Boys will be boys…

Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. At least that’s what advertising executives in the toy industry are hoping.

I like to see information presented visually. Today, I ran across a visualization that presents, in a word cloud, the phrases and words used to advertise to children, separated by the gender they are aimed at.

The results are a fascinating look at how the advertising industry views gender stereotypes. They seem to be saying that boys are warlike and externally motivated, while girls are loving and introspective.

Behold, first the boys’ list, then the girls’ .

Put them together, and you’ve got a ying and a yang…

If the “child is the father of the man,” and the “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” what does this say about how we raise our children? What do the kind of toys they are playing with mean for our future?

On the other hand, are these advertisements shaping children, or are they a reflection of what children already are? Anyone with children knows that a boy of three can turn any stick into a sword, light saber, or gun, and a girl of the same age will fawn over babies and puppies of all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t take a t.v. commercial to induce a child into using its imagination.

For example, our daughter doesn’t have a television in her home to persuade her one way or the other, and we’ve exposed her equally to Yoda, the Care Bears, and Olivia, among others. Equal time notwithstanding, she’s more likely to ask for Olivia over Star Wars almost any day of the week (the outlier, of course, is The Incredibles…but then, it’s because she wants to see Jack Jack). On the other hand, my Dear Ol’ Mom regularly refers to my nephew as a “warrior.” That’s just because it’s how he rolls, not out of wishful thinking or intentionally nurturing him to be a soldier.

Nurture or nature, it’s a fascinating word cluster. I recommend the full post, where the author explains her methodology and what sounds like an upcoming book on the research.

(h/t The Achilles Effect)

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3 responses to “Boys will be boys…

  1. I decided long before I had my little girl our house was going to be a princess free zone. When Beauty and the Beast was on TV, we thought ‘what the hey, let’s see if she likes it’ she got bored and left the room, I was delighted. I’m thrilled my little girl likes rockets, cars, monsters and toy story- she likes pink and bows, but if you give her a baby doll or a hammer- she’ll take the hammer.

    I’m so proud.

    • There’s no doubt they beat their own path. Our little one waives a light saber around as much as anything, but when there’s a baby in the room, she drops everything to coo at it. Nature or nuture, there’s no doubt in my mind that boys and girls are different.

  2. This is quite fascinating–thanks for posting. It’s pretty clear that advertisers aren’t intentionally in the business of shaping gender roles one way or the other . . . they’re really just trying to conform products to perceived childhood traits. So, the word clusters you’ve shown are either (1) a reflection on how boys and girls really are different, or (2) a reflection on how (advertisers) think they are different. I, for one, think that the genders are fundamentally different in important ways, though the extent to which our expectations about what it means to be a member of a gender become a self-fulfilling prophesy is an interesting one that I won’t even try to answer.

    My girl loves princesses (so far), and my boys love dinosaurs (so far). On the other hand, my girl loves sports more than my boys do (so far), and my boys love babies more than my girl does (so far). I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out. Kids come as themselves, no doubt . . . and aren’t we glad about that? :)

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