Women's Studies 30

Women and Technology

Gender in Toy Commercials 

by Uzoamaka Nzegwu '00

As research for this project I watched two different two hour-long slots of commercial programming on two different weeks. This totalled four hours worth of television shows spliced by commercials. I counted each toy commercial, looking for the following criteria:

* If only one gender is shown playing with the toys, which is it?

* What is the emphasis of the commerical?

* What is the setting of the commercial?

* What is the noise level of the commercial?

* What colors are the outfits of the actors in the commercials?

* What is the gender of the person doing the voiceover?


Toy Commerials for Girls:

The gender of the main character or characters coincided with the gender related to the advertised product in toy commercials. All of female expected toys (Barbie) had female main characters. No male children were represented in these commercials. The emphasis on commercials for girls' toys is on the stereotypical role of female in society; being a girlfriend, mother, homemaker, always being a source of comfort, and being a communication expert. Toys for girls were presented in an indoor setting usually with an adult present. The advertisements for girls toys usually have soft music in the background. The female actors in these commercials are usually dressed in light (pink, pastel colors) characteristically feminine outfits.

Toy Commerials for Boys:

Similarly, all of the male expected toys (Hot Wheels) had male main characters with no females depicted in the commercials. The emphasis in commercials for boys' toys were building, running, and exploring. Toys for boys were presented in an outdoor setting without adult supervision. The advertisement for boys contained more noise, such as loud music, and sound effects. The male actors in these commercials are usually dressed in dark a supposed characteristically masculine outfits. Absolutely no female voice-overs were used in the boys' advertisements.

Toys for Girls and Boys:

When both sexes were seen together, it was more often in food commercials than in toy commercials. A male spoke person was found to occur most frequently in neutral advertisements and to those directed specifically at boys.


The overall message of child oriented commercials continues to be extremely gender based. This was an expected finding, however it is nonetheless disappointing given the re-emergence of the Women's Movement. Based on this study there is little evidence found that the image of the "advertiser's woman" has changed to represent females more equally in child-oriented advertising. I found that children in television commercials contain little to challenge stereotypical gender roles. Taking into consideration, the amount of time children spend watching television, and the fact that their gender behaviors have been shown to be influenced by television, the absence of a new female image is of relevance for those concerned with challenging gender based stereotypes in their search for equality among the sexes.

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last updated 5/15/2000