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Advertising, children, and the nurture of gender

I want to talk about advertising to children. More specifically, gendered advertising.

I’ve had most of these links saved up for at least 4-5 months, wanting to pull some sort of cohesive post from them, but I’ve never been able to come up with a theme that satisfied me. With the newfound freedom of my updated format, I figured I’d just toss them all up here and let the links stand for themselves.

I’ve always admired Quebec’s laws about advertising to children, which basically says: if your ad targets someone under the age of 13, we will lay the smackdown. That doesn’t mean that children won’t be affected by ads meant for someone older–that my 11-year-old sister won’t be swayed by that ad for a Miley Cyrus CD, for example–but at least it makes an effort to save children from the pernicious effects of perpetual consumerism.

Thankfully, the sense of needing to protect our children from advertising seems to be gaining greater traction lately: Apple’s iAd policies specifically prevent showing ads to children’s apps, courts in the UK are investigating the sale of ‘sexualized’ products to children, and even Facebook is starting to bump up into legal troubles when the information of its underage users are used in advertising.

These examples are encouraging, but they’re not quite enough to combat things like KidZania, a theme park that calls ‘A Disney land of child labor‘:

Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park’s currency). At the park’s bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they’ve earned through completing activities — and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day. A lot of effort goes into making the children repeat visitors of this Lilliputian city-state.


Furthermore, if you were ever unconvinced that our society tells girls and boys that they’re meant to be a certain way–that girls are homemakers who are bad at math, that boys are the ones who have to do the saving–here are some examples that should change your mind:

These were the tags found on children’s clothing. LOVE vs. DIRT? Give me a break.

Oh hey, let’s tell girls that physical beauty is all that matters.

Isn’t it interesting that these two suitcases are identical, but the boy version is for pilots and the girl version is for pilot’s assistants? Screw you, Target.

Clearly just saying “hey you have a cute new baby” isn’t enough. Its gender is so absolutely important that we have to make different coloured envelopes.

When I was younger, my dad told me to stop being so smart, because boys would find it intimidating and I wouldn’t find a husband. Guess I was never too good at listening.

Wood blocks are Pretty In Pink! Never mind that pink used to be a boy’s colour! And that most girls I know hate pink because of its social connotations as being useless and vapid!

Same car, different stickers.

You know what boys want to be? Cool and smart and inventing shit. You know what girls want? To babysit. Is it really any wonder there’s such a huge gender gap in science and tech jobs?

Why can’t girls be rugged? Why can’t girls have a cool husky? This is unfair.

Both bed sets look damned ugly to me, but that’s really not the point.

For everyone that says that advertising is only responding to naturally expressed gender preferences and catering to what girls and boys actually want: really? You want me to believe that a little baby is honestly going to care whether its rattle is a saw or a diamond ring? You really want to try telling me that giving little baby girls diamond rings from the age of 0 isn’t going to convince them that they’re meant to just sit pretty and let boys buy stuff for them? Really?

Oh, and for the coup de grace: an article about male athletes?

Nate Robinson wants a tryout. Mike Leach talks about his career.

Kickass US goalkeeper Hope Solo? Is using her feminine wiles to get marriage offers.

Ugh. I need to go take a shower.


The vast majority of these images were pulled from Sociological Images. I didn’t want to link the individual threads because I wanted to highlight some of the ones I thought were particularly bad, but Gwen Sharp‘s a great place to start for these things.


9 thoughts on “Advertising, children, and the nurture of gender

  1. As the mother of an infant son, the baby’s first saw “busy boy” toys just irritate the hell out of me. My son is six months old. He does not need a saw. He needs something to chew on.

    At the same time, the stuff for girls is just so, so much worse. Girls get to be “Daddy’s Princess” from day 0. It’s really pretty gross.

    I could yammer on, but I should actually go and do something about that infant who is expressing consternation with his gender neutral ladybug toy. Excellent post!

    • Phire says:

      Ugh, I totally agree. I also feel like a lot of the whole “little boy must use chainsaws!” BS is related to the whole concept of parents projecting their unfulfilled wishes onto their children. (Beanplating much?)

      I’m sure baby sonika (heheh) is in excellent hands :)

  2. john verdon says:

    Good post – there was a huge watershed related to advertising to children during the Reagan years when he deregulated the advertising laws related to children and truth-in-advertising. After Reagan you saw this movie-toys-Mc-meal leviathan arise ubiquitously. Totally gross.

  3. nerdfromhell says:

    A society that does not condone under-aged sex should not condone advertising of any kind to children. Children are idiots, we should treat them as such.

  4. esker says:

    My little sister had to deal with this constant programming from day 1. My dad, the penultimate traditionalist, bought her all the girlish toys and painted the room pink and all that. Well guess what? She f-ing loved my space games, the strategy games, math (she rocked calculus by age 13) and was just a genius. My dad, sensing his “little princess” didn’t fit his stereotypical 1950s Susie homemaker image, basically said he would let her go to college only to “find a smart young man.” She replied “and become a musician, and there will be more than one man, dad.”

    Thankfully my dad mellowed out because he realized just how sexist he was being, but it just goes to show that women with the desire to break the mold have sometimes and uphill battle. Good parents should never foist a gender role on their child.

  5. Logan says:

    My favourite part is the baby ones. Guess what? Nobody knows their baby’s gender because their baby hasn’t told them yet. They just know the baby’s sex, which is entirely based on a doctor’s interpretation of their junk at birth. This obsession with gendered toys is based on a creepy obsession with baby’s genitalia. What the fuck. Why doesn’t this freak out more people?

    Even more baffling is the concept that deviation from ridiculously rigid gender norms = different sexuality but I won’t go into that.

    In short: society sure is fucked up.

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