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Sociologist explores how toys can fuel stereotypes, limit kids

Elizabeth Sweet With the holiday shopping season in full swing, a Sacramento State sociologist has advice for buying gifts for the children in your life: Avoid toys that reinforce stereotypes and limit kids’ horizons.

Elizabeth Sweet says clues to the dominance of men in STEM fields – and the reason nurturing often comes more easily to women – can be found in the children’s toy department.

“When we wall off the toys that develop spatial skills or are devoted to science and say, ‘These are only for boys,’ and we wall off the toys that develop empathy and verbal skills and say, ‘These are only for girls,’ it severely limits how children develop. … It reinforces the stereotype that boys are good at science and math, and girls are not.”

Sweet presented her research earlier this year at a White House conference for scholars and industry representatives on breaking down stereotypes, both gender and racial, in media and toys. And she was interviewed for this holiday season by the Associated Press about how some toy companies are offering more inclusive playthings, including dolls with disabilities, female superhero figures and characters with a range of skin tones. “There’s been some good progress,” Sweet says, “but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
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