Gender Stereotypical Toy Preferences in Children 3-5

Gender Stereotypical Toy Preferences in Children 3-5

Esra Fethiye Molu (Marmara University, Turkey), Laura M. Taylor (Coventry University, UK), Kamile Gamze Yaman (Marmara University, Turkey), Munevver Basman (Marmara University, Turkey) and Merve Tezel (Marmara University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5167-6.ch015


Gender socialisation is the process through which society teaches children what it means to be male or female. While gender socialisation itself is a cross-cultural phenomenon, there are differences in the way that the process manifests itself cross-culturally. This is, in part, due to differences in the perceived roles of males and females across societies. Once the sex of a child is known, be that before or after birth, the process of gender socialisation begins. Parents generally prefer that their children adhere to traditional gender-roles, and are concerned when they do not. Rigid adherence to stereotypical gender roles can have negative consequences in childhood and beyond, as these stereotypes can limit children's educational and occupational aspirations, perceived academic competency, emotional expression, and social development. The impact of culture and parental influence in adherence to stereotypical gender roles is discussed via toy preferences and play.
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Socialization is the process whereby a newborn child is transformed into a functioning adult, capable of socially interacting in the world (Handel, 2002). It is about becoming acceptable in all that one does; of learning to behave in ways appropriate to their position in society and the situation that they find themselves in. Due to the complexities of human society, this is a complicated and convoluted process that occurs throughout childhood and beyond. Socialization is a process carried out by people and organizations whose actions, on behalf of society have an effect on the child. The principal agents of socialization during childhood are family, peers, childcare providers and school, the media and, to a lesser extent religious institutions. Each of these agents operates within what Bronfenbrenner (1994) would describe as the child’s microsystem; the child’s immediate environment which both influences and can be influenced by the child. Agents can work together, each reinforcing the efforts and effects of each other on the child’s development. For example, the expectations, goals and standards of parents, teachers and peers may concur. At other times, they might pull the child in different directions. The mass media similarly may reinforce these expectations or goals, or it might offer an alternative set of standards for consideration.

When a child is born, and sometimes before, one of the first questions asked is ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ The answer to this question can have profound, long lasting effects on the expectations of that child, through its development and into adulthood. Based purely on an observation of the child’s biological sex, the process of gender socialization begins. Gender specific expectations are communicated to the child and they begin the process of learning what it means to be male or female in the society in which they live (Molu, 2014). Children’s gender concept is formed during the early years through a process of the internalization of attitudes and expectations associated with gender: Society’s expectations and ideals are internalized and become the child’s own.

The child’s parents are typically the first agents of socialization a child will come into contact with. As a result, they are often considered the most important influence on the child’s gender concept formation; that is the recognition of a child’s own gender, an understanding of its consistency and stability and, once this is in place, their gender socialization. The two processes occur in tandem. Children learn about their own gender (whether they are a boy or a girl; that develops at around the age of 3 years – Kohlberg, as cited in Maccoby, 1966) and what gender is (that it is consistent and stable, gender stability, which develops between 4 and 7 years, Kohlberg, as cited in Maccoby, 1966) at the same time as being exposed to gender specific rules, expectations and role-models. Parents both overtly and covertly communicate their beliefs about gender roles to their child. Overtly the parent may talk to the child about the gender role expectations of themselves and others, they may selectively reinforce gender behaviors considered gender appropriate and they may afford their child opportunities and offer experiences that concur with stereotyped gender roles. For example, a boy may be sent to a football summer camp and a girl to a dance camp. Covertly, parents communicate a lot of information about gender roles through acting as role models. Children are more likely to imitate the behavior of those whose gender is the same as their own (e.g. Stangor & Ruble, 1987; Lopata & Thome, 1978). This identification with members of the same sex facilitates the learning of gender appropriate behavior and thus is a major factor in gender socialization. It would appear to be an innate tendency to identify with those that are perceived to be more similar to ourselves, presumably because this enables children to learn how ‘people like them’ think and behave. Gender is one of the simplest and most visible ways in which humans differ and as a result it is one of the simplest things for young children to attend to when deciding whose behavior to model. Parents’ attitudes can also be transmitted covertly (through observation). Crespi (2004) found that even things such as the amount and nature of housework done by parents of different genders can have an effect on the extent to which children develop traditional gender concepts and expectations.

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