Monday, May 19, 2008

Blog Post #1

Sugar and Spice and All that is Nice vs. Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

One of the most obvious stereotypes in American society regards gender. Adults often do not think twice about dressing their daughters in pink and their sons in blue. However, as soon as young adult men and women graduate college and the male receives a higher positioned job offer than the equally educated female, these gender labels are suddenly a concern. Newman states in chapter four of his book, Identities and Inequalities (2007), "One of the most important aspects of identity that people must learn is gender. Distinctions along sex/gender lines are the cultural, institutional, even architectural foundations of everyday life. Its importance as a shaper of our social experiences is beyond debate. What is debatable, though, is where gendered traits and behaviors come from" (p. 109). Gender stereotypes have always been a problem, and even as some parents might work hard to avoid the stereotypes, (such as the parents of the twins in the beginning of this same chapter) children will learn how boys and girls "should" act according to societal norms through other means.

In order to study how girls and boys learn gender roles, I examined a child care center and how identity is affected by toys, teaching behaviors, and advertising. Before I observed the classrooms, I expected boys and girls to learn their behaviors from engendered toys and different types of media. While I found no evidence to support my theory from the center, this does not mean that the internalization of gender roles does not take place through these means at home. First, the setting of the child care must be described to illustrate how its setting is not conducive to gender stereotypes.

The Setting

The children, toys, teaching behaviors, and advertising were all evaluated at the Merrill Lynch Family Center (MLFC) in Hopewell, New Jersey (this is where I work seasonally). The family center serves as a learning and caring environment for newborns to children of the age of six. The center is for children of Merrill Lynch employees only. It is run by an organization called Bright Horizons, which sets up child care centers globally, focusing on providing employer-sponsored care (Bright Horizons, 2008). Considering that these child care centers are mainly built to cater the needs of parents who work for large businesses, it can be expected that the company the center serves will heavily influence the way in which their children are taught. For example, in each component of the day care center: infants, toddlers, preschool, and kindergarten; the classrooms are named to reflect the financial and marketing goals of the firm. The components are dubbed "baby bulls", "toddler tickers", "mini market makers" and "junior investors" respectively.

However, besides this creative naming of each component, Merrill Lynch does not have a large say on what their children learn and the setting in which they learn. Preschoolers are not learning how to invest money and toddlers are not evaluating the decreases in the stock market. While children do learn how to count, they do not spend all day learning mathematics. The center is accredited under the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and follows strict guidelines to maintain this honor. The center has very limited corporate involvement and almost no advertising, except for a few unavoidable objects. The toys are seemingly appropriate for what society would consider acceptable for both boys and girls to play with. The center also cares for a very diverse population including most minority groups. All children are of at least middle class social status, considering that their parents pay the private center a considerable amount for their services. Despite, this "developmentally appropriate" family center (by NAEYC's standards), children still fall into the preconceived gender roles of American society.

A sign labeling a toddler classroom as "toddler tickers".

The family center works hard to provide a developmentally appropriate atmosphere for children. These dolls help children become culturally aware of different races and ethnicities.

"Toy"ing with Gender Roles

The first area for examination is the role of toys in molding children into gender roles. While Barbie and Bratz introduce young girls to glittery makeup, tight fitting clothing, and pink convertibles, Power Rangers and Transformers are surrounding young boys with violent weapons, noise-making race cars, and other unrealistic scenarios. Newman writes briefly on this topic in his book (2007), "Toys and games that parents provide for their children are another influential source of gender information. A quick glance at Saturday morning television commercials or a toy manufacturer's catalog or web site reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines. Decades of research indicate that "girls' toys" still revolve around themes of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and "boys' toys" emphasize action and adventure" (p. 112). After reading this information that Newman shared, I looked on the website for Toys R' Us ( I noticed that on the home page there were no distinct categories for shopping for boys or shopping for girls. However, once a category was clicked on, the link gave the option of shopping for each gender. Even the category of books was gender sorted. I also noticed that the website was broken down by brand name. I was curious to see if a brand such as Bratz would be categorized by gender, and I was surprised to see that it was. I clicked the link "boys" and several dolls, games, and DVDs appeared in the toy search engine. I found this interesting because it did not comply with the typical gender stereotype that dolls are for girls.

Relating this information back to the MLFC, I took notice that each classroom did not have many toys that could be stereotypically for boys or girls only. The classroom is full of various manipulates and centers that would be deemed appropriate by societal norms for boys or girls. There are computers, a dramatic play area, a blocks and building area, a writing center, a science center, and a few others. Pink sparkly Barbies and light sabers can not be found in the classroom. Yet, despite the absence of apparent gender specific toys, the boys and girls use the toys differently from one another. This is similar to the beginning scenario in the Newman book, where the boys and girls used the seemingly unisex toys in gender specific ways.

From observing the students I have seen that boys spend most of their time in the blocks and building area, while girls tend to favor the dramatic play area. Girls often spend a considerable amount of time coloring, while boys also appear attached to the computers. Occasionally, a few boys will play in the dramatic play area, but it typically is the same students over and over again. This evidence helps to show that gender roles are established outside the classroom. The children are presented with the same toys, yet they still show favoritism.

A male student plays in the blocks and building area, while two female students play in the dramatic play area.

Most toys do not appear to be gender specific.

Two gender specific computer games found in the classroom. Computer games labeled as "for boys" and "for girls".

Unconscious Behaviors

The second area of examination is how teacher and adult behavior influences the identity that children habituate. The heteronormative society has followed a constructionist approach about how girls and boys should behave. Newman states it plainly in his book, "Because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them (p. 111). When a person is use to behaving in a particular way, it is often hard to realize that their behavior may not be the most appropriate. For example, in the classroom at MLFC, it is common for teachers to make unconscious judgements with their words and actions. When a child walks into the room for the first time of the day, a teacher often will make a suggestion depending on their gender. If the child is a girl, a teacher might suggest that they draw a picture of a princess or make a card for their mother. If the child is a boy, it is common for the teacher to suggest that they build a tall Lego tower. Although, boys might enjoy drawing, and girls might enjoy building with Lego's, gender stereotypes are reinforced because teachers have the idea in their head that each gender has a particular preference toward one activity than the other.

Teachers' actions, as well as verbal cues, are also part of the influence of gender roles as well. I have noticed that teachers in the center tend to yell at the boys and remove them from activities, while they give girls more warnings and use calmer voices when a child is disruptive. This enforces the stereotype that boys are more physical and unable to talk things out or control their physical behavior.

Subliminal Messages Through Advertising

The last point I would like to discuss from my evaluation of MLFC is the way that advertisements impact the children in the classroom. According to Giroux's article in the collection Gender, Race and Class in the Media (2003), "Schools are being transformed into commercial rather than public spheres as students become subject to the whims and practices of marketers whose agenda has nothing to do with critical learning and a great deal to do with restructuring of civic life in the image of market culture" (p. 173). Schools are becoming giant billboards for companies selling various products to easily influenced children. As long as companies are willing to give funds, schools advertise their products in reciprocity.

Although advertising is a bigger problem for public schools, some private schools are falling “captive” to corporations as resources are traded for “billboard” space. Considering the close attachment between Merrill Lynch and the family center, it is expected that at least inferential messages would be advertised (Merrill Lynch is not owned by any media giants however, and is a large global entity.) However, the center is seemingly “ad”less; walls are blank except for child art work and important bulletins, that at most, bear the logo for “Bright Horizons”. As for toys and games there are only a few consistent brands that appear in each classroom. Lakeshore, Discount School Supply, and Scholastic are the main companies that toys are purchased from. However, each classroom is not limited to purchasing their toys from these manufacturers. While favoring some companies might seem like a marketing plot, it is difficult to say that play dough from one company is sending different messages than the play dough from another. In fact, most toys are removed from their original packaging and place in a plain basket so that the company which created the toy is unidentifiable by children. There are even a few center rules that limit advertising. For example, books, toys and games that have name brands such as Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Barbie, and Sesame Street are not recommended for teacher purchase.

While classrooms appear to be essentially free of company involvement, advertising does sneak in. A company called Hatch supplies computers and internet safe desktops for preschool, kindergarten, and employee use ( ). Computers, mouse pads, and desk tops all display the Hatch logo. As far as I know, Hatch solely supplies developmentally appropriate toys for early childhood curriculum. Most of the computer games also sport their logos before children play them. Analyzing each program would take a considerable amount of time, though might yield interesting results.

Besides the Hatch influence on the computers, the only other possible advertising influence comes from food services, which is provided by Sodexo. Snacks such as Rice Krispy Treats and Tropicana Orange Juice are used frequently in the classroom. I did not find much information on which companies Sodexo is linked to but it does provide more than just food services. Different branches of Sodexo have been questioned on their nutritional values. Several children in schools in Chicago received food poisoning from burritos distributed by Sodexo. (The food in Eickhoff and Travers/Wolfe Hall are products of Sodexo and a sore topic among The College of New Jersey residents).

While the center is not as affected by companies as greatly as some other schools, the way advertising affects children is inevitable. Children love to bring in their Transformers magazines, talking dolls, and Hot Wheels. Daily children wear Spiderman and Disney Princess shirts. Advertising seems to sneak in through all the cracks. The impact of advertisements and companies are illustrated in the play of children. Whether they set up a Friendly’s ice cream parlor in the dramatic play area, or play Power rangers on the playground, the influence of advertising is unavoidable and affects a child’s perception of who they are and how they should behave.

Toys are removed from original packaging and placed in baskets without any logos or brand names.

Walls only show children's work and important bulletins. Advertisements are not to be found.

Standard puzzles and games are used, popular name brands are avoided.


My analysis of the childcare center showed that even though the center was free from gender specific toys and marketing, the children in the center were well aware of what is expected of boys and girls. Identity development and gender stereotypes are learned by children through a variety of means. Even in a developmentally appropriate center under NAEYC guidelines, constructionist views slip through the cracks.

Works Cited

Bright Horizons (2008) Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site:

Dines, G. & Humez, J. (Ed.). (2003). Gender, race, and class in media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Hatch (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site:

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site:

Newman, D. M. (2007). Identities and inequalities. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Toys R'Us (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site:

Walker, T. (2002). Who is Sodexho? Retrieved May 20, 2008, from LabourNet UK Web site:

1 comment:

Jessiebg said...

I am really quite impressed by your 1st post!
It's an ambitious set of topics to tackle and pull together. In reading it I could see that you put a ton of effort into researching and documenting these areas of influence on the daycare center in which you work. My only suggeestion would be to try to keep the transitions between topics a bit smoother (whether you use subtitles or not and make sure that you proofread for sentence structure issues.
Overall, great work!!!
- Jessie