Boys and Their Toys: Gender Marketing and Representations of Masculinity in 20th Century Toy Advertisements

Elizabeth Sweet, San Jose State University

There has been growing concern about the gender stereotyping of toys for girls, but there has been less attention paid to the gender marketing and stereotyping of toys for boys. Moreover, there is little research that offers precise empirical measurement of how representations of masculinity in children’s toys have varied over time. For example, the muscular superhero is a frequent character in contemporary toys for boys, but has this always been the case? Using an original content analysis of 7,366 toy advertisements from a sample of seven Sears catalogs, I analyze the extent to which toys were marketed to boys at key time points over the 20th century, and I examine how the representation of masculinity in toys and toy advertisements varied over this period. I find that the extent to which different types of toys have been marketed to boys – either explicitly or implicitly – and the characteristics and social roles embedded into those toys have varied in interesting ways over time. While toys marketed to boys in the first half of the twentieth century tended to emphasize occupations and skill development, toys for boys in the late 20th century were more oriented toward fantasy roles and characters. From this analysis, I argue that while toys for boys have always focused on action, industriousness, and aggression, the extent and manner to which these characteristics were embedded in toy advertisements has varied over time in ways that both reflect and reinforce the prevailing cultural beliefs about gender.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 197. Playing with Data: Dolls, Toys, and Theme Parks