Toys Ads and Distorted Children’s Play

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

A group of powerful children’s advocates in the UK, Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, studied television commercials for toys and found that boys and girls are painted very differently by marketers. While marketing directly to children is questionable to begin with, using marketing gimmicks steeped in sexism is even more so. 

Let Toys Be Toys’ study  revealed how sexism and gender roles are directly marketed to our youngest members of society:

The results should be no surprise to those parents who watch commercial television with their children; a majority of TV adverts show boys and girls playing separately, in very stereotypical ways.

  • Boys were shown as active and aggressive, and the language used in adverts targeted at them emphasises control, power and conflict. Not one advert for baby or fashion dolls included a boy.
  • Girls were generally shown as passive, unless they were dancing. The language used in the ads focuses on fantasy, beauty and relationships. Out of 25 ads for toy vehicles, only one included a girl.

Ads targeted at boys were mainly for toys such as vehicles, action figures, construction sets and toy weapons, while those targeted at girls were predominantly for dolls, glamour and grooming, with an overwhelming emphasis on appearance, performing, nurturing and relationships.

Ads that featured boys and girls together were usually in categories such as action/board games, art/craft materials, interactive toys and soft toys. The action games we watched all had boys and girls playing together, although boys outnumbered girls 3:2, and these ads all had male voiceovers.

Some ads that featured boys and girls together showed them as adversaries, for example the girls screaming and running away from the boy’s Wild Pets remote control spider, or the boy trying to break into a girl’s secret journal.

The full report can be found here, but an easy synopses to use with children to make them better aware of these issues are the word clouds LTBT made from boy and girl commercials:

LTBT Boys Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys boys’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

LTBT Girls Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys girls’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

 

The findings are not shocking to anyone aware of the gender stereotypes children face as they try to navigate childhood, but they are important because:

1. We can compare/contrast this with findings from a similar study in 2011 – despite all the advocacy and media attention around this topic, has anything changed? You can also compare/contrast the 2015 word clouds by LTBT to the 2011 word clouds Crystal Smith (author of “Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture Is Teaching Boys About Masculinity”) created from her study:

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys' commercials, 2011.

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys’ commercials, 2011.

AchE Girls

Achilles Effect word cloud from girls’ commercials, 2011.

 
2. The word clouds from both studies serve as an excellent teaching tool to use with kids when practicing media literacy. You can also include music, sounds, tone of voice, and colors used in toy advertisements to break down how toy companies are trying to shape boy consumers and girl consumers. Push the kids to use critical thinking around whether or not those depictions match up to their own play interests and those of children they know.
(Example: My daughter was very upset my son got a remote control car from Santa but she did not, and accused Santa of being sexist. She delighted in borrowing aforementioned remote control car to run over an obstacle course of Peanut gang figures and Princess magna-clip dolls.)
 
3. We are given insight into how marketers and society at large views children. We can take time to contact these offending companies and ask them to do better. We can also take time to contact the companies who are getting it right and make sure we sing their praises to friends, family, and social media circles.
We can then take this information and subvert the messaging within our own families and become better informed consumers. When our children grow up seeing boys and girls as equals and unique individuls, they become better informed people.
 
{Thank you to Let Toys Be Toys – For Girls and Boys and Achilles Effect for all of your hard work!}

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Discover the Unique Girls Explore Dolls

There is no shortage of fashion and princess dolls on the shelves, as most parents these days know. Missing are the dolls that represent women of valor, accomplishment, talent, and grit. I’ve never seen a Mary Cassatt or Bessie Coleman doll next to the hot pink fashionistas. Have you?

www.girls-explore.com

www.girls-explore.com

Last week I welcomed a refreshing change when Girls Explore, a wonderful educational doll company out of New York, sent me two doll sets that provided the “more” so many parents are searching for on behalf of their daughters.

In fact, that is how this small doll company got its start, when creator Randy Allen was sitting around the holiday table with her sisters in 2002 having a discussion about the lack of meaningful, inspiring dolls for girls. Says Allen on the company website, “After several decades in corporate America, including being a computer programmer at IBM, I looked around and noticed how few women sat beside me. From personal experience we knew the difficulty girls have in finding role models and getting good information about careers, often resulting in limited ambitions. Over the next several months that conversation and others led to the concept for Girls Explore.”

Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman arrived in my mailbox and I was really looking forward to opening the packages. I have admired these dolls for a number of years and was excited to see what they looked like in person. I was also interested to see how my almost ten-year-old daughter would react to them.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

As if on cue, I heard Amelia (yes, named for Amelia Earhart!) gasp from the kitchen, “Oh snap! She looks JUST like Harriet Tubman!” It would seem a certain someone could not wait one more minute to see what was inside the intriguing black boxes, their fronts decorated with a constellation of photographs of girls sitting in class, coloring, writing, peering through a magnifying glass and experimenting with a gyroscope.

Girls Explore has the motto “Reach for the stars” and their product lives up to it. The licensed and authorized dolls are the exact likeness of the heroine they bring to life during playtime. They are exceptionally well-made with great attention to detail. Everything about these doll sets are perfect and inspiring: the historically accurate costumes, hardbound biographies and activity booklets, and related toy for the child (Harriet Tubman came with a wearable carrying satchel, similar to what she may have used on the Underground Railroad).

I’m looking forward to watching Amelia play with these dolls in the weeks to come and observing what adventures and stories she creates. Considering the template for greatness these influential dolls carry, I think we’re both in a for a treat.

In addition to the doll sets, Girls Explore offers inspirational posters of these heroines and their biographies.

Girls Explore is offering PPBB readers a coupon code for 25% off all doll sets through Christmas, December 25th. The coupon code is PIGTAILPALS. Shop at www.girls-explore.com.

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child's toy.

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child’s toy.

 

I received two doll sets from Girls Explore to enable me to write this product review. 

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received a free Infant Car Seat from Brand X in exchange for writing a review on the blog.

Dad Writes To Fisher-Price To Let Them Know Trains Are For Girls, Too

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

UPDATE 11-23-15: Fisher-Price response is at end of post.

This week I met Jake White on Twitter, a dad raising two daughters who love trains and engineering toys. He wanted to share his family’s disappointment with the current Fisher-Price holiday catalog from Toys “R” Us that featured only boys playing with Thomas trains.

Really – page after page of boys happily playing with trains. Zero girls.

His main concern was why, in 2015, do toy companies still cling to the belief only boys enjoy playing with trains and building things?

As Jake points out perfectly in his letters, “Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation. Those are not boy-specific endeavors.”

Below is the letter he sent to Fisher-Price Global Brands Executive Vice President Geoff Walker, published here with Jake’s permission. Jake sent a similar letter to Richard Barry, Toys “R” Us Executive Vice President, Global Chief Merchandising Officer.

November 17, 2015

Geoff Walker
Executive Vice President, Fisher-Price Global Brands

Fisher-Price Brands
636 Girard Avenue
East Aurora, NY 14052

Dear Mr. Walker,

Last week we received a mailer from Toys “R” Us advertising various Thomas & Friends products offered at Toys “R” Us stores.  I have attached copies of a few pages of the mailer.  My wife and I were excited about the mailer. She pointed out a coupon for a free Thomas train.  We were excited because both of our daughters, ages 6 and 3, love Thomas.  Especially our youngest daughter, Arwen.  In fact, she loves Thomas so much, her third birthday party in April sported a Thomas & Friends theme, complete with a Thomas banner, homemade train, Thomas plates and cupcakes, and Thomas favors for her friends.  Our oldest daughter, Abby, also likes Thomas because she is a budding engineer who loves putting together new and unique track formations and learning about how trains work.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  I wanted to turn the mailer over to Arwen, but, as I always do before handing over something to my 3-year-old, I flipped through it first.  What I saw was page after page of pictures of boys playing with Thomas engines and accessories.  In fact, there were seventeen pictures of boys included in the mailer.  I was absolutely shocked that I did not see a single picture of a girl playing with Thomas toys.  Not one.

I simply cannot understand how this could happen.  Surely there must be thousands, perhaps even millions, of young girls who love to play with Thomas & Friends toys.  Why would Toys “R” Us and Fisher-Price fail to make any effort to market these toys to girls?  On the back of the removable “Shopping Guide” the following question is posed – “Why Thomas & Friends?”  The answers are: “Discovery” “Imagination” “Problem Solving” and “Cooperation”.  Surely these are traits and ideas that should be encouraged in children regardless of their sex.  Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation.  Those are not boy-specific endeavors.

Needless to say, I did not turn the mailer over to my daughter.

I hope that, in the future, you will ensure that these types of products are marketed to all children, regardless of their sex.  Please respect children enough to allow them to make their own choices regarding the toys that they play with.

I attempted to raise this issue with your company through its “Thomas & Friends” Facebook page and Twitter account, but received no response.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jacob J. White

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

I really appreciate when parents like Jake and his wife Aiyana make the effort to provide diverse play experiences for their children, free of gender expectations and stereotypes. Most of the children our family knows play this way – childhood is more than shades of pink and blue.

I also appreciate when parents take the time to use their voices to create meaningful change for children, especially with toy companies who use outdated and limiting gender messages in their marketing and packaging.

Jake, a union lawyer, and Aiyana, a screenwriter, live in the Los Angeles area with their daughters Abby and Arwen.

 

UPDATE: On November 23 Fisher-Price responded to our post with the following tweets. Their response was encouraging and the PPBB Community is hopeful the Fisher-Price Marketing Team takes to heart the idea that all toys are for all kids.

FP Twt 1

FP Twt 2

FP Twt 3

On November 17 ABC News covered another parent’s similar reaction to the Thomas catalog – read the story here. In ABC’s report mom Rebecca Binder is quoted saying, “Girls love Thomas for the same reason boys do. The story lines are all about friendship and teamwork. I see her building complete worlds around her Thomas toys. I just don’t want Reece to ever think it’s weird that she likes them.”

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

 

 

A Little Girl Defines Princesses

This story was sent in by PPBB Mom Katie N:

“She gets it! My seven-year-old daughter overheard me make a hypothesis.

Last night a young friend declared that princesses need rescuing. During my lengthy argume– discussion with him, it became apparent that this was very deeply ingrained. As far as he had been taught, princesses are always needing to be rescued. His dad is very anti-princess. My hypothesis was that his dad didn’t want his sister to be into princesses because he also believes that princesses are weak and always needing rescuing.

My daughter asked me why he believed that. I said he probably believes it because that is what our society teaches. That’s what video games show and what stories often tell.

She got a little riled up: ‘But princesses aren’t like that! Princesses are strong and brave! *throws up bicep curl/victory fist* So are girls. Girls are just like princesses!’

She walked on for a bit, seemingly over her moment of passion. But then she stopped to let me catch up. She told me that tomorrow we should have some girl time to see how strong and brave we are.”

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Further reading: 

Historical warrior princesses vs today’s “princess camps”: A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

How parents can help redefine what “princess” can mean: Repackaging Princesses  and A Different Narrative

Pointing out how ingrained in culture “princess = girls” is: A Sparkly Mermaid Princess Did Not Remove My Gall Bladder

A book list that helps shift the princess image: The Redefine Princessy Book List

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Knees Up Like Unicorns: Free Play, Girls, and Barbie

{Disclosure: This post contains sponsored content from Barbie (TM) }

Gwyneth likes to discuss the human brain. And high school for dogs.

Gwyneth likes to discuss the human brain. And high school for dogs.

What happens inside that magical, precious space of free play? That layer of minutes when a boy or girl exists suspended between toys of the real world and a universe of their creating.

Can you recall what that felt like? Are you still able to picture who you were?

Do you remember sitting on the floor of your room imagining a world in which your stories ruled?

Do you remember when asked to clean up your toys the idea of untangling your pretend world from the real one would bring an audible gasp from your lips?

The power of free play is that a child’s imagination becomes the vehicle that can take her anywhere and craft her into anyone. It is a force that transforms us into anything…….

A neuroscience professor, who explains why a dog’s brain is not as developed as a human brain. (You guys. Because there is no high school for dogs.)

A veterinarian whose standard feline wellness exam comes with the question, “Can your cat fly?”

A soccer coach who encourages her team during drills to get their “Knees up! Like a unicorn!”

A museum tour guide who introduces guests to a one-year-old Triceratops named Peter. Sally, the T-Rex, is one thousand, two million, two hundred and fifty two years old.

A businesswoman who recently closed a deal in New York. And Transylvania.

Barbie asked, “What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?”

Are you watching who your daughter becomes when she plays? Are you listening to the confidence and conviction in her voice when she lives out these roles? Are you amazed by her unshakable knowledge she can become anything?

Too often people underestimate girls when they play with their dolls. Is it all homemakers, fashion shows, and weddings? I asked some of my PPBB Parents what they have observed while watching their children play with their toys and Barbies, and who their children became during free play:

– Laurie said that thirty years ago when her daughters played with their Barbies they saw the dolls as professionals, like a pediatrician, dentist, ophthalmologist, or teacher. 

– Stephanie, who is fighting Breast Cancer right now with chemo (and fighting like a champ!), said her daughter has a bald Ella doll from Mattel that she treasures. “Sometimes they are kids from school, sometime they are moms, dads and kids and sometimes they are heroes. They are just a platform to show her creativity.”

– Fatima said her nieces love to pretend to produce and host television talk shows. They would also produce and star in movies. “One of their ‘movies’ had the Barbies go camping in the garden and their pet tortoise was a giant from another land. They even used the night mode on the camera to give special effects to their movies.” Fatima also wanted to point this out – “This was in Pakistan by the way, showing that Barbie truly is loved the world over.”

– Jessica shared that her daughter doesn’t play with Barbie often, but when she plays with them at her grandmother’s home, “[T]hey tend to be in grave danger. Last time, they were in a car accident in the middle of nowhere, and the friends had to work together to survive the crisis and save their injured companion.”

– Erin told me her young daughter (who just became a big sister of twins) “makes hers into superheroes a lot. She loves saving the day. She does a lot of taking them on horseback rides and interacting with other imaginary animals. Playing doctor and pretending they are her patients. After the twins were born, they turned into surgeons and delivered a lot of babies. She and my husband like to pose the dolls and play around with stop motion movies.”

– Sarah said her children enjoy all types of dolls, and when they play they “have a pair of shoes that makes them fly, and they take turns wearing them. They do a lot of shouty rescuing of one another. Often waterfalls are involved, and swimming very intensely.”

– Nicole from Australia said that when her daughter played with Barbies “she would make up rescue scenarios. Like for example, fire fighter barbie would have to go in a space ship with astronaut barbie and fly to a planet to collect some secret ingredient then fly back to earth and use that ingredient to rescue Merida and the other barbies from whatever peril they were in… house fire, earthquake, wild animal attack etc.”

– Jennifer from Canada said her daughter’s Barbies “are usually battling zombies or dinosaurs. They’re kinda badass that way.”

– Diana and Emily both said their children “recreate school relationships in a pretend grown up world.”

For over 56 years, Barbie has inspired imaginations and encouraged girls on their journey to self-discovery. From Mermaid to Movie Star, Pet Vet to Police Officer, Fashionista to Fairy Princess, Barbie continues to celebrate the belief that You Can Be Anything

 

{Disclosure: This post contains sponsored content from Barbie (TM) }

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).