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.
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:
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:
Melissa 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.