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Liz Sweet: From Papa Dolls to Pink Princesses: Gender, Stereotypes, and Toys over the 20th Century

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Feb 22, 2013
from 01:30 PM to 02:30 PM



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Many have noted an intensification in the gender-based marketing of contemporary toys, yet there is little research on how the extreme gender segregation and stereotyping of toys today fits into a historical context.  It is unclear whether the toys of today are truly more gendered than ever before or if we are simply seeing the novel repackaging of a persistent gender ideology.  This second empirical chapter in my dissertation focuses on the gender roles and stereotypes embedded in children’s toy advertisements over 20th century and analyzes how the particular ideas about gender in toy ads changed over this span of time. Data are drawn from an in-depth content analysis of toy advertisements in a sample of Sears catalogs spanning the century, measuring the extent to which toys and ads were gendered at key time points and the specific ways in which gendering is evidenced. Results show that the extent to which gender stereotypes shape toy ads has been variable over time. At the turn of the century, gender played a very minor role in toy advertisements but by the quarter and mid-century, roughly half of toy ads were gendered in some way and many reflected traditional gender stereotypes. In the 1970’s, this trend reverses and there is an increase both in gender-neutral toys and ads that challenge gender stereotypes. However, by the close of the century the gendering of toys reverts to levels similar to the mid-century and new mechanisms of signaling gender emerge. This chapter is part of a larger dissertation project which offers a much needed description of the role of gender in historical toy ads and an analysis of the ideological function of such gender-based toy advertisements.

Discussants: Whitney Mollenhauer and Laura Grindstaff

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