Alex Blaze

Boys Battle and Girls Love: Word Clouds of Gendered Advertisements

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 25, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: boys, feminism, gender, masculinity

A blogger who writes on boys and images of masculinity put together two word clouds based on advertisements for toys that appear in major afterschool cartoons, one for boys and one for girls. Here's the boys:


And the girls:


Now, the argument could be made that boys really do like those toys in general and girls, in general, really do like the girl toys. I don't think that desire can exist in a vacuum and that girls and boys aren't affected by what they think girls and boys should be playing with. It's also contradictory to argue that ads don't effect desire; the entire point of advertising is to make people want things that they didn't want before. But that's not really the issue I see here.

The boys word cloud is violent, and I don't think that it's unavoidable for boys to be drawn towards violence. Volumes have been written about the socialization towards violence that boys experience in our culture, and it also should be noted that there are other cultures (usually those far from mass culture) that discourage greed and aggression and portray violence against others to young people as an aberration.

That "battle" and "power" are the two words being repeated to boys when it comes to how they should be acting and what they should be wanting. Aren't "build" or "construct" or "help" or "save" just as stereotypically masculine? Even if one assumes that there's an innate portion to gender expression, violence doesn't have to be the only way, or even taught as an appropriate way, for men express masculinity.

The other thing I notice is that "girl" appears in the girl word cloud while "boy" doesn't appear in the boy word cloud. The graphics aren't definitive proof of anything, but why do girls need to keep on being reminded that they're girls while boys don't?

via feministing

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I can't say that I find this surprising. I noticed that the original article also found more words in the boy's ads than in the girl's ads (658/432). Does this point to any difference in the way boys and girls respond to non-verbal cues in the toy ads?

I'm guessing it's because the blogger went through more boy ads, since that's the focus of his research.

Wow. Just.. Wow. I like seeing this illustrated like this. Really puts it in perspective.

Specifically in response to your question about "girl" appearing in the cloud, I chalk that up to media advertising's grip on the concept of the "girlfriends" phenomenon. Girls' toys are advertised as things they do together, with their galpals. GI Joe's other action figures are his enemies and the other guys on his team, but rarely advertised as his buddies or friends. On the other hand, all of Polly Pocket's other action figures are marketed as her "friends", her "girlfriends" etc.

By advertising girls' toys as toys she is expected to use with other girls, I think gendered marketing becomes more heavy, and that's how you get "girl" in the cloud. There might also be "girl power" in there, but I haven't seen it yet.

Rick Elliott | April 26, 2011 2:37 AM

There's a great book--
A CHOICE OF HEROES by Gerzon that does a good job of pointing out alternate male models to the GI Joe types. There do exist male models to offer guys that bring people together instead of having them be fighters.

Which far from mass media societies are you referencing? I can't think of any off the top of my head.

What "shocks" me more is that anyone is shocked!?!

When adults keep raising their children w/exactly these same words and attitude.

EXAMPLE:: My High School child was in an English class. They were each individually asked BOY/GIRL to give single words that "described" their sex.

GIRL/BOY was divided up on the chalk board.

Boys gave words like: athletic/strong/aggressive and even... BALLSY.

Girls gave words like: glitter/pretty/shy and even... SEXY.

My 16yr. old daughter sat their waiting for her turn and said... CONFIDENT.

The English teacher nearly shat himself because after 14yrs of teaching he never heard that on the girls side.

Parents need to start stepping it up. What they learn seriously STARTS at home. Stop blaming the "media" and McDonalds... you all are not in a carriage and bonnet terrified of the "English".

Aubrey Haltom | April 26, 2011 10:05 AM

My husband and I have a 5-year old son. Our neighborhood and school communities here in Boston are filled with same-sex parents w/kids, 'progressive' hetero families, etc...

But I still hear so many parents talk about their kids being 'girly-girls' or 'rough-and-tumble boys' and attributing it all to 'nature'.

Parents will talk about their children falling into traditional gender roles without any encouragement - and then make some remark about how it must be "a boy/girl thing".

In fact, I've heard it so often I wonder if many of us (i.e., same-sex parents) aren't somehow hoping our kids are going to be 'normal'.

If I bring up how we are surrounded by gender-reinforcing stereotypes everywhere we go (just have a child and see how the gender divide is enforced), then these parents will acknowledge that fact. So it's not a matter of ignorance.

But I think that a lot of parents somehow 'want' their children to fit into the traditional roles.

These ads don't happen in spite of us as parents - they too often happen because of us.

Ooooh I only WISH their was a LIKE button here TBP! I would have every dyke/homo parent I know on here giving you props.

Also interesting is that the words love, friend, friendship, fun, and share all appear in the girl cloud, but NOT in the boy cloud. Enemy, hero, heroes, evil, opponent, and opponents, dominate, nemesis, are all in the boy cloud and not in the girl cloud.

The boy cloud does have join and friend – but they are VERY small. And while the girl cloud is pretty solidly canted in the party/hair/mommy/style/glitter/fashion direction, the words adventure, wild, runs, climbing, choose, inspired, imagine, change, and fierce all also appear. So the girl image presents more balance/options/choices than the boys' cloud.

Of course I’d like to see the process used to determine “boys advertisements” and “girls advertisements” and how words were collected out of those commercials to know how the researcher controlled for their own bias.