the toys themselves had a distinctly gendered feel.
While the author recalled Legos as gender-neutral, they did not appear
gender neutral in the toy-store setting. Instead, the Lego products were
based on action movies, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones or else
featured something called a Bionicle, which appeared to be some type of
robot. There were some Legos called Clickits, which were pink and white
and featured teenage-looking cartoon-character girls. However, the Lego
sets from the authors youth, which featured blocks and other features to
build gender-neutral items like towns, simply were not present. Instead,
the Legos seemed less free-form and more structured, and came in boxes to
build specific designs, almost all of them masculine in stereotyping.
The other building materials were similarly gender-differentiated.
While the toy store had apparently gender-neutral building toys like Tinker
Toys and Mega Blocks, they also managed to capitalize on stereotyping. For
example, Mega Blocks offered themed playsets, including a pastel-toned
Disney Princess playset and a jungle-colored Diego playset. Even Tinker
Toys were no longer gender neutral: Toys R Us offered a set of pink Tinker
Toys, which was clearly marketed towards girls.
The author found a similar phenomenon in bicycles. When the author
was a child, bicycles for very young children may have featured gender-
distinctive patterns. For example, the author recalls having a yellow
bicycle with a white banana seat with a flower pattern and a flower basket
on it. However, the majority of bicycles at that time came in just a
handful of relatively gender-neutral colors, such as red, blue, and green.
Walking into the bicycle section of the toy store, the author was dismayed
to discover that there was not one bicycle for preschool-aged children that
was not marketed in a gender-stereotyped manner. For little girls, one
could purchase a Bratz Girlz, Barbie, Dora, Disney Princess, Tinkerbell, or
flower-themed bike, just to name a few. For little boys, one could
purchase a Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, Diego, or Transformers bike, just to
name a few. However, there was no plain, unadorned bicycle available for
preschoolers or young school aged children.
The author then found that all of the traditionally-masculine toys,
including toy trucks, toy guns, and action figures, were located in the
same area. They were on the outside perimeter of the square, just after
outdoor toys like bicycles and sports equipment. The colors used in these
toys were bright, mostly primaries, but with a surprising amount of orange
and green, as well. In addition to these toy trucks, guns, and action
figures, one could find a variety of other masculine-stereotyped toys in
the area, including tool sets, card games like Pokemon, and gross-out toys.
Every picture in this “boy area,” whether on the merchandise itself or on
marketing material, showed boys playing with the toys, without the
inclusion of a single female. In addition, though there were a large
number of action figures in the area, very few of the action figures were
female. In fact, of more than 100 action figures, the author found only
two females: a female character from Indiana Jones and another female figure from Star Wars.
The traditionally-feminine toys were located on the inside of the
square, directly across the aisle from the traditionally-masculine toys.
While the masculine toys were overwhelmingly primary-colored, the feminine
toys were pastels, specifically pinks and purples.
However, the “girl
toys” seemed to be more gender inclusive than the boy toys. For example,
there were boy baby-dolls, most notably Cabbage Patch Kids, and pictures on
some of the baby doll boxes and promotional material showed both boys and
girls playing with the dolls. Furthermore, while some of the play kitchens
were girl-themed (such as a Tinkerbell Fairy Kitchen, a Barbie kitchen, and
a Disney Princess Kitchen), others of them were very gender neutral. Most
notable was the fact that Little Tikes brand play kitchens were clearly
marketed towards boys and girls, featuring gender neutral colors and
children of both sexes on their boxes and other marketing materials.
Barbie was as stereotypically pink as she had been in the authors
childhood, though the Barbie products featured a much greater selection of
male dolls than one would have expected, given the relative absence of
female dolls in the action figures. However, there was a disturbing trend
in the Barbie- type dolls: a variety of different dolls in very skimpy
attire and excessive makeup, which seemed to be marketed in a very
sexualized manner, though the targeted age for those toys was an under-12
In addition, the author noticed something interesting in the “girl
toy” area. Many imaginative play sets were present in that section and
were there in pastel colors. For example, the Littlest Pet Shop toys,
which are basically small hand-sized animals and, by themselves, are gender-
neutral, were marketed in pink and purple packaging, with pastel-colored
playsets. Likewise, an animal doctor set was available only in pastel
colors. The stores entire collection of non-Halloween dress up clothing
was also located in the girl collection and was distinctly feminine in
Although the past 30 years of research have demonstrated that gender
stereotyped toys and play patterns may help contribute to adult gender
behavior differences, it appears that consumers are not concerned by these
differences. After all, Toys R Us is a for-profit business, and has
presumably arranged its store in a way that is maximized to get people to
spend money. Apparently, organizing toys and marketing toys in a gendered
fashion promotes such spending, because the toy store was far more gender-
divided than the author would have imagined in this supposedly enlightened
era. However, while the author was surprised by this notion, she
inevitably came to the conclusion that it did not help resolve the
nature/nurture debate. Whether children prefer gender-stereotyped because
they are socialized to enjoy those toys or because they have an innate
drive for that type of play is something that not even a visit to Toys R Us
Cherney, I., and London, K. (2006). Gender-linked differences in the
toys, television shows,
computer games, and outdoor activities of 5-to 13 year-old children.
Sex Roles, 54 (9/10), 717-726).
Green, V.A., Bigler, R., and Catherwood, D. (2004). The variability and
flexibility of gender-