Gendered Toys & The Upholding of Sexism

A Facebook video recently released by the page ATTN, titled “It’s Time to Rethink Sexism in Toys”, brings to light the issues surrounding the gendered implications that most toys and ads for toys create. The video outlines research done by Dr. Elizabeth Sweet that coincides well with Claudia’s doll play in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Erica Hateley’s keyword essay “Gender”. To complete her study, Sweet watched over 7000 toy ads and analyzed the results. She found that modern day toy ads have become even more gendered, and this is severely affecting how young children grow up. The expected roles that women and men are supposed to play become even stronger due to these gendered toys.


Gender in children’s literature is described in Hateley’s essay as something that “affirmed values of consciousness and experience as distinctly masculine or feminine. Reading not only created literate citizens, it also located them in a gendered social order” (87). While literature is something that has considerably widened the gender gap, doll play can also be applied to the same effect, as demonstrated in the ATTN video.


Claudia’s relationship with her blue-eyed baby doll demonstrates the oddities of the script of doll play. The famous quote, “What was I supposed to do with it?” (20), contrasted with Claudia’s quick realization that she was supposed to “rock it, fabricate storied situations around it, even sleep with it” (20), represents the idea that young girls play with dolls to learn how to be mothers. But Claudia says it herself, “Motherhood was old age, and other remote possibilities” (20). It is strange that a young girl should be expected to act like a mother with her doll, when in reality motherhood is incredibly far off from a young child’s perspective. In addition, this discourages young girls from learning to do basically anything else, and pushes boys to be the ones who build, work, and essentially be moneymakers. Sweet’s study found that Barbie dolls actually make girls believe that they can’t do as many jobs as boys. This type of doll play creates an inequality in the roles of boys and girls that will continue to be upheld as long as dolls are made to be gendered.

6 thoughts on “Gendered Toys & The Upholding of Sexism”

  1. The idea of gendered toys in today’s world is a bit puzzling. I can’t help but wonder if companies are still gendering toys in order to make a larger profit. When a toy is targeting a certain audience, it usually will make that audience feel special and as if the toy/product was meant for them. This usually leads that certain population to feel the need to purchase that product as well. I wonder if toy companies are still gendering products because they are ignorant or if it is because they want a larger profit. If a toy dump truck was advertised as gender-neutral, would it still make the profit it did when it was being advertised to only young boys? What about a Barbie, or an Easy Bake Oven?

  2. The video posted was very good and something this is not often seen, but should be. It is really sad to me that people still are talking about how toys should still be gendered because “we should encourage them to embrace the gender they were given.” To me, this was the most disturbing piece about the video. I am pretty sure when the person in the video who said this did, my mouth dropped open. I was in shock that people still think this. I knew that people felt this way, but it is hard to hear it actually be said. The first thing that bothers me is that fact that no one should be forced to play with their gender specific toy because these toys are not to going to be a problem in the future. If a boy wants to play with a doll, that does not mean he is going to become gay. But, even if it did, who cares (also you can not turn a person gay because it is not something they get to decide, so that should not be the concern). The second aspect of the line is that by having such gender specific toys, it inhibits children, but mostly girls, from being “allowed” to do certain activities. A profession that is seen as a result from gender stereotypes is the amount of women engineers and other science based professions. It has gotten better, but the fact that my sister, as an engineering student at UW-Madison, is seen as a huge minority is really upsetting. There should be a pretty even distribution of males and females in most professions, because children should be able to follow their dreams no matter what they ideal job is, or what gender they are.

  3. This made me question the practice of today’s “gender” reveals which are technically sex reveals. The sex of a baby is biologically determined but it’s the gender which socially constructed roles, activities, and behaviors and therefore ties in well with the keyword of “gender.” Keeping the definitions of sex and gender in mind, is it the parent’s decision or the baby’s decision to identify with a gender? How does this impact sexism among children’s toys?

  4. I find this post very interesting and I agree with your opinion. For some reason society makes it seem weird if a boy is interested in playing with a doll or playing the game “house” as well as if a young girl wants to play with something such as trucks or legos. This is very wrong and pointless in my opinion and makes me wonder when things will change. More and more dads have become stay at home dads and women are working more, so why haven’t the stereotypes in toys changed yet?

  5. I found it surprising that today, when we should be embracing different forms of sexuality and gender, that there are more gendered ads than before. I don’t think it is ever okay to discourage a boy or girl from doing something that they have a passion for. I like how Barbie incorporated a boy into one of their ads because some boys do like to play with dolls, and some girls do like to play with construction sets, and that’s not something that they should be ashamed of.

  6. It’s sad to me that these gendered expectations presented by toys still exist, but to hear that “Sweet’s study found that Barbie dolls actually make girls believe that they can’t do as many jobs as boys” is what upset me the most. I believe that this is more of the responsibility of the parent than of the doll maker. Dolls are a fun, interesting toy for kids and while they can present false ideas about body types and careers, they are not meant to entirely “teach” children anything. Parents providing their children with these dolls should be sure to make it clear that girls don’t need to look like Barbies. They can dress how they like, do what they dream of doing and, most importantly, do anything as well as a boy can, if not better.

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