Socialization is the process by which social expectations are learned and taught, and through gender socialization, men and women learn the expectations associated with their gender (Anderson & Taylor, 2006). From an early age, as young as eighteen months, children are taught to associate with a certain gender through their clothes and toys chosen for them to play with. They then tend to play with these toys compared to those of the other sex as they are not socialized to do so. Factors that influence the gender identity of a child include parents, the media, religion and school. They help in shaping the identity and how the child interacts with others. At home parents influence a child’s identity through the clothes and toys they buy for them, and the kind of interaction they have with them through play. The community which a family lives in also contributes to gender socialization by having expectations on the kind of roles each gender should undertake depending on their culture and beliefs. An example is the Mexican community which expects women to assume more traditional roles and men to be the head of the family while other communities such as those living in the US have less clear cut roles for either gender-men or women. Consequently, a child brought up in a traditional Mexican community will have different gender expectations compared to those in the US. The girls in that society will grow up expecting to take over the role of their mothers in taking care of their families while, in the modern society they can grow p to be career women as it is common within their society. The media further influences gender identity by advertizing items depending on the gender they are targeting, an example is little girls being the targeted audience when advertizing Barbie dolls. They also have shows and programmes that show women in different roles, and hence children can choose which to roles to associate themselves with. In schools, children may be grouped according to their genders in certain activities and learn to form friendships within their genders. This socializes them to associate and interact more with those of the same gender. It also forces them to identify themselves according to their different genders when using facilities such as toilets and changing room (Klein, 2007). The society in general contributes significantly to how a child acts by frowning upon children who do not act as they are expected depending on their gender. For example, boys who play dress up and with dolls are ridiculed by their peers and pressured to conform to the expected activities such as playing with cars and action figures. However, gender socialization occurs most through observing the behaviors of adults around them like as parents, teachers and other members of family. They associate themselves with the same gender and preferring activities that portray them as being similar to them. Toys and clothes play a crucial role in gender socialization as children learn to identify themselves with certain activities and roles according to their gender. Stores which sell children’s clothing and toys contribute a lot to the perception that certain clothes belong to a certain gender and that certain colors are better suited for each. In addition, other consumer items such as bedroom furniture for children are also presented to appeal to the different gender preferences. This essay discusses the contribution of children’s stores in gender socialization through their displays and marketing gimmicks to appeal to children and their parents.
Children’s Department Stores and Gender Socialization
The media and businesses play a crucial role in gender socialization especially in children. It encourages them to form a certain perception about gender from an early age. The media uses advertisements and commercials to market items and which gender they are meant for. This is through using of models of a certain gender, for example, playing with a certain toy, and using color to show what is meant for which gender. As a result, children start learning from tender age what is expected of them. Stores dealing with items, which are predominantly used by children, have also used gender to sell their products by organizing them according to the different genders and sing it as a selling factor. These displays make children identify with a specific gender immediately they get into the stores in order to choose toys that they want. They, therefore, shows the amount of influence such organization has on children’s gender socialization.
The stores chosen for this essay are USA Baby Pittsburg, Toys R us, Babies R us and Kohl’s store. These are relatively successful stores both online and physical. USA Baby Pittsburg is located in Babcock Blvd, Pittsburg, Philadelphia and was visited about two months ago. Toys R us is an online store which enables consumers to buy goods from the comforts of their home and have it shipped to the buyer. The Babies R Us store is an affiliate store of Toys R Us and was visited about six months ago on a visit to Fairfield California. In the Toys R Us online store, items are grouped according to age, categories, gender and brands. A customer has to choose whichever category is suitable for them and view items in that category in order to add the item to the cart. The store sells all kinds of toys for children of different ages and for different purposes including interactive, soft and plush toys, strollers and car seats, baby wheels such as bicycles and scooters among others. USA Baby Pittsburg sells different consumer items suitable for children from ages 0 to teenagers. It stocks beddings, mattresses, room decor items, car seats and baby furniture organized according to the category they are in. An example is that all the furniture is stored on one floor with day beds, cribs, dressers, night stands, desks and other bedroom furniture. There are also strollers and car seats in the store. In addition, there are beddings available for babies, toddlers and older kids. The store also stocks cutlery from different brands such as Ergo Baby and Dandelion. The Babies R Us store stocks all items that a baby needs including clothes, baby furniture, feeding items, beddings, strollers and car seats and bath items. All day to day items such as diapers, wipes, formula and other accessories found in one area while room décor and furniture is found in a different area. Parents can get most of the items they need for their babies till they are kids in this store.
It is quite easy to determine which items are meant for boys and girls due to their colors and features. Items meant for girls have softer and warm colors such as pink compared to boy which seem to favor cooler colors like blue and green. This was seen in clothes, beddings and even toys. There were more pink dresses than clothes meant for boys. Most of the boys’ clothes had fashionable colors. The pictures and patterns on the items also enabled one determine which genders they were for. An example is girls’ beddings had pictures of princesses, Dora the explorer and other such patterns. Boys’ items had patterns such as cars, balls and cartoon characters that are acted by boys such as Ben 10. In addition, some of the furniture was made for a specific gender with some made in the form of cars for boys and princess beds and room décor for girls. Toys are also grouped according to the gender meant to use them. Girls’ toys included dolls and plush toys with most of their toys having bright colors such as pink, orange and yellow. Even balls that were meant for girls had such colors. Boys’ items included cars, action figures and balls. The common colors in this area were blue, green and red. Gender roles also influenced the kind of toys children play with. An example is toys depicting cooking utensils that are considered suitable for girls while a toy tool box is considered a suitable toy for boys. The role of women in the house is also emphasized by toys such as doll houses. Toys are made to represent the roles of males and females during adulthood and hence one can easily choose the ones meant for boys and girls.
There were also gender neutral and non-gendered items in all the stores. Gender neutral items are those that can be used for either boys or girls (Travers, 2006). This included items in gender neutral colors such as light green, grey, white, black and brown. Clothes and beddings in these colors could be used by either gender without having any effect on their identity. Games such as board games are also considered gender neutral. Non-gendered items in the stores included strollers, car seats and toys such as play dough and crayons which do not depict preference for any specific gender. Strollers and car seats are non-gendered and are essential items for children within a certain age group. Other non-gendered items include food items, diapers and wipes in stores such as babies are us. These are not gender specific and cannot be associated to any gender. This was true across all the stores in which these things are being sold.
Although the stores are located in different locations around the country, there are some resemblance in the arrangement of items in the stores. They are grouped according to their different categories. For example, furniture is placed in one area, beddings in another, clothes in another and so on so that they are easily accessible and a customer can know specifically where they can get an item. Even in the online stores such as Toys R Us, customers have to select a category in order to view the items available in it. This also makes access easier. There are few differences across locations with stores in more affluent neighborhood stocking more expensive items compared to those in moderate income areas. These stores have more affordable items. In affluent neighborhoods, they have more disposable income and hence the availability of more expensive items.
All the stores capitalize on the children’s market in order to make money. The goods are attractively displayed, and there are sales people who help customers pick items that they like. Once they know the gender of the child you are shopping for and the item needed, the take you to the relevant place. When one mentions that the child is a girl, they are usually taken through areas where the colors are feminine to pick what they want and vice versa if the child is a boy. This has also further propagated the notion that girls should be dressed in pink and other similar colors while boys are dressed in blue and other cooler colors. In addition to clothes and bedding, even toys are considered to be suitable for a certain gender depending on their color.
Clothes and toys are particularly instrumental in helping children learn about gender. From the birth, children are identified by their gender and dressed according to them with girls wearing dresses and skirts while boys wear other types of clothing that show their gender. However, during this time, the children wear more or less the same with most of their wardrobe consisting of body suits and rompers. As they grow up they start to recognize that boys do not wear dresses and skirts and clothes are less feminine compared to girls of the same age. They then begin to recognize that boys and girls dress differently, and one can be identified to be of a particular gender depending on their clothes. Clothes enable children to recognize the difference in dressing between the genders. In addition, toys also teach children about gender. As they grow up, they recognize that some of the toys such as dolls are gender specific. They teach children about the roles they are expected to play as adults. Dolls depict a motherly role, and by girls playing with them, they depict these roles. The recognition of these roles contributes to the formation of their gender identity as they grow up knowing what the society expects if them. Clothes and toys shape the idea of gender in children and contribute to their identifying themselves to a specific gender.
In addition to developing the idea of gender, they also teach the children to be boys and girls. Clothes identify children’s gender and hence they have to act according to their gender. For example, when a girl is wearing a dress, there is an expectation to act in a ladylike manner compared to when the girl is wearing overalls she is less cautious and more adventurous. Toys also influence children to act according to their gender. For example, when playing with a toy make up kit, the girls are likely to make themselves up and play dressign up as an element of their play while boys who are seen to be naughtier and more active will favor toys such as water guns and balls which allow them to run around as they play. However, the type of clothing a child dresses in may affect a child movement either restricting it or giving them more freedom to play. In girls, dresses may restrict their movement compared to trousers. Toys such as bicycles and scooters may make children more mobile enabling them to move faster. They are an essential aspect of their development process. Both clothes and toys affect children’s interests by making them gain or lose interest in something. An example is a toy guitar which may spark off an interest in music and the instrument itself. Clothes are also responsible for the same thing as they may make a child develop interest in certain aspects. An example is an interest in fashion and design which may be sparked by the kind of clothes they are dressed in. In addition, they may negatively impact on their interests if they associate them with a negative memory.
Children’s toys, clothing and other consumer items encourage boys and girls to be similar to one another by making the same make of items with different colors for boys and girls. An example of consumer items that are similar is bicycles or scooters which are made exactly the same way but have different colors to accommodate individual tastes and preferences in color. This allows both girls and boys to participate in similar activities. In addition, there is also the choice to use gender neutral items for children thereby not requiring them to identify with any specific gender and hence are similar. This also includes clothing and toys.
Clothes and toys can be used to perpetuate or challenge inequality, stereotypes or other gender related social phenomenon. They are likely to perpetuate feelings of inequality among children as not all children can afford similar toys. The ability to purchase the latest toys and social acceptable one cause problems in equality among children as those who have better toys feel they have a right and are better than the others. They also create stereotypes among children depending on what kind of clothes and toys they can afford. To challenge inequality among children, social areas such as schools should discourage children from wearing clothes that make them standout excessively as it may cause problems among the other students. This is especially true at an early age. An example is where schools prefer the use of uniforms for students to enhance equality among them and reduce the influence of social class. Clothing and toys also enhance gender stereotyping as other people may judge ones dressing style and use of toys as meaning they are affiliated to a certain group of people. One such example is where a boy who enjoys playing with dolls may be considered gay and faces ridicule from his peers while a girl who enjoys dressing like a boy is automatically labeled as a tomboy. Children judge each other according to their physical appearance and label each other according to them. This has led to the emergence of clicks of those with similar interests such as clothing styles. The clicks tend to work and hang out together due to this access to similar items. It is difficult to curb this issue as there will always be a disparity in income levels and hence controlling the amount of inequity brought as a result of this is quite difficult. Caregivers should socialize their children to learn not to use a person’s physical appearance in judging then and that there is more to life than that.
Gender is an important way in which we organize the social world as it depicts one’s place in it as either a male or female and thus dictating what to expect from a person. In the current society, there is a blurring in the line differentiating girls and boys as they are socialized to believe they are equal and can perform similar roles without an issue. The current society is one which does not embrace clear distinction on the roles of men and women due to this. Men and women both work and share in household chores when at home and can both take care of the children when the other parent is not home. Children brought up in this home have a more rounded perception if gender roles, recognizing that women can play a monumental role in the growth and development of a family compared to before where their role was mainly limited to housework. Parents are more cautious to ensure a child gets a more balanced view without prejudices and stereotyping. In addition, the current society is more accommodating of people with different behaviors and attitudes. An example is where gay men wear clothes that were traditionally unacceptable for men and are able to walk in the streets without ridicule. Despite there still being gender preferred toys, parents are now more open to letting their children express themselves and chart their own destiny. This can be seen in parents who allow their children to wear clothes and play with toys which they feel express them well despite being from either gender. Such actions encourage children to express themselves away from gender expectations, and they are, therefore, more likely to be more confident with high self esteem regardless of what items they possess or what clothes they wear.
There are a lot of aspects that are responsible for the gender socialization of a child from an early age. The first influence in this is the parents who from the time they know what sex their child is, they sacrifice to ensure the world can recognize them as such. They further propagate it through introducing the child to toys that are suitable for them according to their gender. It is common to see parents buy a boy, cars and other such items while the girls get dolls despite any other preferences they may have. As they grow up, they recognize that these are the most suitable toys for them. Clothes are also essential in determining the gender of an individual. Thereafter, the schools play a role by grouping the children according to their gender hence further cementing the gender identity that is forming. Stores that sell children consumer items have capitalized on this and have organized their shops to further enhance gender identity through the displays and items sold. In the stores, it is easy to determine which items are meant for boys and which are meant for girls due to their coloring and the themes they represent. Clothes and toys affect children’s behavior and what they think about gender. They may perpetuate inequality due to the different types available thereby influencing how children treat each other. It is merely a psychological impact similar to the influence of the environment in which a child grows. In fact, toys and clothes are very much part of the Childs environments and shape their emotions and values. In addition, the clothes and toys one has may cause them to be branded according to a certain stereotype. They can be used to challenge inequality in some areas such as schools by requiring children to wear uniforms so that they are equal and those who are not able to afford clothes that are considered trendy do not feel different.
The society is a significant contributor to the perception of what is considered suitable for each gender by approving and disapproving on the clothing and toy choices depending on whether they are meet the expectations. As a result, children learn from an early age which items are suitable for each gender like dolls for girls and toy cars for boys. Due to this influence from the society, it may be quite difficult for children to develop their own identities and perceptions of what is considered appropriate for each gender. The children will then be more independent and be able to remain true to their choices despite living in a society with a lot of gender stereotyping in relation to clothes and toys and socialization. Gender socialization makes children consider themselves within certain roles that are meant for their genders, which may limits the choices they can take as they grow up. This because the children grow up believing that there are thing they are not supposed to or accept since they are thing supposed to be done by members of the opposite gender. Parents should teach children to be more independent in their choices and encourage them to choose toys and clothes depending on their interests, passion and personalities. They are responsible for bringing up their children to shun gender bias and stereotypes in order to achieve their maximum potential.
Anderson, M.L. & Taylor, H.F. (2006). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. Belmont, C.A.: Thompson Higher Learning.
Travers, J.F. (2006). Development for Health Care Professionals. Sudbury, M.A.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Klein, S.S. (Ed). (2007). Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education. London: Routledge.