According to early feminist scholars, people are not born men or women. Gender roles are entirely a product of social constructions. When boys and girls are born, they have no gender, and the sexual difference between them is fundamentally biological. It is socialization that determines what gender role one would adopt and, in most cases, males are socialized as men and females as women (Lorber 102).
Apart from the issue of gender role, many other human traits are nurtured from an early age through the manner in which children are treated, the nature of plays they engage in, and the toys they play with, both at home and at school (Turner and Goldsmith 304). These not only affect their socialization processes, but also act as key determinants of their expectations in life.
Contemporary studies have proved that play is one of the most effective means of introducing concepts to children (Turner and Goldsmith 304). This is because it stimulates their creativity and curiosity, and helps them to develop key social skills, such as teamwork and sharing. Given the profoundness of play for children, it is inevitable that their toys would have a substantial influence on their perceptions about several issues in life.
When a girl is born, for example, her caregivers, both consciously and sub-consciously, set upon turning her into a woman. They give her a female name, buy her feminine clothes and, as she grows up, she receives feminine toys (Lorber 102). From a traditional point of view, girls are given dolls, tea sets, and other feminine toys.
Through this, they begin to construct a vision of the world where they are expected to look after children and cook for family members. On the contrary, boys’ toys are masculine and they include guns, cars, and model trains, among others (Turner and Goldsmith 304). Here, the underlying lesson is they should learn to be in control. Their toys have a powerful theme around them, since guns and cars, for instance, are tools of power.
Consequently, as they grow up, they expect a society that looks up to them to provide answers and to take control of situations. However, the world is gradually changing and the traditional gender roles are being restructured, which is in conflict with the socialization of children.
Boys would, at some point, realize that they cannot be in charge because of their manhood, but their qualifications. Girls, on the other hand, would come into a world where there is a serious controversy about their traditional roles, which many women have unequivocally rejected as chauvinistic.
As aforementioned, toys tend to influence the way children formulate their interpretations of the world around them, and this may result in them having incorrect assumptions of how the world works. For example, video games, which although not being toys in the strict sense, serve the same purpose, and have a great deal of impact on young children.
While they have been touted for their benefits, such as increasing hand and body coordination, creativity, and imagination, they also give children unrealistic perceptions about life. Many of the violent games, such as GTA, use aggression to solve problems and generally imply that all one needs to do is to be big, powerful and/or cunning. Moreover, they suggest that children can virtually get away with anything. In fact, they go a long way in reinforcing gender roles since most of them are overtly sexist (Cherney and London 722).
Most of the main actors are men. In games, such as Packman, Hit man, GTA Need for Speed, Prince of Persia, male characters are dominant, while female actors are used as the trophy at the end of the game, or just as supporting players (Gallagher 21). This may mislead children of both genders to think that real life roles are structured with the man at the center and the woman on the peripheral.
As a result, it is easy for boys to unconsciously assume chauvinistic attributes, and girls to be more submissive and less aggressive even without being aware of it.
However, this argument has been opposed because children do not necessarily ascribe to the assumptions, but rather construct their perceptions about the world from a variety of social and personal experiences. Opponents claim that when children are presented with toys that represent both gender roles, they tend gravitate toward their interests.
Therefore, it is not that boys are “forced” to play with male toys and vice-versa, but rather they are biologically wired to opt for the more aggressive or complex toys. A study by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center on the impact of biology on the choice of toys, found that male monkeys tend to select boyish toys, while females play with both equally (Hassett, Siebert and Wallen 361).
As a result, the researchers suggested that, although more proof is needed, it is possible that the choice of a toy is inane rather than exclusively motivated by outside influences. While this argument may have some merit, it is inclusive since, at the end of the day, most children, especially if they are the only ones in a home, do not choose their toys. Ergo, girls would get dolls and boy cars, which inevitably manipulate their perception of gender roles.
Cherney, Isabelle , and Kamala London. “Gender-linked differences in the toys, television shows, computer games, and outdoor activities of 5-to 13-year- old children.” Sex Roles 54.9-10 (2006): 717-726. Print.
Gallagher, Mark. Action figures: men, action films, and contemporary adventure narratives. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.
Hassett, Janice, Erin Siebert, and Kim Wallen. “Sex differences in rhesus monkey toy preferences parallel those of children.” Hormones and behavior 54.3 (2008): 359-364. Print.
Lorber, Judith. The social construction of gender: The social construction of difference and inequality: Race, class, gender, and sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.
Turner, Charles , and Diane Goldsmith. “Effects of toy guns and airplanes on children’s antisocial free play behavior.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 21.2 (1976): 303-315. Print.