Selling Gender: Masculinity and Femininity in Twenty Years of Toy Commercials


Karina Lyons

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Society separates femininity and masculinity into a binary to maintain society?s power structure, preserving masculinity as dominant and femininity as subordinate. Attributes are assigned to each gender in the form of gender norms. Expressions of gender can be found in commercials as advertising and toys are used to shape these gendered attributes. Second wave feminism more easily mainstreamed stereotypically masculine characteristics to girls, encouraging access to toys and advertising normally geared to boys. My research was to analyze commercials and toys from 1980 to 2007 to record how female access to masculine toys and advertising affected the industry. I collected commercials from online archives and analyzed them according to 18 elements of gender found in marketing strategies and products. With these characteristics, I identified the levels of masculinity and femininity sold through each toy and commercial. The findings indicate toys geared to girls have decreased the levels of femininity and increased the levels of masculinity sold over the last 27 years. Results also indicate toys geared to boys have decreased the levels of masculinity and increased the levels of femininity sold.This study demonstrates how some masculinity has become acceptable for girls, forcing a negotiation of masculine and feminine levels. The results for boys show two different evolutions of gender. One is the softening of masculinity which allows more boys to identify with a less extreme masculinity. The other result negates femininity in order to uphold masculine dominance.


Lisa Wade




Ford Research Endowment

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