Magazines, Toys and Textbooks
The story has persisted for generations: girls seek to be princesses waiting for their prince to support them while boys build, innovate, create, and save the day. Recently, this stereotype has become more pronounced. Gendered toys continue to be produced: princesses and Barbies for girls, tools and toy computers for boys. But what are younger girls actually interested in? What do they want to be when they grow up? According to Girls Life and Boys Life magazine, Fisher Price, and the creators of children’s toys and apparel the answer is apparent. Young girls strive to be beautiful, are only concerned with the affairs of vanity, and indulge in gossip and drama. Boys on the other hand are focused on their future careers and are encouraged to pursue technology and science.
Girls Life, a popular tween/teen magazine, advertises itself as “the ultimate guide to all things girl.” Yet, the content of the magazine only includes tips on fashion, beauty, and relationships. Is this really what constitutes “all things girls”? Through such magazines, girls are influenced to focus more on appearance rather than be encouraged and inspired to explore their future careers. Girls Life also has an immense social media and online presence. Their company boasts 150,000 Instagram followers, 6.5 million site views a month, and a magazine subscription audience of 1.9 million. Possessing such a large reach, the content of their magazine is directly influencing an entire demographic of impressionable young girls. Girls Life has a male counterpart, Boys Life, targeted towards young boys. Boy’s Life is the monthly magazine of Boy Scouts America, an organization focused on leadership training, career orientated lessons, and hands on learning. Aimed towards boys aged 9 through 16, Boy’s Life, features STEM articles, career blogs, preparation for attending university, and more.
The September 2016 Issues of Girls Life and Boys Life magazines have demonstrated vast gender stereotyping, promoting interest disparities as early as nine years of age. The Boys Life cover headlined “Explore Your Future”, while the Girls Life cover featured “Wake Up Pretty!” This was not the only instance of such blatant stereotyping. In the September/October 2015 issues, Boy’s Life magazine featured a special STEM publication discussing the lunar landing and potential STEM careers, while the Girl’s Life issue featured headlines such as “Up your beauty game” and “50 fall style steals”. Five years later, Girls Life continues to publish magazines promoting appearance and relationships. In the 2019 and 2020 issues of Girls Life headlines promoted “12 Signs Your Crush Is Into You” and “Beauty Blowout!”. At the same time, Boys Life has continued to promote STEM careers and adventure.
The difference is clear: one issue promotes career and creation while the other promotes vanity and style.
When girls are bombarded and exposed to such materialistic content at the tween age, interest disparities inevitably emerge. These influences correlate to high school girls’ deteriorating confidence in mathematics and science. A recent 2017 study, published in the Social Psychology of Education, to explore gender role bias and confidence in STEM fields, revealed that high school girls reported lower self-efficacy in mathematics and science subjects compared to boys.
Interests that are developed in high school are more likely to be explored later on in a college or university. This lack of self- confidence and faith in STEM subjects discourages its pursuance by girls in the future.
Even earlier than high school, girls are exposed to stereotypes as babies. Until recently, Fisher Price sold baby rattles in two gendered versions. The rattle targeted towards girls was shaped like a diamond ring and suitable for a “pretty princess.” For boys, the rattle was shaped like a hammer and targeted towards “busy boys.” Although the diamond baby rattle is now sold in a white “gender-neutral” color, such divisions continue to exist in other infant toys. For instance, Fisher Price sells a pink “Laugh and Learn Stroll and Walker Set” with a baby doll for girls while selling a blue “Laugh and Learn Smart Car” for boys. These baby toys are prematurely typecasting young girls.