The Language of Toys: Gendered Language in Toy Advertisements

Patricia R. Owen, Monica Padron



Children are socialized to conform to traditional gender role stereotypes, a developmental process affected by elements of popular culture that associate femininity with passivity, nurturance, and emotional expressivity; and masculinity with power, agency, and aggression. Toys, as one element of popular culture, often reflect these stereotypes through manipulations of design features that signify the gender appropriateness of toy play. Prior research on toys has documented the gender-differentiated use of such overt markers as colors, names, and logos in toy marketing. However, subtler gender markers such as the language used to advertise toys has received little research attention. This is surprising given the evidence of distinctive language styles adopted by females and males that are considered to reflect traditional gender role stereotypes. In this study, the narrative language that accompanied action figures marketed for girls, and action figures marketed for boys was analyzed for the presence of gendered language. It was hypothesized that lexical elements associated with traditional gender role stereotypes would differentiate the narratives as a function of gender. Results showed that female action figure narratives contained more intensive adverbs, more social words, and more adjectival references to physical appearance, fantasy, and triviality, supporting stereotypes of females as emotional, social, and uninvolved with real world concerns. Male narratives contained more second-person plural pronouns, more aggression words, and more adjectival references to power, destructive action, and science and technology, supporting stereotypic masculinity associations to power, aggression, action, and involvement with real-life endeavors. Discussion focuses on potential adverse consequences to children’s psychosocial development that is posed by exposure to gender-polarized toys.


gendered language; gender role stereotypes; toys; children’s marketing; text analytics; children’s advertising

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