The vocabulary of toy ads

A link from Paul Armstrong on Facebook to this exploratory investigation of words used in tv commercials for boys’ toys and girls’ toys aimed at 6-8-year-olds, using the resources of Wordle:

Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes

which yielded these fascinating, but alas unsurprising, displays, for boys’ toys and girls’ toys, respectively:

Details of the study on the site and in the comments there and replies to them.

Blogger Crystal Smith’s statement of purpose:

The Achilles Effect

When most people think about gender stereotypes and children, they envision princesses, dolls, and pink clothing. Few consider the warriors, muscle-bound action figures, and T-shirts covered in graffiti and skulls that are assumed to signify masculinity.

The pop culture environment that surrounds boys introduces them to a world where traditionally masculine traits — like toughness, aggression, and stoicism — are highly esteemed and where female influence is all but absent.

The Achilles Effect explores gender bias in the entertainment aimed at primary school boys, focusing on the dominant themes in children’s TV shows, toy advertising, movies, and books: gender stereotypes of both sexes, male dominance, negative portrayals of fathers, breaking of the mother/son bond, and the devaluing of femininity. It examines the gender messages sent by pop culture, provides strategies for countering these messages, and encourages discussion of a vitally important issue that is rarely talked about — boys and their often skewed understanding of gender.

The Achilles Effect is a guide for parents, educators, and students who want to learn more about male and female stereotypes, their continued strong presence in kids’ pop culture, and their effect on young boys.

(Smith is the mother of two young boys.)

Though my grand-daughter is growing up without television, she gets a fair amount of stuff from television (minus the ads) on computers or an iPad. So she’s developed a healthy taste in material on scientists at work, especially scientists who deal with leeches, poisonous snakes and spiders, and the like. And she has a princess thing, though in her world princesses have serious weaponry, which they use to overcome monsters and evil people, defend the weak, and generally improve the world. Who could object to that?

On the iPad, she plays lots of games. Last Saturday it was mostly Angry Birds (the pleasures of making things go BOOM! are undeniable, and infectious), but also games with countries and the U.S. states (she’s got the countries of Oceania pretty well down pat, though the more-or-less rectangular U.S. states are a challenge, and Europe and Africa present puzzles; would you recognize Moldova from its shape?) and, astonishingly, an algebra game, in which you solve equations. How wonderfully geeky is that?

One Response to “The vocabulary of toy ads”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    This reminds me of a very old Cathy strip, when Cathy was searching for a toy for Andrea’s either yet unborn or very newly born child. The clerk asked if it was for a girl or boy, and Cathy said it was for a person! Why did the gender have to come into it at all? The clerk then offered a dinosaur, and Cathy was pleased – until the clerk whipped out the “astronaut-cowboy-soldier dinosaur or the princess-ballerina-bride dinosaur.”

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