Boys’ Toys

Apr 20, 2011

The following word cloud from Crystal Smith’s The Achilles Effect blog reflects the vocabulary commonly used for toy advertisements directed toward young boys (i.e. those toys in the 6-8 year old boy’s section of the Toys ‘R Us website were classified as “boys’ toys”). While the data visualization was not meant as part of a rigorous study, it is nevertheless interesting anecdotal evidence pointing toward the ways in which gender stereotypes are shaped and/or reinforced, particularly when the word cloud is compared to toys targeted toward girls from the same age group. (Yes, I am aware that a wordle based on a word count cannot analyze a text or set of texts, but it can point toward interesting lines of inquiry.)

Should IR scholars care about advertisement to young boys? Maybe not, but maybe there is something to be concerned about if the process of gender construction leads to highly polarized (non-overlapping) ideal types. To borrow from an earlier post/Foreign Affairs article about the so-called “Lady Hawks” by Charli Carpenter, it may matter to IR scholars if social expectations about gender roles can be shown to frame policy choices. At the very least, these gender stereotypes do matter for domestic politics because they certainly influence the lens through which foreign policy decisions are often interpreted by spin doctors.

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia