Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Gender Stereotypes

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors and activities that society feels are acceptable for men and women. Stereotypes are standardized beliefs about an identifiable group, such as the commonly stereotypic characteristics and activities of boys and girls (Fagot, Leinbach & O’Boyle, 1992). Gender stereotypes lead to unfair treatment in society and influence individuals to act in a specific manner. These stereotypes concerning gender are greatly influenced by culture and upbringing, which is why it is important to look at the environment that surrounds children early in life.

Children and Stereotypes

Children begin conforming to gender stereotypes at a very young age (Mulvey & Killen, 2014, para. 1). The opportunities, encouragements, discouragements, and various forms of guidance that children experience throughout their lives have a major influence on their attitudes and behaviors regarding gender roles (Witt, 1997). It is difficult for a child to grow to adulthood without experiencing some form of gender bias or stereotyping. Children are initially exposed to gender stereotypes at home and these stereotypes are reinforced by peers and the media throughout childhood and into adolescence (Witt, 1997). Specifically, a child’s movement experiences are affected as stereotypes are placed upon them. In addition to movement experiences, motor milestones will also be greatly affected. Motor milestones refer to the characteristics that are used to interpret an infant's motor developmental progress, such as the ability to stand upright indicating lower-body strength (Ohman, Nilsson, Lagerkvist, & Beckung, 2009). Aspects in a child’s life can promote or hinder their physical development. Parents, toys, schooling and peers can all have an overwhelming effect on how a child will experience movement.

Parental Influence

The strongest influence on gender role development occurs within the family setting because parents pass on their own beliefs and values about gender to their children (Witt, 1997). Thorne states that from the time children are babies, parents treat sons and daughters differently by dressing offspring in gender-specific colors, giving gender-differentiated toys, and expecting different behavior from boys and girls (as cited in Witt, 1997). Fagot et al. (1992) discovered that children who support gender stereotypes at an early age are raised in homes where gender is important to family members and traditional attitudes toward sex typing are encouraged. By observing particular parental behaviors in the household, children learn that certain actions represent symbolic markers of gender (Cunningham, 2001). Furthermore, parental beliefs about gender can influence the type of sporting activities and play that children will take part in (Caldera, Huston, & O'Brien, 1989). A study by Campenni (1999) found that mothers and fathers behave differently when playing with girls and boys and that the nature of these behaviors are influenced by the sex of their children. This study supports the general notion that parents recognize and encourage characteristics of masculinity and femininity towards their children. The influences that parents have on their offspring contribute to children's views on gender and may shape children's movement experiences for the rest of their lives.


Toys are very important for children when it comes to developing and learning about the world. Hsieh (2008) explains that toys assist children in mastering developmental tasks. Toys have properties that provoke particular play for children and the observed behavioral differences seen between boys and girls are influenced by sex-typed toys (Caldera et al., 1989). During the preschool period, children's knowledge of gender stereotypes is enforced largely through their choice of toys (Martin, DiDonato, Clary, Fabes, Kreiger, Palermo, & Hanish, 2012). Children use toys to discover their identity, learn cause and effect, explore relationships and reach specific motor milestones. A study done by Lobel and Menashri (1993) looking at the relations of gender and toy preferences among preschoolers revealed that gender-typed toy choice is present in preschool children. Ninety-two percent of the children in the study indicated that toy trucks were for boys and that dolls were toys for girls (Lobel & Menashri, 1993). It is clear that gender plays a critical role at an early age for children when looking at toy choice for preschool aged children. If parents continue to have their kids play with sex-typed toys, certain children will not be able to gain specific skills that are important for physical and mental growth. For example, if girls are discouraged from playing with toys having masculine characteristics, they will be less likely to obtain higher mobility, activity and manipulative play (Caldera & Sciaraffa, 1998). By choosing gender traditional toys for children, parents are further pushing personal gender role views and preferences onto their kids (Caldera & Sciaraffa, 1998).

Patterns of Play

In early childhood, gender roles become apparent in patterns of play. Boys tend to be more physical in their play, while girls shy away from this aggressive behavior (DiPietro, 1981). Lever (1976) reminds us that the rough and tumble pattern of play has always been associated with boys. Society encourages boys to play contact team sports to build male characteristics, while assuming that girls do not enjoy serious competition due to their lack of aggression and would prefer playing with dolls or staying at home instead (Lever, 1976). These views continue to support the traditional sex-roles within our society, which can have implications on both males and females. A study by Boyle, Marshall, & Robeson (2003) looking at children's play behaviors concluded that boys were more involved in sports and their play tended to look very physical, loud, and involved much more use of gross-motor muscles than girls. Girls engage in much less outdoor play than boys and spend much of their time playing indoors, which basically restricts their body movement (Lever, 1976). The lack of movement experiences are a concern because girls will continue to participate in less physical activity than boys if something does not change.


A lot of children's time is spent interacting with others at school and this school environment plays a big role in how kids interpret gender. By going to school, children learn that there are behaviors that must be followed based on gender. For example, Kowalski (2007) uncovered that teachers report that kindergarten children tend to respond in ridicule and negativity to gender norm violations in the classroom (as cited in Martin & Ruble, 2010). As children grow older, gender identity continues to be an issue in school. A study by Thorne (1993) found that boys, who defied norms for masculinity in middle-elementary school, were teased, shunned, or referred to as girls (as cited in Martin & Ruble, 2010). When looking at the activities that girls engaged in at school, Boyle et al. (2003) discovered that girls participated in creative activities. Some examples of these activities were writing books, drawing pictures, and making cards (Boyle et al., 2003). By following social norms at school, girls may not develop physical health benefits, while males may lack creativity. Bigler (1995) explains that during younger elementary school years, teachers should refrain from grouping children on the basis of gender because this may reinforce stereotypes about gender to students. It is obvious that children construct gender through their interactions with one another at school (Boyle et al., 2003).

Practical Application

Gender stereotypes can have lasting effects on children and it is important to provide both boys and girls with opportunities to grow without looking at gender. Parents play a primal role and should focus on purchasing toys that are not gender specific, so that stereotypes do not arise in children. Qualities encouraged in physical activity, such as competitiveness and strength, oppose stereotypical feminine ideals, which indicate the need for challenging sociocultural norms (Spencer, Rehman, & Kirk, 2015). Spencer et al. (2015) indicate that some girls may challenge gender norms, but risk being perceived as overly masculine. This risk of being judged and ridiculed may prevent girls from participating in sport or physical activity. Physical educators should attempt to modify existing school physical education programs to accommodate the needs and interests of young girls. In particular, girls should be provided with opportunities to participate in noncompetitive lifetime activities, such as walking, resistance training, and aerobic dance. Due to the fact that many risk factors for cardiovascular disease track from childhood into adulthood, physical activity must be a part of children’s lives (Trost, Pate, Dowda, Saunders, Ward, & Felton, 1996). Low levels of physical activity appear to be prevalent among preadolescent and adolescent girls, which raise many concerns for the health and well being of females (Trost et al., 1996). Parents and schools must encourage physical activity at a young age for girls, as well as avoid using gender stereotypes. It is important to create an environment that supports gender equality and build confidence in girls’ abilities (Spencer et al., 2015).


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Boyle, D. E., Marshall, N. L., & Robeson, W. W. (2003). Gender At Play: Fourth-Grade Girls and Boys on the Playground. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10), 1326-1345. doi:10.1177/0002764203046010004

Caldera, Y. M., Huston, A. C., & O'Brien, M. (1989). Social interactions and play patterns of parents and toddlers with feminine, masculine, and neutral toys. Child Development, 60(1), 70-76. doi:10.2307/1131072

Caldera, Y. M., & Sciaraffa, M. A. (1998). Parent-Toddler Play with Feminine Toys: are all Dolls the Same? Sex Roles, 39(9-10), 657-668. Retrieved from journal/11199

Campenni, C. E. (1999). Gender Stereotyping of Children's toys: A Comparison of Parents and Nonparents. Sex Roles, 40(1-2), 121-138. Retrieved from journal/11199

Cunningham, M. (2001). The influence of parental attitudes and behaviors on children's attitudes toward gender and household labor in early adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 6(1), 111-122. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00111.x

DiPietro, J. A. (1981). Rough and Tumble Play: A function of Gender. Developmental Psychology, 17(1), 50-58. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.17.1.50

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Hsieh, H. (2008). Effects of ordinary and adaptive toys on pre-school children with developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 29(5), 459-466. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2007.08.004

Lever, J. (1976). Sex differences in the games children play. Social Problems, 23(4), 478-487. doi:10.1525/sp.1976.23.4.03a00100

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Martin, C. L., DiDonato, M. D., Clary, L., Fabes, R. A., Kreiger, T., Palermo, F., & Hanish, L. (2012). Preschool children with gender normative and gender non- normative peer preferences: Psychosocial and environmental correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 831–847. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9950-6

Martin, C. L., & Ruble, D. N. (2010). Patterns of Gender Development. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 353-381. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100511

Mulvey, K. L., & Killen, M. (2014). Challenging Gender Stereotypes: Resistance and Exclusion. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12317

Ohman, A., Nilsson, S., Lagerkvist, A., & Beckung, A. (2009). Are infants with torticollis at risk of a delay in early motor milestones compared with a control group of healthy infants? Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 51(7), 545-550. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03195.x

Spencer, R. A., Rehman, L., & Kirk, S. F. (2015). Understanding gender norms, nutrition, and physical activity in adolescent girls: a scoping review. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12, 1-19. doi:10.1186/s12966-015-0166-8

Trost, S. G., Pate, R. R., Dowda, M., Saunders, R., Ward, D. S., & Felton, G. (1996). Gender Differences in Physical Activity and Determinants of Physical Activity in Rural Fifth Grade Children. Journal of School Health, 66(4), 145-150. doi:10.1111/j.1746 1561.1996.tb06264.x

Witt, S. D. (1997). Parental influence on children's socialization to gender roles. Adolescence, 32, 253–259. Retrieved from