boys and their toys

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It was back in the beginning of the 1900’s with mass production that toys became even more sex stereotyped as boys' toys increasingly idealized technology, constant innovation, and the values of competition and teamwork. By contrast, a new generation of playthings for females featured companion and baby dolls, meant to encourage emotional attachments and nurturing "instincts." Most toys of the early twentieth century were intended to convey adult messages to children either by giving them the adult's image of their future or by presenting adult fantasies or nostalgia about ideal childhood. It can come down to what toys adults promote to the child in relation to what the child adopts.
By the age of three children can differentiate sex-stereotyped toys that are identified with boys or girls. Boys will naturally adopt the father's role and girls the mother's, reflecting whatever differences they've noticed in their own families and in the world around them. Even if both parents work and share family responsibilities equally, a child will still find conventional male and female role models in television, magazines, books, billboards and the families of friends and neighbours. Aggressive gender specific advertising in the 60's had already commenced - Barbie was brought onto the market by Mattel in '59.

Toy companies are aware of gendered consumer preferences, they develop and market their toys to these trends, so closing down broader options and perpetuating the gendered toy market.

It seems there has never been greater gender stereotyping in the production and marketing of toys than now. "People might think that toys are more androgynous these days, but go into any toy shop and you will find separate aisles, and even separate floors, for girls and boys," says Becky Francis, professor of education at Roehampton University. "The packaging is geared towards either boys or girls by colour, wording and the images portrayed on them. This creates the impression that certain toys are just for boys and others just for girls, and so some toys are completely out of bounds."

On the Tootsie Toy website the only image of girls are on the ‘Suzy Homemaker’ page which consists of cleaning implements for young girls to learn how to do house work.

But some other conflicting research suggests that these early play preferences may not only be the result of socialisation and marketing. A 2005 study looking at the play of young primates, by psychologist Professor Melissa Hines of Cambridge University, found that when offered a variety of toys, female monkeys tended to gravitate towards dolls and soft toys, while males chose toy cars.
Professor Hines also goes on to say "There are certainly genetic factors at work here, and we believe those children’s play preferences may be determined even pre-birth," Hines says. "The levels of male and female hormones in an expectant mother may result in children being born predisposed to certain play preferences."

However in 2008 The Guardian writer Dorothy Lepkowska tested her theory about the blatant gender specific marketing and packaging of toys at Hamleys toy shop. The store directory on entry was helpfully colour-coded - floor 3, highlighted in pink, was for girls, while floor 5, blue, was for boys.
The play choices for boys were far more diverse and included cars, models of action heroes and popular television characters. And while dolls and teddy bears were sold with little external packaging, that covering boys' toys was "busy", denoting action and speed with strong colours and wording that evoked excitement and machismo. Instructions for use were often technical, requiring boys to draw on their literacy skills, and provided knowledge and activities around construction and technology. Playing with toy cars develops spatial awareness – how else does one know how to park a car in certain spaces?
But it was the toys for very young girls that were perhaps the most intriguing Dorothy Lepkowska goes on to say. Even Dora the Explorer, the feisty adventurer who is used to crossing forests and crocodile-infested lakes, could not escape being stereotyped. In one boxed set she is presented in a nurturing role, as an "older sister" clutching a baby's feeding bottle, and with two younger siblings in tow.
"This is a classic example of how the toy manifestation of the cartoon character is more gender-stereotyped than the cartoon or show in which they appear," Becky Francis says. "Boys who enjoy Dora as a cartoon are unlikely to want to play with her mother-like doll.”
A car for the female market was also developed in 2007 by Mattel called ‘Polly Wheels’ But still goes down the stereotyped route. Mattel talk about how boys’ play with cars is often about ’conquering space’ with wild stunts and action, girls’ play with cars is about exploring space, using vehicles to reach destinations and act out social themes and stories. Mattel have included a removable doll with the car. The cars are also in ‘pretty’ colours, glittery details and shiny finishes.
In fact if you look at the packaging and colouring for toys in the 60’s compared to now you can see the colour schemes were more evenly distributed. Whereas now there has been an explosion of pink, purple, fluff and glitter for all the girls merchandise creating more of a divide between the two types of toy making it harder for boys and girls to cross over with their play due to social peer pressure and conditioning.

Sources:
Stephen Kline. 1993. Out of the Garden: Toys and Children's Culture in the Age of TV Marketing. New York: Verso.

Dorothy Lepkowska The Guardian, Tuesday 16 December 2008

American Academy of Pediatrics Psychology, gender and society

Encyclopedia of children and childhood and society

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200804...

www.tootsietoy.com