Why ‘boys will be boys’?

Walk in to any toy section at your local Walmart and you’ll find three or four aisles packed tightly with a sea of pink, attributed with shiny glittering tassles and fairy wands. Walk down further and you’ll see the aisles of neutral colored boys toys, with guns, swords, and bows.

You can look and see this distinct separation and it has become the breeding ground of gender identity and gender roles. Toy expert Richard Gottlieb discusses exactly just how far Walmart’s toy catalogue takes it subliminal gender role influence in this 2011 article.  However, the type of toys that boys and girls use is only a small part in what molds a child’s gender identity.

In Julia T Wood’s text Gendered LivesWood defines gender identity as “a person’s private sense of, and subjective experience of, his or her own gender” so when you look at childhood and how gender is influenced it is important to consider how social learning and cognitive development come in to play. The development of gender identities can be influenced through the response of others through social learning and the role models that are present in their life, which is cognitive development.

If you look at how boys are brought up around other people it is rare to see them be held regularly by others, instead they can be found to be left alone more to figure out the world for themselves. Where as girls are encouraged to share their feelings and are given closer attention for the most part. I came across this light-hearted Buzzfeed video that emphasizes the gender roles that are put on to children if they were still heavily imposed as adults:


In the video the obvious gender roles are covered but one really captures my attention. When a woman asks her colleagues to clean up compared to a males request for the same action. Because males are left alone more during childhood they are seen to be tough, independent and have a set of leadership qualities unlike girls who are seen to be dainty, innocent, and interdependent on other people.

Gender identity is something that is constantly shifting, it is happening more today than ever before. Understanding what molds these identities and understanding gender identity itself are both important. Having a strong knowledge of gender means that it less likely society will cage males and females in to gender, but to allow for each sex to harness the best qualities from each type of identity. Let’s face it, every girl likes a guy that can cook and knows how to keep himself clean and guys like a girl that doesn’t need to be carried through life and can handle herself.


4 thoughts on “Why ‘boys will be boys’?

  1. Elizabeth Ketcher says:

    I like that you made this post relatable by using the Walmart reference but it is even further relatable to our specific class because of our Walmart assignment. I agree so strongly with your point of understanding gender allows us to not cage people into gender boxes. If we know what shapes us as children and what creates our gender expectations then we can mold our children into more accepting adults. The video you used really intensified the expectations that men and women face. Just off the bat a man is told that pink is a “girl” color and a woman is only allowed to pick a “Diva” or “Princess” mug. These boxes are so obvious yet so subtle at the same time. We do not tend to realize all the girls have on pink or girly colors or that all the boys are off playing baseball but we find it strange when we see a boy crying or a little girl running with the boys. We do not notice how strictly we hold these gender roles until they are challenged. You are so right, we do like men who can cook.

  2. Julia Laviano says:

    In Chapter 6 of our textbook, we discussed Gendered Nonverbal Communication. One of the main forms of nonverbal communication we talked about was artifacts, which are personal objects that create and reinforce personal identity. Toys are one of the most common forms of artifacts that socialize us into thinking and behaving in a way that coincides with our heteronormative gendered identity. For example, I had a fake kitchen set growing up, thus reinforcing the idea that women are expected to be skilled in cooking. On the other hand, my brother grew up playing with nerf guns, which reinforced the “protector” ideal associated with masculine gender identity.

  3. Kristina Rogers says:

    The point you made about how toy isles in stores massively influence gender roles is a really good one. Just the other day I was walking through Target and had a very similar experience to yours, in that walking by the toy isles I was confronted by two very distinct “boy” and “girl” sections.
    Where you focused on the social learning aspect of this situation, I would like to take a moment here to consider the affects this toy section situation may have on children when it comes to gender schema theory. Gender schema theory states that as infants, children are trying to figure out how to act and who to be in their specific gender and while figuring this out, they start to sort the information they gather into the two separate groups of “boy” and “girl”. I believe environments such as the separate toy isles for boys and girls do nothing but strengthen that gender gap that is already forming in these children’s minds.
    We as a society are training these young children that it is “normal” for a girl to play with dolls, love the color pink, and adore anything that sparkles and it is “normal” for a boy to want to be rough and destructive and only like the colors of blood and dirt (red, black, brown, green). We are also training them to think that anything other than this set of “normal” is wrong and uncharacteristic of their gender.
    Personally I believe we should aim to break this toy section gap. Children shouldn’t feel discouraged for wanting to play with a toy outside of their “designated section”. They should be encouraged to express themselves based on their own personal interests, not on what gender they were born to.

  4. Michael Durr says:

    So true! You couldn’t avoid a strange look if you were a boy with a girl colored laptop or phone! This falls in align with the social learning theory. This is where you get either positive or negative reinforcements with your actions. For example in your video, the man was wearing a pink shirt and his co-worker came by and said, “thats a girls shirt!”. That would be a example of a negative reinforcement!

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