Posts Tagged ‘ stereotyping ’

Does Playing With Barbie Limit Girls Career Choices?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

“Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows.”

Well, let’s take this one step at a time.

What Did This Study Do?

From the press release:

Girls ages 4 to 7 were randomly assigned to play with one of three dolls: a fashion Barbie with dress and high-heeled shoes; a career Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope; or a Mrs. Potato Head with accessories such as purses and shoes. Mrs. Potato Head was selected as a neutral doll because the toy is similar in color and texture, but doesn’t have the sexualized characteristics of Barbie.

After a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers were traditionally male-dominated and half were female-dominated.

One important thing to keep in mind: a total of 37 girls were studied.

What Did This Study Find?

Again, from the press release:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

What Was The Conclusion From This Study?

Once more, from the press release:

Childhood development is complex, and playing with one toy isn’t likely to alter a child’s career aspirations … But toys such as dolls or action figures can influence a child’s ideas about their future …

What Is The Take-Home Message From This Study?

Well, much less than the headline “Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows” might imply. The conclusion summarized above is a reasonable perspective. But let’s face it – this study is quite limited in scope. Only 37 girls were studied and they were distributed in age between 4 and 7 years old. This is hardly a platform for making inferences about the impact of playing with Barbie. To do that properly (and I admit I come from a tradition of epidemiological research which can have pretty rigorous standards), we would want to see a few things. Some that immediately come to mind include:

  • a much larger sample, ideally one that would be shown to be somewhat representative of a specified community (e.g., a given region of the country, so that we have more confidence in the statistical estimates)
  • more attention to potential factors that could influence how the girls responded (e.g., Are there differences by age? Level of media exposure? Prior level of conceptions of sex roles and stereotyping?)
  • additional determination of how long the effect lasted (e.g., retesting 30 minutes later; 2 days later; 1 week later)
  • more naturalistic studies that examined what toys the girls played with in their home environment (e.g., Did it make a difference that the experimenters gave the girls the toys?)
  • inclusion of boys
  • replication of the findings

These are just some ideas to think about. Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the study. It was published in a peer review journal. There may be something to the results. But from the scientific perspective the study gets the ball rolling – and much more research would need to be done before we are anywhere close to making bigger inferences.

This is, admittedly, a pet peeve of mine. I don’t like headline “teasers” for research that is in an early stage. Frankly, I don’t like the idea that every study that gets published warrants a press release. Sometimes a study can serve as a platform for discussion, but I think we need to be much more conservative when we use the words “study shows“  because of the inference it carries.  It’s a long way from 5 minutes in a laboratory to the real world.

What career will your child have? Take our quiz to find out!


How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime

Australian Classic Toy Stamp Featuring Barbie via Shutterstock.com

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Does The Label “Plus Sizes For Girls” Send The Wrong Message?

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Earlier today I watched a segment on the Today show about the current effort by retailers to provide plus sizing for girls at most ages (including toddlerhood). The question: is this labeling the wrong way to go? 

Look, it’s clear that there are a variety of body types at all ages for girls. There is, also, the current obesity epidemic in this country that is requiring that more and more girls need larger sizes. So providing size choices at all ages – in stores and online – makes sense. Retailers are there to sell clothes, and kids (and parents) don’t want to be restricted in terms of what styles they can choose from.

But from my vantage point, do we need to use the phrase “Plus Sizes”? To me, it sounds like the fashion equivalent of doing a bad job of “mainstreaming” – you’re just like all of the  ”normal” girls, except that you are a “plus size.” Do we need a “Too Skinny” section too?

I get that the retailers want to be sure that parents know that there is a concerted effort going on to be sure any girl can select from any style in most stores. But couldn’t a marketing campaign simply state that there is a full range of sizes available? I think most parents are comfortable sorting through either numeric sizing or abbreviations. I wonder if retailers like Sears consulted with developmental experts – rather than just marketing professionals – who might have helped them craft a better message. Yes, I’m guessing that retailers don’t really think through the deeper issues for kids, and focus myopically on target audiences and sales potential, even though a more suitable balance could be achieved.

If you saw the segment on the Today show, you heard an articulate 11-year-old (who purchases “plus size” clothes) who seems much wiser than the retailers these days. (If you didn’t catch it, check the Today show website and see if it is posted there). She said that she likes being able to go to the mainstream stores and be able to buy what all the other girls can buy (which wasn’t always the case). She also suggested that stores can simply rely on sizing and not the “plus size” labeling. And she plans to launch her own line of fashion someday that avoids unnecessary, and potentially undermining, labeling. I hope she does!

Sizes via Shutterstock.com

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