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Do boy’s toys teach violence?

Categories: Push my Button


I was all set to publish a post on Rebecca Black’s “Friday” when I saw this post at The Achilles Effect on gender stereotyping in toy advertisements, and well, I couldn’t let it go. I had to write about how we treat our sons — the men of tomorrow — versus how we treat our daughters.

I am a mom who would totally let her son wear nail polish so perhaps I am not the best judge of what influences are best for the boys of today, but I am appalled at the messages aimed at the tender hearts of our boys. Crystal Smith, a social media ad marketing writer who blogs about pop culture and gender stereotypes, evaluated Canadian television ads aimed at boys and girls, noting what words were used and with what frequency. She fed this information into the online app Wordle. (Her results areĀ here.)

Number-one, most-used word on the boy’s ads? Battle. Followed closely by Power. Lagging far behind are Heroes, Ride, Beat, Launch, Stealth and Hit.

Girl words? Number One by far: Love. Followed by Magic, Fun, and Girl, then by Style, Friendship, Babies and Party.

Clearly, boys and girls have different priorities. Boys are about fighting, whereas girls are about love.

I am not satisfied with that, are you? My nail polish wearing boys are not either, I suspect. I can’t really think of many boys who are. I know there are stories about boys, bereft of toy guns, who make guns from bananas or sandwiches cleverly bitten to resemble guns. Hey, I shot pretend-finger spy guns at evil KAOS agents while playing Ninety-Nine to my big brother’s Get Smart (we had endless re-runs). But there is a difference between fantasy role playing and the relentless infusion of subliminal messaging of today’s television advertising.

I think we need to change that. What would our world look like if boys were sent messages of Love, Peace, and Happiness? Today’s gentle boys are tomorrow’s gentle men.

What do you think of boy’s toy advertising? Do you allow your sons (and daughters) to watch it?

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12 comments so far...

  • It does not concern me. Kids of both genders have always been exposed to imaginary “violence.” They know what “pretend” is. There are really only two things that determine whether a boy will grow up to be a loving vs. violent man. (1) his in-born personality; and (2) his parents’ example.

    I would also note that for all the “love and friendship” messages, girls of a certain age are, as a group, the meanest people on the planet. (Second only to women who engage in Mommy Wars.)

    Let boys (and girls) play - as long as they are clear that they are not allowed to actually hurt each other in play. The “battles” will help develop their mind for important, nonviolent stuff like thinking ahead, getting into the other person’s mind, negotiation, etc., as well as various physical and visual skills. A boy who is allowed to do this as a child is very likely to be a competent, responsible, loving man someday.

    Personally I think it’s a bit dangerous to write a whole new script for today’s boys. You could be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Assuming you make any difference at all, you could be raising a “sensitive guy” who can’t take the ups and downs at work or worries too much about his friends’ ulterior motives. Guys are different from girls - you really can’t change that without a lot of hormone therapy.

    SKL  |  April 13th, 2011 at 9:52 am

  • I think parents should limit the amount of TV they allow their children to watch. Also, I have tried giving my son (he is 15 months old) stuffed animals and he just throws them on the ground, but if I give him a toy car/truck he is fascinated! I’m not making his toy choices, he is choosing the boy toys. I don’t allow him to play with guns; again, I think that is up to the parents to allow or not allow toy guns. So, in respect to TV advertising it really should be up to the parents to limit the amount of TV their children are watching. If your kids are watching a gender neutral TV program girls and boys are equally likely to see these commercials targeted to boys…so in all reality if it makes boys more violent it can make girls more violent too.

    Marcia  |  April 13th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

  • I would love to “hero” right up there with “power” I suppose. I would disagree with SKL that societal norms and shaping have nothing to do with violence, I would add it as a #3 factor to her first two because the research to me is compelling that while it is not a causative factor is IS supporting factor.
    I don’t know that we need a new script but I would really love there to be more comfort with the middle ground. I have a girl who, while not fashioning banas into guns is WAY more into the rough ‘n’ tumble play style of the boys than the sit & discuss feelings style of girls. It is tough to watch her try and mold herself into that model of girl because it so clearly isn’t her.
    She’ll ask for the latest girl toy because all the girls have them, but have not a clue what to do with it. When not with other girls she’ll gravitate back to her trucks and sliding stuffed animals down banisters rather than cuddling them. She’ll look at a road construction crew and say “it looks fun, but only boys can do that” - that is something she NEVER heard at home and something that when I hear it come out of her I vigorously find examples that show the untruth of it (thankfully the last road crew near us actually had women on the team, driving the equipment not just holding the “slow” sign).
    So it clearly isn’t her personality, it isn’t my example (nor her father’s, I know what type of toys he’s giving her and they aren’t dolls). So it is that societal pressure factor and I do wish we could find ways to bring them, for girls and boys, away from battle vs love to “play” in the more general terms.

    Mich  |  April 13th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

  • Mich, I don’t disagree with you, but I was thinking more in terms of what predicts how a man will be as a mature adult. I agree that there are influences that affect surface things and momentary choices along the way.

    Your girl may never “fit in” with the girls she now thinks are “it.” I never did. What I did do was eventually come to love myself for who I am. Unfortunately it takes a while, and tween/teen hormones don’t seem to help much. But through it all, your daughter’s basic personality is not adjusting to what she sees at school and on TV, if I’m understanding you correctly.

    If you figure out how to find that “middle ground” you are looking for, let me know. My kids at 4 are already in the “drama” of “she wasn’t nice to me today” etc. Where do they find self-love? Does it always have to wait until they are much, much older? (But that’s a bit off the present topic.)

    SKL  |  April 13th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

  • This research, to me, was indicative of how far we still have to go in erasing gender stereotypes. It’s true that we cannot predict the outcome of changes to the script or to the messages we send our children through our collective unconscious, but it seems to me that the present model is not working well and begs change. I agree that men are men, but I far prefer a gentle man who is totally in his power and acting from that place, connected to his heart, than a man who is reacting through fear and struggling to respond to the barrage of cultural messages constantly being sent about power and fighting. True power is not a fight.

    Conversely, I would love for girls to receive messages of their own power. Women my age were taught to be men. That doesn’t work, or has not for me. Women are intuitive and deeply powerful, and I think much of the “mean girl” syndrome is a confused response to the messages we are sending ourselves and to our daughters. I love sending messages of love and magic, but babies? party? Ugh. Girls know instinctively that they are more than that, yet there is no model to work from other than the boy stereotype. My (admittedly idealistic) hope for the future is that we learn to embrace our genders and all the gray areas between them and act from our hearts as people.

    Talyaa Liera  |  April 13th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

  • I’ve always wondered why girls have Bridal Barbie and boys have GI Joe — and as a nation we have so many people who are in horrible marriages.

    Lylah  |  April 13th, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  • But do kids really grow up and behave the way the imagery of their childhood play would suggest? I think not. I played with baby dolls, and until adulthood I was sure I’d be either a teacher or a nurse, as well as a mom of many kids. But eventually I figured out who I really was, and don’t we all? I would not go back and trade the doll play for something else. I sure don’t think it warped me. And like I mentioned, all the guys we know played with “violent” boy toys, but aren’t a lot of them lovely people now? I know all the men in my family are completely nonviolent and nice guys, unless you count the occasional hunting or fishing outing or military service.

    SKL  |  April 13th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

  • I’m not too concerned. Boys are wired differently than girls. Studies have shown that if you give a boy a doll, it won’t make him anymore “sensitive.” He’ll just rip it’s head off and use the body as a sword.

    Kayla  |  April 14th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

  • Ha ha, Kayla, funny you should mention that. My brothers used to play with my Drowsy doll. That is, they’d make her talk and whenever she said “Mommy,” they would bash her head in for calling them “Mommy.” I had to sew Drowsy’s arm back on multiple times, and even had to have her replaced after some act of “nurturing” by a brother.

    My brothers are very nurturing fathers now.

    SKL  |  April 14th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

  • Good points - I just wish there were a way to not have to go through the torture of being “different” I suppose.

    But I guess that’s why fantasies about utopias continue to abound. :-)

    Mich  |  April 14th, 2011 at 1:27 pm

  • I think that kids need to be old enough to learn what guns, knives, and swords are really for before they know that they are toys. Otherwise, they learn that they are toys first, weapons second when in reality it is the opposite. I never buy my son violent toys and we try to fast forward all the commercials since we TiVo everything. He does have trucks, cars and those things, but not violent toys. His school doesnt either. Most boys have a pushing and hitting thing built in so I feel like I dont need to nuture that (at least in mine) and I work on the love part. He has learned from kids in school to play “shoot each other” but I ignored it and led him to something else and its gone away. When he is around pushy, aggressive boys, he joins in all the same as this is in his nature but me, his teachers and even his male soccer coach put a stop to it immediately. My son does love stuffed animals, real animals He has a very soft side and he is actually very soft and sweet with girls and animals especially. The last thing I want is a kid who goes out on the weekends looking for fight - like a lot of guys I knew growing up. We have the book Bambi, and this is actually a really good book to teach boys what guns and violence really lead to.

    Oceans Mom  |  April 15th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

  • I just read Kayla’s comment about ripping the head off. Too funny. My son does the opposite.

    Oceans Mom  |  April 15th, 2011 at 1:47 pm