Toys, Gender, and Sexism

Tuesday’s Teacher:Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal — Source of this cartoon

This is just an advertisement, you say. It doesn’t mean anything. I have complete control over my children’s self-esteem, and my daughters are just as independent as my sons, you vehemently argue. But they’re not. Self-fulfilling prophecy: when the entire world tells you who you are on a daily basis, you begin to believe it — and the voices of the one or two people who love you and say otherwise, they’re drowned out. All you hear is what you see and hear by the millions.

This comic strip is excellent and quite telling. Toys manufactured for boys require the use of technology, brains, problem solving adventures, and excitement. Message to boys: there is nothing you can’t do. The world is your oyster. This toy will train you for success and manhood.

Toys manufactured for girls, on the other hand, require nothing but a girl’s maternal instinct to care for them. Whether they’re cute little puppy dogs or dolls, they do nothing more than sit there –oh, excuse me, now they can burp, talk, and poop. Girls are not expected to plug into computers, use advanced critical skills, or progress in society. Her doll trains her to take care of the needs of others. Message to Girls: Here’s a doll. Learn to care for her as you will your husband and children.

And the conclusion of the toys sold to boys and girls — and the different messages being sent to our girls and boys — boys can have jobs in engineering, science, politics, computers; girls can too, they’ve just never been trained to believe that they could join the ranks of such male-dominated fields. They’ve only been told to “Be a doll” and take care of a doll.

Girls can be as tall as high-reaching trees left alone to grow to their full potential, but daily recitations of their limits derail them from developing fully, and they grow no higher than a pretty and domestic bonsai tree in a decorative pot by the window sill.

Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.

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About Marinagraphy

Marina is a writer who focuses her work on the need for female empowerment. She writes articles, books, and blogs centered on female experiences related to motherhood, female agency, feminism, and building positive images for young girls and women. She currently teaches Literature, Writing, and Women's Studies on the College level.

14 Responses to Toys, Gender, and Sexism

  1. Lynne Spreen says:

    Hey, Marina, I just saw this post, and it brings back lots of anger for me. I’m 56, and as a young woman I completely rebelled against exactly this, and it’s still happening. Back in the 70s, I felt like a lunatic for caring so much about it, but 40 years later, SOS. And by the way, have you noticed on daytime, on the ads for household cleaning products, which gender is portrayed as practically orgasmic over the latest mops and wipes? GRRRRRR.

    • Lynne, I love your fire! Exactly how I feel — It’s ridiculous how much has NOT changed. We just dress differently — but it’s still the same. Thanks for posting/commenting

      • Kimberly says:

        I agree. Why so much has NOT changed is a universal question. I am reminded of a friend who was working with GREENPEACE in the 70s. She was relocating inhabitants from an island which was used for nuclear testing in the pacific. People had lived there for years and now it was completely uninhabitable. She remembers sitting in a boat, moving all of these people from their home and thinking, wait, just wait till the world finds out about this! EVERYTHING will change. Did anything change? Nope. I wonder why we are so slow to learn and change….

        • I agree with you, Kimberly. People are hard-pressed to change — it means doing something different, going of your way, moving against the grain, and most people don’t want to go there or put in the effort it requires. But if we don’t change these things now, no one else will.

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  3. Helaine says:

    This is very interesting. It is so true that a doll teaches girls to be caretakers and basically codependants… I hate all the commercials on TV, and not only the ones for toys. Do they have to put sex into every commercial!! How many times does my daughter have to watching a show that i think is fine for her to watch, only to see a commercial for the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, .. Jeez.
    I love reading and educational toys, alot of art supplies. I think dolls are good too, for cuddling and security but a good balance makes for a well balance child. I suppose even boys need some type of security toy, blanket, pillow. But the cartoon shows an excellent point, and will make me more aware when shopping this year. Thanks Marina. Happy Holidays

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  9. Kimberly says:

    Fabulous. I go for simple toys for my four year old daughter, but you are encouraging me to think about what kind of simple toys. Maybe more blocks and building materials this year, possibly her own hammer. Thank you.

  10. Fantastic post. I have done a good deal of research into the impact of toy advertising on boys specifically. Toy marketing sends boys negative messages about both sexes: domestic chores are the work of women and girls; girls like makeup and shiny dress-up clothes and anything that can make them “pretty”; heroism is for boys, not girls (given the fact that no “rescue toys” are ever marketed to girls); and boys, by virtue of being male, must choose toys that promote aggression and fighting over anything else. A sad state of affairs for all of our children.

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