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  Action men and Barbie dolls
Updated 28 January 2002, 17.58

PSHE 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Prejudice and stereotypes

Pick your toys carefully, if you play with the wrong sort you are labelled a tomboy or a cissy.

Students comment on adult's attitudes to toys and produce a unisex toy box.

Learning outcomes

  • What is meant by gender stereotyping
  • How gender stereotypes are reinforced
  • Consider a social dilemma
1) Icebreaker
Do girls and boys really like different toys or do they just play with the ones they are given?
Read the story

Ask students to vote or comment on these statements:

'I don't ever want to see my daughter dressed in pink or in a dress, I give her toys that will help her make something of herself, she has a train set and building blocks not dollies and prams'
Tansy, 32, Architect

'Tarquin doesn't play with toys or swords, we don't give him any toys that encourage him to be violent, I want him to know that war is not a game'
Malcolm, 44, Planning officer

'You can't tell kids what toys they want, they always want the stuff their friends have, or what they've seen on TV, I try to get them the toys they want or they just end up miserable and the money you spent is wasted'
Debbie, 37, Nurse

'I don't mind if they have toy tractors or toy frying pans, what really gets me going is the hard sell, all the kids shows have loads of ads for very expensive toys, they always want something new and its all about getting the newest thing, not using your imagination'
Catharine, 35, designer

  • What are the motives behind the four statements?

  • How will the kids be affected by their parent's choices?

  • If students have their own families how will they choose toys for their kids?

2) Main activity
Remind students that no one knows whether it's nature or nurture that causes boys and girls to behave differently. Introduce these definitions:

Jeep toy
A girl or woman is of the female gender and a boy or man is of the male gender.

A stereotype is a belief about an individual or a group, based on the idea that all people in a certain group will act the same way. When someone says that all members of a particular gender are 'brave' or 'caring' he or she is using a stereotype.

Create a unisex toy box
A family friend is expecting a baby, but she is moving to Australia before it is born - you want to give her some toys to take with her - but they must be OK for a boy or a girl. Pick 10 toys to give her, one for each of the first 10 years of the baby's' life. e.g.

One year old = rattle
Two year old = ?
Three year old = ?

  • Do students find it gets harder as the child grows up?
  • At what age does it get more difficult?

  • What does this tell us about gender?

    3) Extension activity
    The 'get real girls' toys are a challenge to stereotypes of girls, students design a male toy that challenges the way young men are thought of.

    They design or describe the toy and accessories and write a covering note explaining to potential investors why older toys are out of date.

    4) Plenary

    Gender stereotypes are reinforced by the way toys are advertised on TV. How else do young people learn how their sex should behave?

    • Film
    • Soap operas
    • Sport
    • Parents
    • Siblings
    Teachers' Background
    From a 1992 study, 'How Schools Short-change Girls', by the American Association of University Women (AAUW):
    • In most preschools, you find mainly girls playing with dolls in the housekeeping and dress-up corner, while boys build with blocks and play with trucks.
    • Teachers and parents unconsciously promote these stereotypes. One study asked children to make a wish list of toys they wanted, then compared that list with the toys children actually received. Researchers found that, no matter what the children requested, they received only gender-specific toys from their lists.
    • According to Kekelis, researchers have found that "girls are praised when they play with dolls while boys are likely to be ignored by their parents when displaying nurturing behaviour."
    Improving girls Spatial Relationships and Coordination:
    • Give her (a little girl) a variety of toys to play with, including trucks and cars, building blocks, water-play gear, a variety of balls, and playthings that she can ride or climb on.
      Advice from Jenny Friedman, PhD for
    Expression of Emotions:
    • Encourage your son to express his feelings--including crying. If boys get the message that feelings of sadness are not tolerated, they'll learn to repress these emotions as adult men.
      Advice from Jenny Friedman, PhD for

    Turn this into an assembly
    • The gender reversed play described below would make an excellent assembly for any staff and students brave enough to try this. (Please let us know how it goes)
    • A group of school kids surprised their teacher with their daring rewrite of the traditional end-of-the-year class play. "The girls and boys decided to switch roles" -- gender roles that is, reports their teacher, Janice Lillard of Glenview Elementary School in Oakland. The boys would act the girl parts; the girls would act the boy parts. The remarkable thing, says Lillard, "is they came up with the idea of switching roles completely on their own." To the children, this was a good way to learn about and accept each other.

    For all links and resources click at top right.

  • More InfoBORDER=0
    UK'Get Real Girl' to boot out Barbie
    Sci/TechGaming for girls must change
    ClubMy top ten toys for 2002


    Web Links
    Get Real Girl
    Avoiding gender stereotypes
    Note: You will leave CBBC. We are not responsible for other websites.



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