The White House Council on Women and Girls, established by President Barack Obama in 2009, is taking on an overlooked early influencer of gender stereotyping: toys. While they may seem like simple diversions, research has shown that the kinds of media and toys that children are exposed to early in life can affect how they see both gender roles and opportunities later in life. A conference at the White House all day Wednesday will bring together toy, media and retail industry representatives with parents, academics and activists, to discuss the issues.
Tina Tchen, the chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and director of the Council on Women and Girls, said many parents may not realize the subtle ways they are being steered toward gender stereotypes. “I’ve been shopping in toy stores for 25 years and didn’t realize what was happening,” Tchen said. “I was being directed to the boys 7-12 section or the girls 7-12 section of the toy stores, and that right there directs you to very specific toys, divided by gender.”
Change will only occur as a result of a change in consumer attitudes, she added. The White House has already made headway with the Toy Industry Association, Netflix and the magazine Family Fun and Parents, who have all undertaken to look critically at their gender representations to children.
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