Deborah Best and John Williams (see Best, 2009; Best & Thomas, 2004) developed a Sex Stereotype Measure to assess children’s knowledge of gender stereotypes. When they gave it to 5-, 8-, and 11-year-olds in 25 countries, they found that stereotype learning in all countries accelerated during the early school years and was completed during adolescence and early adulthood. Girls and boys learned these stereotypes at the same rate. There was a tendency for male-typed traits to be learned somewhat earlier than female-typed traits. However, female-typed traits were learned earlier than male traits in Latin/Catholic cultures (Brazil, Chile, Portugal, Venezuela) where, according to Best and Williams, the female stereotype is more positive than the male stereotype. In predominantly Muslim countries, children learned the stereotypes at an earlier age than in non-Muslim countries, perhaps reflecting the greater divide between female and male roles in Muslim cultures.
Toys and Play Gender differences in children’s play activities and interests are more evident than they are in other areas such as personality qualities or attitudes (McHale et al., 1999). Girls and boys begin to differ in their preference for certain toys and play activities early in life, and at times these interests are quite intense (DeLoache et al., 2007). By the time they are 12 to 18 months old, girls prefer to play with dolls,
cooking sets, dress-up clothes, and soft toys, whereas boys choose vehicles, sports equipment, and tools (Hines, 2010; Leaper & Friedman, 2007; Serbin et al., 2001). By 3 years of age, gender-typical toy choices are well established and these differences persist throughout childhood (Cherney & London, 2006; Golombok et al., 2008; McHale, Kim et al., 2004, 2009). However, girls are more likely than boys to display neutral or cross-gender toy choices and activities (Cherney & London, 2006; Galambos et al., 2009; Green et al., 2004). For example, girls are more likely to request transportation toys and sports equipment as gifts than boys are to ask for dolls (Etaugh & Liss, 1992).
Why are girls more likely to depart from the stereotype? In most cultures, masculine activities have greater prestige than feminine ones. Thus, according to the social status hypothesis (see Chapter 3), a girl who plays with “boys’ “ toys will be viewed more positively than a boy who plays with “girls’ “ toys, who will be seen as lowering his status. As we shall see later, girls who prefer boys’ company and activities do, in fact, receive more peer and parental acceptance than boys who prefer the company and activity of girls (Carr, 2007). Moreover, children generally find boys’ toys more interesting and appealing than girls’ toys (Blakemore & Centers, 2005). You can do lots more fun and exciting things with Legos than with a tea set!
Because of their preferences, girls and boys experience very different play environments (Edwards et al., 2001). During the preschool and elementary school years, boys in a variety of cultures spend more time than girls in vigorous physical outdoor activities such as playing with large vehicles, climbing, exploratory play, sports, and rough-and-tumble play, which consists of playful chasing, tumbling, hitting, and wrestling, often accompanied by laughter and screaming (Blakemore et al., 2009; McIntyre & Edwards, 2009; Hines, 2010). Boys are more likely to engage in competitive activities, to play in large groups that are organized around dominance, and to take more physical risks in their play (Blakemore et al., 2009; Galambos et al., 2009; Weinberger & Stein, 2007). Their fantasy play focuses on action and adventure themes (Leaper & Friedman, 2007). Girls’ play preferences, on the other hand, include dolls, domestic play, reading, and arts and crafts. They also engage in more symbolic (i.e., “pretend”) play than boys (Cote & Bornstein 2009; McHale, Crouter, & Tucker, 2001). Girls’ play is more sedentary, more cooperative and egalitarian, more socially competent, and more supervised and structured by adults. Also, girls are more likely than boys to play with a small group of children or just one other child (Blakemore et al., 2009; Galambos et al., 2009; Poulin & Chan, 2010). To take a closer look at play patterns of girls and boys, try Get Involved 4.1.