Should toy advertising avoid gender stereotypes this Christmas?
“Sparkle”, “magic”, “glitter”, “princess” and “beautiful” are still some of the most common words in girls’ advertising. For boys, the list includes “adventure”, “battle”, “power” and “awesome”. The way the ad industry communicates with children is at best lazy, patronising and predictable – and at worst downright damaging.
The Advertising Standards Authority recently came out with a report acknowledging that gender stereotypes in ads can restrict choices, aspirations and opportunities, yet we still see boys being portrayed as dominant winners and girls aspiring to live in a pink fantasy world.
And it’s not just about what’s harmful for girls – it’s damaging for boys to see females in such restrictive roles, too. Every message can have an impact on you and skew your perceptions of what’s “gender appropriate”.
Kids are really smart and clever, so why do we insist on talking down to them and limiting their choices? Your gender, background or ethnicity shouldn’t matter. Children simply want to be appreciated and respected – and they should be.
The one great finding in the social sciences is that there’s a truth in all stereotypes. The unshakeable logic being that no one would think that x is associated with y if it weren’t observably so for some reasonable portion of the time.
So it is with gender stereotypes over toys.
Boys simply do have different preferences from girls – moreover, there’s a difference over what is done with the same toy. I had a doll or two as a lad. Action Man was employed to kill my imaginary enemies, while my sisters’ Barbies of very much the same size and colouring were tended, pampered, and dressed up.
This is not confined to humans. Chimpanzees, vervet, and rhesus monkeys have all shown the same behaviour – and they’re not oppressed by capitalism, The Man, nor patriarchy.
Advertising is intended to sell the product – thus toy advertising should, as it does, appeal to those gender stereotypes, on the grounds that it works. Those complaining about this cannot have met any human beings, junior or adult, to think otherwise.
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