Boys get blocks, girls get jewelry

Happy gendered Halloween, girls and boys. (Did you see what I did there? I put girls first. That’s very rebellious of me. Girls are supposed to come second. It’s boys and girls, not girls and boys. Isn’t that funny?)

The New York Times has such a fun scary story about how gendered everything is in kidworld, and how badly it fucks everything up. All that work we did, undone by marketers. Oh well – I guess we’ll just have to do it all over again! Or you will, because I’ll be dead by then, and your grandchildren will, if the glaciers haven’t all melted yet.

A web search for Halloween costumes of scientists produces only boys wearing lab coats and goggles. A search for nursing costumes turns up girls in skirts with stethoscopes. Cats and cupcakes are also girls, while sharks and astronauts are boys.

The same gender division exists not just in toys — blue toolboxes and trucks for boys, pink play kitchens and dolls for girls — but also in nearly every other children’s product, including baby blankets, diapers and toothbrushes.

These distinctions have long-term effects on children’s notions of gender roles, social scientists say. Costumes, toys and many other environmental cues can influence the subjects children choose to study, the jobs they pursue and the roles they play at home and in society.

But marketers being the enlightened people they are, that won’t mean girls are shunted into nursing while boys go into science…

…oh wait.

“If you drop the gender marketing, rather than narrowing a set of interests based on gender, it widens the possibility for the child to pursue interests that he or she cares about and has a talent for,” saidCarol J. Auster, a sociologist at Franklin and Marshall College who studies gender, work and leisure. “Way down the road, it allows a grown man or woman to pursue an occupation that is well matched with their talents or skills.”

But but but but gender is our favorite thing. If you drop gender marketing, that deprives us of all the joy and excitement of gender. Gender is fabulous!

…toys are more strictly gendered today than they were 50 years ago, when adult gender roles were much more separate, according to research by Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis.

Until the 1960s, girls’ toys focused on homemaking and boys’ on work in the industrial economy, she found. That changed significantly with the rise of the feminist movement of the 1970s. But in the 1990s, gendered toys returned with a vengeance, resulting in the action heroes and princesses available today.

In the Sears catalog ads of 1975, according to Ms. Sweet, just 2 percent of toys were marked as girls’ or boys’; on the Disney Store website in 2012, according to a study in which Ms. Auster was a co-author, all toys were labeled that way.

All of them.

But at least they’re careful to make sure the girls get toys that don’t just train them in passivity, right?

Boys’ toys and costumes tend to be associated with action or destruction: objects that move, characters that save the day and animals that prey. Girls’ toys and costumes are more passive: objects to be looked at, characters that are rescued and animals that are docile or pretty.

In the 2012 study analyzing toys on the Disney Store website, girls’ toys were mostly pastel and related to caretaking or beauty, like dolls and jewelry. Boys’ toys had mostly bold colors and related to action and building, like cars and blocks.


It’s impossible to disentangle all the elements that shape children’s notions of gender roles or to separate nature from nurture, and no major longitudinal studies have been done. But researchers say drawing clear distinctions between genders a significant role in pushing children down particular paths and creating stereotypes.

Lynn Liben of Penn State University and Lacey Hilliard of Tufts University studied preschool students. In some of the classrooms, teachers made no distinctions between boys and girls. In others, teachers differentiated between them, such as asking them to line up separately.

After two weeks, the children in the group where distinctions were made were much more likely to hold stereotypical beliefs about whether men and women should be in traditionally male or female occupations, and spent much less time playing with peers of the opposite sex. Even saying “boys and girls” instead of “children” had the effect.

And everything does say “boys and girls” (in that order); every damn thing, all the time.

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