and I would be playing with swords and toy guns with my brothers. I remember having every game system growing up and playing all different kinds of video games. It never once bothered my mother, however it disturbed my dad. I would ride a skateboard to and from middle school and my dad would always tell me “that’s not what girls do.” My dad was the typical male that thought it was important for me to stay by my mom’s side to learn how to cook and clean.

  13. since I was in elementary I raised 23 nieces and nephews while their parents worked to provide for their families. with the first 5 nieces and nephews I saw a trend that the girls had nothing but pink clothes and ruffley dresses, the boys wore nothing but blue clothes or botton up shirts. with the next generation of the 23 I saw a veriety of different opinions. some were more into the style and how they matched and some didn’t even care as long as they had something on.

  14. That’s the big and strange problem in our society. I still can’t understand why this disgusting stereotype stuck in human brain. Perhaps, people think that the black color of t-shirt or big toy truck will help boys to be “more men” and pink piano will help little girls to be “more women”, what is so illogical and excessively. Society is afraid that nonstandard parenting can affect children’s sexual purpose in life what is totally homophobia!

    My older sister cared about me when I was a child. Since that time, she’s bought me much stuff which is “unusual” for boys. These were pink and blue t-shirts, men’s cosmetics and interesting accessories. All these things had no effect on my sex and gender role.

    I believe that in the future the human psychology and opinions will change.

  15. I grew up with my parents buying me dolls and little tea sets. While my brother had a wider selection of toys to choose from. He had legos, basketball, a moter boat and remote cars. I would always have to sneak around to play with his toys for my parents says they make my fingers ugly (More lines on your knockles would mean that you work hard = lower class status). I know that my parents didnt do the things on purpose or intentional but rather it was the way they were taught. So yes, in a way I do believe that toys do push a child more towards one gender. Toys are like constant reminders to children of who they are and how they should act.

  16. sandra ruelas

    When you walk the kids department they separate girls and boys. It’s fairly easy to tell if you’re in the girl section or boy section. Girls clothes are in pinks, while boys clothes are blue or green. Same thing with toys because we learn gender through society. Girls are taught to like pink and play with dolls and boys are taught to like blue and like trucks.

  17. I’ve notice that before kids are even born there are already gender biases before we are even born. For girls, there is the color pink. You buy girls pink toys and clothes, ect. We are basically forcing her to like pink before she can really have any say in anything. It is the same thing with boys. When we actually go into the toys isles, the toys are always have gender oriented. They seperate the isles with the boys side and the girls side. It is basically telling you if you’re one gender you must go to this side and not the other.

  18. The institutionalization of sexism is clear as day when you see simple examples such as these. People who claim we live in a post-sexist world need to take a sharp look at the world that they are living in. It is just recently that we’ve gotten pink science equipment, and even that was on the heels of massive criticisms by the feminist community, who think, and rightfully so, that not allowing girls to play with science equipment when they are young is one of the primary reasons we don’t see more women in the STEM fields today. We need to be doing more to encourage the melding of the two genders, rather than continuing to cut them into two simple, heteronormative groups: pink and blue.

  19. When I was young, my parents always bought me robots or video games simply because I was a boy. And I had no repulsion of playing with those toys which are for boys in general. I liked playing robots named Dagan and I started playing play station or x-box since i was a very little kid. Right now, I already know that toy segregation is not that desirable things to do since it creates gender differences which might cause gender discrimination. However, I have a thought that when I have kids, I would like to buy robots and video games for a boy while buy Barbie dolls or pink clothes for a girl. I guess I am already get so used to these kinds of toy segregation in terms of gender.

  20. The idea that toys create gender in children can obviously be seen in stores for children. Girls get the “pink and purple,” while boys get many “colors – except pink.” This can be considered a cause of socialization, in that society views particular colors as gender specific. In relation to toys for children, there is a very distinct difference between toys for girls and toys for boys. I feel that in some ways, the parents support the social norm that girls are expected to play with “baby dolls, [and] stuffed animals,” and boys are expected to play with things such as, “Nerf guns, [and] sports equipment.” As mentioned in the post, parents often refuse to allow their child to challenge these stereotypes put forth by socialization. In a way, I suppose toys may create gender, but I believe society affects the ideas of gender that is then translated into the toys.

  21. I don’t believe toys create gender, what does though, is the way our society is using/presenting/selling toys to separate gender and create gender roles.
    Parents do buy into it for different reasons. For example: perhaps we want our kids to learn their gender roles early on; homophobia, or being concerned with what others will think of our children and also the family. And, no one wants their child to be bullied
    and be called names, etc.

    It also seems to me, that this “toy gender separation” is a big part of marketing strategy, so we end up buying more stuff. And our culture demands and feeds into the whole process.

    Shopping for my daughters toys, I’ve noticed that there is an over load of plastic, gender color toys in all of our chain stores. You just can’t escape it. So I stared shopping at local boutique toy stores where you are not overwhelmed as much with pink and blue, and will often find unique and interesting things.

    I personally think that kids should play with what ever they want to.
    Nothing wrong with boys playing with dolls and exploring their sensitive side(maybe it’s not such a bad idea to learn how to be a better father and a husband early on 🙂
    And girls should play with boy toys and be tough, because life is.

    Gender and gender roles are not created just by our society though, it is also biological. Other species, primates and birds for example have it as well.
    Humans are just making a bigger deal out of it with bigger consequences in our complex society.

  22. I donot believe that playing with certain toys or wearing a special type of clothes makes kids a think about their gender.They are just kids naturally all the kids love to play with all kind of toys ,its the society who give the kids stamping about the toys and the colors to choose in order to play or wear. In addition i just want to mention one more thing about just wearing “PINK” is only required in American society not in other countries. I remember when i was growing up in my home country we didnot have such silly thing about having to wear pariticular colours makes you think what Gender you are. I believe its nature of kids and their personality makes them who they really want to be .

  23. I disagree with parents who do not allow their children to play with other gender’s toys because I believe that gender also can be created by toys for opposite their gender. For example, when my father was a child, he often played with a Barbie doll because he has an older sister. However, his parents did not stopped him playing with it. On the contrary, his father taught how to deal with a Barbie doll. He did not allow him to toss and pull the girl doll’s hair because Barbie is a girl.

    • I’m glad the dad didn’t allow his sun to torture the doll! It’s funny how it’s usually thought to be okay for boys to torture dolls but not to nurture them. Oh, I see a new blog post idea.

  24. Diamond Hawkins

    Growing up I was always given girly toys like dolls, makeup sets, cooking sets, and things like that. My brother would always get toys that were blue, and red colors like that, and he would always get cars, trucks, toy guns, things like that. Growing up I loved the toys I got, but I was more fond of toys my brother got because they always looked more fun to play with, so I was always getting caught playing with his cars, and toy guns were my favorite. I did become a tomboy when I was younger I dressed like a boy, I didn’t enjoy wearing girl clothes, dresses, and skirts, I thought they were cute, but they weren’t something I enjoyed wearing. When I was little they did dress me up as a girl, and the whole 9, then I started to not enjoy the whole girly thing as much, but now I can say that I am still a tomboy when it comes down to it, but I do love dressing like a girl. I think that it is common for kids of different genders to like the other genders toys, I feel that as kids, kids are always curious, and love trying new things, and I feel like as a parent you shouldn’t panick if you see your boy playing dolls, or anything of a girls area, or a girl playing with toy guns, or cars, I feel like as kids that’s okay because they are learning there rights and wrongs still and they are still exploring. As they get older I feel like then it can be a concern, but other than that I feel that it is a learning experience, and a growing experience, I feel that as kids they can play with whatever toys they want to play with, and that not changing the person who they are going to become when they grow up.

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