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How Do Gender Stereotypes Affect Children’s Sexuality?

Many people tend to have a strong opinion one way or another on what type of toys their children are allowed to play with. Some people believe it can even affect their children’s sexuality if they play with a toy that isn’t for their gender. For example some people believe a young boy playing with Barbie’s can make him gay or feminine. And new “groundbreaking” commercials like the Moschino Barbie commercial with a young boy who is acting stereotypically feminine, can reinforce these stereotypes and scare people more.

While there is nothing wrong with a boy being “feminine” and playing with a Barbie the commercial can terrify some conservative parents. This research is meant to find the reason why some parents can get extremely passionate about their children’s toys being “acceptable” for their gender to play with. This research is also meant to find out why parents think these things and maybe for me to see the effects of society on people’s personal parenting choices. I got the idea to do this research because one day I saw a young girl with her mother in a toy store and the girl asked for a toy truck.

I was surprised when her mother became angry and said “No, that’s for boys you can’t have that”. I wasn’t raised to not play with toys because they weren’t for my gender. Even though my parents do think that a boy playing with a Barbie will make him gay or feminine, I was allowed to play with whatever I wanted. Even though I am genderfluid, and not heterosexual I do not think me playing with certain toys made me “pick” a gender identity and sexuality. Though I do remember completely rejecting anything pink or stereotypically girly because I didn’t like it.

I know that this is also the case with other girls straight, cisgender, gay, genderqueer or whatever gender or sexuality they have. I have talked to girls outside of this research. Girls usually like to become “one of the boys” and be tomboys because being girly is seen as weak and things girls do aren’t important (Lorber, p. 57) and they are made fun of if they do things that are stereotypically girly. Who would want to identify with the weak gender? I have been interviewing people of different ages, and genders some who have children and some who don’t.

I wanted to see what the people around me would say. I asked two questions. “How would you feel if your son asked for a princess Barbie and why? ” I specified princess because one man asked if it could be a boy Barbie and I wanted the toy to be the most “wrong” toy for the child’s gender. The second question was “How would you feel if your daughter asked for a toy truck” This question had to be changed for the people in my psychology 110 class because one person said “We don’t play with toy trucks in my house” so I changed the toy to a G.

I Joe. I originally was going to visit multiple stores to look at their toy sections and possibly observe parents interacting with their children. I also wanted to compare stores in different areas with different levels of income, but due to my schedule I was not able to do this. Instead I visited two website’s toy sections. First I looked at the Wal-Mart website, and the toys were separated by gender. Next I looked at the Target online toy section. At first I was surprised to see there was a drop down box to select what gender to shop for.

There is a gender-neutral option along with a boys and girls option. If you select the boy or girl option the toys are still gendered. If you select the gender-neutral option the toys that show up are the most popular and they are not divided by gender. After looking at the websites, I decided to see what people had to say on the matter of Target removing gender labels in the toy section along with other areas of their store. The first place I looked was the Fox News website.

On the article about Target’s change with not labeling toys by gender (at least in store) there were many people who were angry, along with one or two people who were not angry with the change. When I went to look for other news sites that might not be as conservative I was surprised to find that many comment sections looked very similar to the Fox News one. Some even had more cruel things to say about Target and the LGBTQA community. I surveyed 15 people, 4 men and 11 women, 9 were over the age of 25.

Out of the 9 people over the age of 25, 6 people said no to the first question and only 3 said yes, while for the second question 6 said yes while the other 3 did not care. In all 7 people answered yes to the first question and 8 people said no or I don’t care to the second question. I have found that the majority of people that I interviewed over the age of 25 have strong negative feelings towards their son having a stereotypically “girly” toy. But when asked how they would feel if their daughter played with a “boy” toy they didn’t care much.

Most people younger than 25 (with the exception of one person), did not care what toy their child asked for they would agree to buy it for them. Even though the younger group did not care as much, I noticed some of the men were more hesitant in saying yes to their potential sons having Barbies but in the end they did agree I am not sure if it was because I was there and they felt that people would judge them if they said no, so they said yes. Or if they thought about it and decided yes was their answer.

For one 24 year old woman she said no to both questions, when asked why she said she didn’t know, and guessed it was because she was a “traditional Christian” and “It’s not the way my family is. ” Most people were also visibly uncomfortable and people were becoming angry with me for asking these two questions. Some people were talking in shorter sentences and slightly raising their voice and stopped smiling at me as soon as they heard the first question. Even though I did not say my answers or even hint at my opinion some were definitely annoyed.

I did not outwardly judge them or say anything about their answers. When asked why they gave the answers they did, they either said, “it’s just how society works” or “I don’t know”. If I had the time and if it wouldn’t have caused any issues, I would have asked more questions and had discussions with the participants. I was only able to do that with one participant and he just repeated stereotypical ideas of boys and girls and “it’s how society works”. People seem to not give their true opinion. Maybe in fear of people around them not liking them for what they think.

On the Target website toys were still divided by gender, so I was confused as to why people were so worried. A lot of the comments on the news articles were “conservative” people thinking that removing a sign or color designation for toys would lead to children becoming transgender, or all public restrooms becoming free for people of all genders to come in and out of as they please and this would make room for sexual harassment. I find that there are a lot of dramatic reactions like this any time a policy changes to something that is considered “liberal”.

Many people complained that “liberals” were too offended at everything and therefore the world must change for them. Instead the people angry at the change seem to be more offended. I did not see anyone else saying that the world was literally ending because a store was removing gender divides. The toy sections are still pretty much divided by gender, especially online. All the pink stereotypically girly toys are still lumped together and all of action figures and cars are still put together.

I think my findings confirm that there are definitely some issues with parents allowing their children to explore toy options in fear of them becoming “transgender or gay”. I would need to do a more in depth interview with people who participated as well as find more people and take more time to talk to them. The effort put into making sure a child doesn’t play with a toy that isn’t for their gender is astounding. Some of the people I interviewed were so concerned with their child that may or may not exist potentially even asking for a Barbie, it was actually terrifying asking the questions.

They acted like I was forcing their son to murder someone. This fear was nearly nonexistent when talking about their daughters. Some men even became elated when the thought of their daughter playing with a toy truck was brought up. Is this fear or excitement really related to religion like the one 24 year old woman said? Or is it something else? My research does show that it’s usually younger people who do not care what kind of toy their children would play with. More interviews with younger people would be helpful to see why their thought process is so much different.

Since I was raised in this generation, I could say a possibility is we were raised in a time when more people were coming out and TV shows always had the message to accept everyone no matter what. While talking to a friend outside of this research about the same subject she gave me some good insight to a possible reason the generations differ so much. I asked her the same two questions I asked the participants. She answered yes to both questions and I asked her why. She said, “I would rather have my child be happy, and play with whatever he or she wants then care about how society will view them or think about my decision”.

I think this is something that a lot of people in the older generations are lacking. Some of the participants I asked said they would question their child on why they want that specific toy, and then still ignore what they want and say no. The older generation thinks that their decisions overrule what their child wants. One person I surveyed who is 65 years old said that he would say no because their child would be made fun of if they played with a princess Barbie. And when I asked another person from the same generation, she said the same thing.

Some of these people from older generations don’t realize that people don’t see a boy playing with a Barbie as odd, and kids are smarter and more independent than they realize. Children don’t see a lot of things adults see as wrong, and as something to make fun of unless they were raised to see things that way. If someone’s child is made fun of for playing with a toy that isn’t for their gender, it isn’t the child’s fault and they shouldn’t be punished by not being allowed to play with whatever toys they want.

And if a parent is concerned with their child being bullied, it is their job to educate their child on what could happen and how some people don’t agree with what they are doing. Children should be making their own toy choices. Some older generation people are also more concerned with how strangers will view them for allowing their child play with something that isn’t socially acceptable. These thought processes don’t only belong to older generations and younger generations, but my research did show this divide.

While I have discussed isn’t the answer to why parents have such strong reactions to children not following gender roles. There are so many other factors that do seem to be phasing out. Yes there are still young people raised to think it’s wrong for a 4 year old boy to play with a dollhouse but from the people I have met and know, I do not see this anger towards toys and removing gendered items sticking around. A lot more extensive research would need to be done to find out why exactly people are so afraid of their child

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