Gender roles begin to form at a very early age, from when we choose pink for girls and blue for boys, or from when we buy dolls for girls and trucks or guns for boys. However, a research conducted at the University of Connecticut revealed that most girls and boys do not want their toys to be based on rigid gender patterns.
Precisely, to avoid these too limited gender roles, the deontological code signed by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs with the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers (AEFJ) that will come into force this week in Spain “prevents” presenting advertisements for toys that provide a sexualized image or transmit rigid gender roles, something like the image used in this article, the epitome of simplified gender stereotypes so that boys and girls learn early on what society expects of them.
Toys have no gender
From now on, advertising will have to be mixed, so we should no longer see ads only with girls holding dolls in their arms or playing with “little kitchens.” New advertisements must avoid associating girls exclusively with activities related to care, housework or beauty and boys with action, physical activity or technology.
The self-regulation code for children’s advertising states that, “as a general rule, advertising messages for toys will avoid showing gender biases in the presentation they make of girls and boys, promoting a plural and egalitarian image of the roles they can adopt, in order to encourage and facilitate their free choice of toys”.
The objective of this new regulation is that toy advertisements are more egalitarian, truthful and constructive, especially those aimed at children under 7 years of age, who are considered a group more vulnerable to gender stereotypes since they are forming their identity and conception of the world. In this way, it is intended to promote and encourage a more plural, egalitarian and stereotype-free image during childhood.
In fact, the toys will not be presented with an indication, either express or implied, that they are for one or the other sex, nor will color associations be made (such as pink for girls and blue for boys). Ads must also use inclusive language and feature positive role models.
Binary toys didn’t always exist
Toys for boys tend to be more aggressive and involve action and emotion while toys for girls tend to be softer in color and suggest more passive play, emphasizing beauty, nurturing, and maternity. However it was not always so. In the early 20th century, toys were rarely marketed for different genres.
It was in the 1940s that toy manufacturers realized that wealthier families were willing to buy a new set of clothing, toys, and other products if they were marketed differently for both sexes. This is how the idea of pink for girls and blue for boys was born.
Currently, the marketing of binary toys is brutal. Walking through some of the toy store aisles reveals without a doubt who their audience is. The girls’ hallway is almost exclusively pink, filled with dolls, princesses, and little kitchens. The boys’ hallway is mostly blue and contains trucks, guns, and superheroes.
However, we must be aware that a doll or a truck, by itself, will not reverse decades of socialization that have led us to believe that children wear blue, have short hair and play with trucks; while girls like pink, have long hair and play with dolls.
That means that while trying to eradicate the sexist nature of toy advertising is an important step, it won’t necessarily change the way many parents and adults teach boys masculinity and girls femininity.
A very interesting research conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that more than three-quarters of those surveyed said it was a good thing for parents to encourage girls to play with toys or do activities associated with the opposite gender. However, very few thought that it was a good idea to encourage boys to get involved in games traditionally associated with girls.
A sharp mind reading between the lines will discover that this research suggests that a stereotype still persists in society that associates traditionally “masculine” traits such as strength, courage, and leadership with something positive and desirable, while conventionally related characteristics with femininity, like vulnerability, emotion, care, and affection, are bad – or at least undesirable.
Therefore, despite the advertising of toys, boys may continue to receive the message that it is not good to want to play like girls. And to change that we will probably need a long time. Perhaps we are focusing too much on empowering girls while forgetting to free boys from all the gender expectations that stifle them as well.
(2022) Código de Autorregulación de la publicidad infantil de juguetes. In: Autocontrol.
Watson, R. J. et. Al. (2020) Evidence of Diverse Identities in a Large National Sample of Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents. Research on Adolescent; 30(S2): 431-442.
Menasce, J. (2017) Most Americans see value in steering children toward toys, activities associated with opposite gender. In: Pew Research Center.