Boys Act and Girls Appear: A Content Analysis of Gender Stereotypes Associated with Characters in Children’s Popular Culture

Abstract

We conducted a content analysis of children’s products in U.S. popular culture that depict male and female characters to determine the extent to which gender stereotypes were portrayed. We examined popular Halloween costumes (90 female costumes and 90 male costumes) from popular retail websites, 79 popular dolls and 71 popular action figures from national store websites, and Valentines found at two national stores (portraying 54 female and 59 male characters). The coding system was adapted from several different studies. Female characters were far more likely than male characters to be depicted with traditional feminine stereotyped cues (e.g., decorative clothing) and sexually submissive, hyper-feminine cues (e.g., revealing clothing). Male characters were far more likely to be portrayed with traditional masculine characteristics like functional clothing and the body-in-motion, and they were often depicted with hyper-masculine accessories such as having a weapon. Implications for children’s gender-role development and the perpetuation of patriarchy are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

Sarah K. Murnen, Department of Psychology, Kenyon College; Claire Greenfield, Department of Psychology, Kenyon College; Abigail Younger,, Department of Psychology, Kenyon College; Hope Boyd, Department of Psychology, Kenyon College. We would like to thank Sabina Hawks for her suggestions about the Valentines.

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Correspondence to Sarah K. Murnen.

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The validity study was reviewed and approved by the Kenyon College Institutional Review Board.

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Murnen, S.K., Greenfield, C., Younger, A. et al. Boys Act and Girls Appear: A Content Analysis of Gender Stereotypes Associated with Characters in Children’s Popular Culture. Sex Roles 74, 78–91 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0558-x

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Keywords

  • Stereotyped attitudes
  • Popular culture
  • Socialization
  • Human sex differences