Who Says You Can’t Play with Dolls and Race Cars?

All of your life you have probably been told boys are supposed to like blue and girls are supposed to like pink. This is an idea that is forced on to kids since the time they were born by the colors of their pacifiers, blankets, and toys.

Toys are an important part of a kid’s life growing up and what toys they like and how they play with them; toy commercials can control other parts of their lives, such as who they are friends with, how popular they are, and how they think others act. A way these commercials do this to children are stereotypes- gender stereotypes.

What is gender, you may ask? It is the idea most people have of what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl.

What is a stereotype? It is an idea many people have about groups of people that may or may not be true. When people gender stereotype, these groups are boys and girls, and they say there are certain activities only boys do and ones only girls do. When people say only boys play with race cars and just girls play with dolls, they are gender stereotyping.

That is why the stereotypes that are forced upon kids through toy commercials and the toys themselves are bad for them because they can limit the ideas they have about how boys and girls are supposed to act and what they are supposed to be good at.

How Commercials Show Gender Stereotypes

Advertising companies (companies that try to sell toys to kids) use stereotypes to help them sell their products. By using different words and themes, they try to appeal to kids so they buy their toys.

Let’s do an activity and see how commercials advertise to boys and girls differently. Watch these two videos and try to answer the questions below:

Did you watch the videos? Now, ask yourself:

  • Which commercial is for boys and which one is for girls?
  • How do you know? Which words are used or what do you see that tells you which commercial is for who?

But what about this video?

What gender is this toy for? How do you know?



See? Boys and girls can play with the same toy!

So we see that toys can be advertised to both boys and girls. But most of the time when we watch toy commercials, we see that boys are seen to act one way and girls in another way.

Think about toys you like to play with.

Can you remember what commercial you watched that made you want that toy?

Why did the commercial make you want to buy it?

When watching toy commercials, it’s important to be mindful of how they portray boys and girls. By using stereotypes to advertise to boys and girls differently, toy advertisers imply how you should act and what you should like as a boy or a girl.
When we watched toy commercials, we noticed some actions, words, even colors, that were repeated in different commercials for “boy” and “girl” types.

Which words are for “boy” toys? Which words are for “girl” toys? What makes you think that?

  • “Aggressive”
  • Competitive
  • Mobile
  • Active
  • Independent
  • Explaining
  • Seeking power, speed, action
  • Warm, dark, or neutral colors
  • Cooperative
  • Passive
  • More likely to be in the house rather than “outside”
  • Shy, giggly, “less instrumental in use”
  • More interested in romance
  • Bright, neon, pastel colors
  • Little action

These words were words found in commercials for “boy” toys and “girl” toys.

If you’re a boy or a girl, do you think those all words describe you? Well, they shouldn’t! Girls and boys should fit in all those words that commercials put them in. You’re your own person and you are who you are! Commercials don’t choose it for you, you choose yourself!

It’s shown that commercials for “girls” normally featured toys that focused on being popular, fashion, beauty, and home-life (like cooking and baking)
But commercials for “boys” drew attention to toys that were active and focused on sports or going on adventures.

But what if a girl wants to go on adventures? Or if a boy likes to cook? Toy commercials say that we can’t do those things if we aren’t boys and girls, but who are they to say what we can do and like? Don’t let toy commercials tell you what to like and do, do what you want!


How do people keep gender stereotypes going?

Stereotypes start when kids are born. The girls get pink hats and the boys get blue hats in the hospital. As a kid grows up, parents buy clothes like dresses for girls and pants for boys. Parents also buy toys that they think are meant for their boy or girl.

Kids see in commercials and TV shows that moms and dads have certain roles in the family. Boys are usually shown on the job and girls are shown cooking and cleaning in the house.

Watch this video and see what you think!


Are there any girls in this commercial?

The commercial shows boys as scientists with a mad scientist kit. This is saying that only boys can grow up to be scientists. There are no girls in the commercial but some girls might want to be a scientist too when they grow up!


Watch this video and compare!

Are there any boys in this commercial?

This commercial shows girls in the kitchen cooking with their Easy-Bake Oven. There are only girls in the commercial but boys might like to cook too!


How fast-food restaurants gender stereotype?

When you go to a fast-food restaurant, how do they know for sure that a girl wants a doll and a boy wants a transformer? The fast food worker asks if the kid getting a happy meal is a boy or girl. Based on the answer, they give girls a toy like a doll and boys a toy like a transformer. This is because people think that all girls like the same thing and all boys like the same thing. That’s not always true! Some girls would like to play with a transformer but they never get it in their happy meal because people think that’s not what they want.


How do stores show gender stereotypes?

Toy stores such as “Toys R Us” color code their aisles with pink for girls and blue for boys. This shows kids that the toys in their section are the ones they are suppose to play with.

Look at this picture!

Is this aisle in Walmart for boys or girls? Why do you think so?

The aisle is supposed to be for boys because blue is the main color and people think only boys play with Hot Wheels.


Take a look at this picture and compare!

Is this ad for boys or girls? Why do you think so?

This ad is meant for girls because it is pink and people think only girls like stuffed animals.


Now that you know what gender stereotypes look like, you can look past them and play with the toys you want to play with!

Looking at MoonSand…


Now we are going to do an analysis of gender stereotypes in toy commercials with this Moon Sand commercial. 

An analysis means we are going to look at the commercial and through it we are going to give you our thoughts on gender stereotypes in toy commercials.


Looking at Moon Sand commercials, you can see how the same toy is sold to boys and girls. Looking at the “girls” commercial, they sold the project as an underwater princess castle, while the  “boys” version was sold as a construction set.  The same product was shown as two completely different things to sell better to boys, who are supposed to want to build and destroy things, and girls, who are supposed to want to be a princess with a castle.

Moon Sand could be shown as gender neutral (one toy both boys and girls would enjoy) in the commercial, but the company made specific commercials for boys and girls instead. This is the problem with gender stereotypes in toy commercials. They assume boys want to play one way and girls want to play another way, and don’t look at what kids really want to do.

Another example of a toy that can always be “gender neutral” is a Slinky. When Slinkys are advertised, Slinkys are seen as “springy” and “fun” and the commercials show Slinkys falling down stairs. Everyone can play with a Slinky! Slinky does not advertise to just boys or just girls. Slinky is a toy for everyone.

How gender stereotypes can change how you play with others

Preschool kids come up with ideas of what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl from gender stereotypes. These preschoolers usually start to hang out with mainly boys if they are a boy and girls if they are a girl because of these gender stereotypes, and usually play with “boy” toys if they are a boy and “girl” toys if they are a girl.

Gender stereotypes in toy commercials can change how well kids do in school and other activities, how they play with others, and what decisions they make. Boys may say girls can’t play with them or some of their toys (like Transformers and Hot Wheels), and girls may also say boys can’t be their playmates or play with their toys (like Barbie dolls and EasyBake Ovens). This means toy commercials are changing how kids live with these gender stereotypes.

Children watch up to 200,000 advertisements each year. This could mean commercials are a big part of how kids learn gender stereotypes because they see so many. Some children look at boys and girls in TV commercials as role models and and sometimes think they should act how they do. Because the kids in commercials act how the companies want them to, they usually act through gender stereotypes. This can cause kids to look at toy commercials and start acting how gender stereotypes say they should.

Print out this table so you can learn new ways of thinking and see how you can play with other kids without using gender stereotypes!
The source of this activity and the entire lesson plan can be found here.

Stop gender stereotypes from choosing how you play with toys

Stereotypes are seen in the media. Companies use stereotypes to get children to buy their toys. Here are some examples of stereotypes that can be seen in commercials:

Girls:                                   Boys:

Pink                                       Blue

Quiet                                     Loud

Neat                                      Adventurous

Organized                           Messy

Artistic                                  Athletic


The messages we see in commercials make it seem like it is only okay for boys to like toys that show their tough, competitive, and adventurous side, and it is only okay  for girls to like toys that show they are creative.  These commercials show us that boys and girls should look different, dress different, have different interests, and play with different things.  However, you should never let stereotypes limit you to what activities you want to do.

Here are some ways you can avoid using gender stereotypes:

  • Talk about the messages with you see in advertisements with your parents.
  • Try something new – don’t do an activity because you think you’re supposed to like it, but do it because YOU want to.
  • If you hear your peers using gendered comments (for example: “Girls don’t play with trucks”), tell them that girls and boys can like the same things.
  • Don’t assume that one of your peers like something just because of their gender
  • Using what you’ve learned about gender stereotypes, be a role model for your peers

Fun and Helpful Links for Parents

Show your parents these links so they can help you avoid gender stereotypes while at play!

Gender Stereotypes and Parenting
Toy Story
Gender and Toys: Girls Stuff vs. Boys Stuff
Avoiding Gender Stereotypes
Don’t Buy It! PBS Kids

Wrapping this all up…

Through the use of these gender stereotypes, toy companies will be able to continue to create the rules on how boys and girls should act.  Girls will continue to look toward the “pink” stereotype and will have their creative sides stifled by the ideals that they should be taking care of baby dolls and playing princess while boys will be forced into thinking that they have to be adventurous and rough and tough.  Commercials that continue this way of thinking will still be made and kids will suffer as a result because they may not want to go against these ideas for fear of not fitting in as a child.

These ideas will continue to be used until the kids are adults and then we will have a generation of adults in which the mom is a stay at home while the father works despite the fact that a lot of different advances have been made to make boys and girls equal… but only if nothing is done about this.

Boys and girls can change these gender stereotypes by playing with the toys the want to play with instead of the toys commercials say they should play with. They can also help end these stereotypes by telling other kids they can play with the toys they enjoy playing with as well. Gender stereotypes in toy commercials can end if kids start saying these stereotypes are not how they live.

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