Social Roles Adults Endorse to Children Via Toys
Every parent wants his or her child to become a happy person and fully realize all its potential. Toys are the first stage that helps children to get acquainted with the world around them, learn new concepts, gain new skills. Therefore, it is essential that children have access to various toys. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the Western world has begun to create a large number of gendered toys, which clearly show that only boys or girls can play certain toys. The victory of such marketing forces parents to buy such products, while children from the age of two associate themselves with a particular gender, its attributes, and behavioral patterns, demanding toys from the parents that maximally fit into the need of gender or ideas that surround gender prejudices. This practice leads to a situation in which children grow up in a socially constructed gender-separated world from childhood and do not have the opportunity to try other social models. The study interviewed twenty children and asked them to choose a toy for a gift for the male, female friend and ask for their motivation. Most of the children picked toys, using a set of social ideas about interest and the needs of girls/boys. Since such differentiation appears only after identifying oneself with a particular gender, it can be concluded that gendered toys exploit social constructs and do not give children a chance to find themselves.
Toys are created not just for the empty entertainment of children, but also for getting to know the outside world thanks to gaming practices. So, children in a natural and the most accessible form for themselves can get acquainted with abstract concepts, customs, norms of behavior, and the system of the external world. Therefore, adults should ensure a child’s access to the maximum number of different toys and games. At the same time, the modern consumer society, in addition to the patriarchy, has created a significant amount of gendered toys, which, unfortunately, are everywhere making hard for adults to buy neutral ones. This proposal forces parent to purchase gendered toys for children, even if they do not want it and plan to grow their kids in neutral tones letting them chose their way on their own. At the same time, a small child gets used to perceiving themselves regarding a particular gender, absorbing most of the social constructs about gender roles and demanding from the parents only those games that are acceptable for their gender. Such a situation, in turn, provokes parents to purchase gendered toys consciously, which aggravates the state.
First, it is worth remembering that the enormous responsibility for such quantity of gendered toys, pink and blue aisles in stores lies in the toy industry and marketers. So, researchers of this problem, after analyzing the toys of previous eras, came to the conclusion that previous toys were usually marked as gender neutral. This position can be observed in wrappers, advertising brochures, in which children of both sexes played together with balls, dolls, and planes together (Hains). Only in the eighties of the last century, this trend started to change. One possible reason is that the second wave of feminism was perceived by the general public more critically and provoked opposition (Oksman). Another explanation may be that marketers found out that children are not the one segment of the market, but can be a whole market with division into smaller groups (“Why It Matters”). Here one can recall the advertising companies of Lego “Zack the LEGO Maniac” (1988), which opened a company which for years showed a little boy who enthusiastically plays with aircraft built out of Lego, a car, etc. (Hains).
Additionally, after decades Lego launched the new line of products targeting girls – Lego Friends with the clear statement of its position as a commodity for girls (Hains). Also, somewhere in the same period, the Lego company begins to draw on the faces of its figures apparent gender features painted lips, beards and the like. So, selling toys became segmented, and marketers had to find a way to convince parents and their children to buy more than one set of toys even if they are neutral like mega block insisting that boys and girls need to have two sets of each toy designing precisely for their gender needs (Oksman). So, today one can find crayons, coloring books in blue and pink version or with a mark that this item is designed for girls or boys.
Here it is worth noting that scientific research has denied the existence of children’s desire to play with male gendered or female gendered toys (Fisher-Thompson). Since children at the age of about two years begin to identify themselves with a particular gender clearly, researchers are trying to explore the game wishes of young children (Todd and Brenda). Thanks to such studies scientists have managed to establish that small children prefer blue color regardless of their gender (Brown). Similar experiments suggested that young children under two years old choose toys and play with them as much as they please (Todd and Brenda). Children could choose toys that public opinion associated with a particular gender and gender-neutral. However, children mostly picked a ball and played with it as long as possible, showing that small kids do not have the inner predisposition to toys that match their gender.
Other studies conducted with children older than two years indicate that after the moment in which the child identifies itself with a particular gender, she or he consciously begins to choose behavioral patterns, things that in his or her mind are related to her or his gender. Since all these ideas about gender and its attributes a child receives from communication with other children and the outside world, the children’s representations about the norms of behavior flow from social constructs, not from inner desires (Dahl). Another demonstrative study was an experiment conducted in 1986 by psychologist Marilyn Bradbard, in which groups of boys and girls were invited to play toys from boxes labeled as “toys for boys,” “toys for girls” (Shaw). However, researchers put in boxes those toys that are labeled in society as those that must be played by representatives of the opposite gender. So, girls got cars, helicopters, while boys got dolls, glitter. Those children during the experiment played happily with toys that they usually do not play, just because they received them with the marking of gender validity and gender matching. One can also recall the experiment, which shows that social constructs affect not only the toys that children choose but also the ways of playing. So, to the American children were brought a Canadian toy, with which they were not familiar. The children were divided into two groups. The first group was told that this is a Canadian toy for girls, while another group heard that this is a Canadian toy for boys (Bradbard, Marilyn, Endsley). Girls who were in the first group showed the best results of interest in this game, while in the second group the boys showed more interest and success (Bradbard et al.). So, gender marked toys affect the self-esteem of the children, bring some hesitation about their abilities to be good at a particular play and provokes a great or small interest. Possessing the item that does not match to one’s gender harming child self-esteem and confidence in own ability to fit into the group of peers.
At the same time, one must understand that the presence of gendered toys is dangerous not only because children from childhood become accustomed to living in a gender-differentiated consumer society, but because consciously refusing certain toys and playing practices, children deprive themselves of the opportunity to deepen their knowledge, meet new experience. So, small children grow up with the notion that there are areas inherent to them, which later affects their choice of profession, the way of life. Thus, children find themselves captives of social constructs created by adults, do not dare to raise or disprove existing practices and are unlikely to cause specific changes in the system in the future (Shaw). It is worthwhile to understand that contact with only one aspect of life, for girls in role-playing games in motherhood and the creation of beauty, and for boys in adventure, research, guidance, limits experience and the possibility of future understanding and empathy to each other.
Therefore, under the compulsion of marketers and their social perceptions of gender roles, parents often unconsciously limit the ability of their children to realize themselves, find work of their lives and be a full member of society (Wood). Unfortunately, toys dictate those gender roles against which the feminists of the last century rebelled. So, the girls grow up with the idea of the need to meet the social demand for beauty standards, particular behavior in the family and in the society, with small believe that they can become successful in careers in mathematics and physics, but choose specialties where they need to communicate, help other people having time for household and kids. Toys designed for boys show that they should be brave as heroes of cartoons and movies, do not pay much attention to the upbringing of children, with no need to help the wife running the household. This situation not only limits children and reduces the chances of children to fulfillment, but also denies recent achievements of feminism in the field of employment, distribution of duties in the family and the like.
For this research was chosen an experiment in which a group of four years old children took part. All these kids participated with parental consent and received financial rewards. Twenty children were invited, including ten boys and ten girls. Each of them was interviewed alone. Children were offered some toys, which in their function are neutral: cubes, coloring books, mega blocks, pencils, plasticine, plastic animal toys. Each of the toys was presented in three versions: gender-neutral, male gendered and female gendered. Toys differed in color, labels, and inscriptions. During the study, the children were asked to choose a toy, which they would present to their male or female friend and to pick a toy for themselves. After the child made a choice, she or he was asked why she or he chose this particular version of the toy. It was important to hear how the child determines his or her choice with such concepts as “this is a ball for girls so I will give it to a girl.” Children were also asked about their thoughts on the difference between the orange ball and blue and pink ones. Also, the children were asked to explain why boys would like the plasticine with the image of the tractor rather than plasticine, which depicts animals. Also, children share their ideas about what kind of reaction one need to expect from a boy who received a set of pencils on which the princess is drawn and vice versa. The answers were evaluated on a scale of 10 to 0, where 10 meant the use of social constructs and references to them as the main reason for choosing. The evaluation of zero denoted answers, which did not contain any references to social constructs, only personal reflections of children.
The results of the experiment showed that children are really guided by conventional ideas for selecting gifts for their friends of different gender. Despite the presence of children, who explained their choice with personal preferences, for example, the desire to give plasticine with a giraffe on the package only because the child loves the giraffe more than everything else in the world, most of the answers contained the socially constructed statements. Kids were sure that boys’ toys could not be given to girls because a) girls do not like toys for boys b) girls will be upset if they will be given a toy for a boy c) a girl will be ashamed to play such a toy, because this toy is “wrong”, while her friends possessed “correct” toys (the same explanations should be applied to boys and girls’ toys). It was interesting that all children understood that neutral toys are acceptable for everyone, but they chose them exclusively through their sympathies for color, images, etc., realizing that if there is a choice between a neutral toy and a gendered toy, it is better to choose a gendered toy for a person, because “girls love girly toys and boys like boys’ toys.” The children have shown that they do not understand that all varieties of toys are a variation of the same toy, and hence the quality of the game, the functions of the toys in all three cases remain the same and do not require additional skills from children.
The experiment showed that children, under the influence of existing social constructs, choose gendered toys without thinking about the very essence of the toy and its functionality. So, the child can not see how much this position limits her or his courage and interest to try to play with toys that are less neutral, like machines, cars, dolls. The experiment is not exemplary, but it clearly shows that the four-year-olds are aware of the requirements and rules for the gender division of roles in society and quickly reproduce them without attempting to break their truthfulness or truth.
Further researchers can conduct experiments by varying age groups, dividing children by gender, providing a choice between neutral and explicit gendered toys, putting children at the same time more accurate and detailed questions. Also, for further research, it will be interesting to ask children about their ideas about dreams, gaming practices of the opposite gender, to understand how social constructs captivated not only the children’s sense of games but also the image of opposite gender. So, it is known that girls often try to declare themselves brave and strong and take it as a right until they realize that society does not purify and encourage such behavior among girls. Awareness of how children relate gender stereotypes to the opposite gender can help to see how social structure and parents influence the upbringing and self-awareness of children. This research can help both researchers and parents to realize that the existing practices of educating children about the non-existence of gender barriers are not efficient and will force them to look for new solutions, including fighting more actively against gendered toys.
The available studies about gendered toys and the harm that they can cause indicate several main points. The first is that girls are not born with an innate love for pink color and dolls, while this desire is formed only after the moment of clear identification with a particular gender. Therefore, somewhere from a two-year-old age, a child realizes itself as a boy or a girl and begins to reproduce behavioral patterns, habits, and rituals that are connected with a particular gender due to his or her observations and games with other children, adults. Thus, it is socialization that provokes the child to provide a distinct advantage to gendered toys and toy practices that are characteristic of his o gender.
Another aspect is that a clear division of toys by gender and a reduction in the number of neutral toys is created by marketers and market representatives who are not interested in growing a happy child with more knowledge and experience. Such a proposal creates demand among parents who are forced to buy gendered toys for their children. This practice leads to a situation in which parents convey the idea of the adult world about the distribution of gender roles in the family and society to their children, even if they did not want or do not have an apparent belief that the allocation of tasks is correct. In this case, children cannot be fully realized, because there are a lot of spheres, activities, and professions in which they are afraid to imagine themselves working in, and thus do not what to try. In the future, this will entail strengthening existing gender biases and discrimination, because there will not be a generation that can complete the dismantling of the outdated views of the patriarchal world. While the third wave of feminism fights for the final liberation of men and women from the oppression of prejudices and social constructs, allowing people to choose the professions that they like, not having children, being a careerist, etc., the toys do not reflect this active struggle but continue to create a world in which women must be beautiful, have a significant amount of clothing and not work, while the boys grow with faith in their own omnipotence and power.
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