Gender Roles and Toys
Toys play an important part in defining gender roles. If parents buy girls dolls, dollhouses, high-heeled shoes, and makeup, they give one set of messages. If they buy boys chemistry sets, tool kits, doctor’s bags, building blocks, and wheel toys, they give another set of messages. Children learn roles and skills from playing; the toys they have to some extent determine which roles and skills they learn.
Visit a child care program and examine the environment, specifically the block area and the dramatic play corner. Vivian Paley (1984) deals with this subject at length in her informative, easy-to-read book Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner. Though the book is not new, the superhero play hasn’t changed. Only the names of the heroes, and the few heroines, change regularly. No more He-Man or Teenage Super Ninja Turtles. Superman is still around, and Spiderman is big. While you are looking into the dramatic play area, notice whether more girls are there or boys. Check out the block area. Is that where you find the boys? If this is the case, examine the factors that might contribute to this situation. Sometimes the adults in the program subtly encourage this kind of gender differentiation. Notice the way the environment is set up. If the dramatic play area is a traditional “housekeeping” corner with frilly girls’ clothes, shoes, and purses, most boys won’t be attracted. If a variety of male or non-gender-specific hats, shoes, ties, and accessories are added, that can help. What helps most of all is adding a little water to the play sink, and maybe some soap suds and sponges.
Because boys tend to dominate block play in many programs, some teachers have tried a variety of approaches to encourage girls to go into the area also. One technique is to arrange the environment so that the blocks are close to the dolls or to put a dollhouse in with the blocks. Another idea is to put up “girls only” signs occasionally to give the message that this is valuable play for both sexes.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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