Preschoolers’ Awareness of Social Expectations
of Gender: Relationship s to Toy Ch oices
Tar ja Raag
an d Christin e L. Rackliff
Sixty-on e preschoolers (28 girls, 33 bo ys) wh ose ethnic/racial description s
reflected local population statistics (one parent categorized her child as Native
Am erican an d White, wh ile 60 parents categorized their ch ildren as White)
were videotaped in a playroom . In the playroom , children had access to a tool
set, and a dish set that were eith er presented neu trally or as gender-typed.
During subsequ ent interviews, a high frequ ency of boys reported that their
fathers wou ld thin k cross-gender-typed play was “bad ”. Boys’ toy ch oices in
the playroom were the most stereotyped if boys perceived that their fathers
wou ld thin k cross-gender-typed toy play was “bad”, and if the boys played in
a context that highlighted toys as gender stereotyped. The discussion highlights
th e ro le of so cial co n strain ts (both im m ed iate an d learn ed ) in boys’
A child’s unde rstanding of gender, and repe rtoire of gende r behaviors may
best be studied using contextualist approache s which highlight the intricate
inter-re lationships betwe en multiple factors (biological, cognitive , cultural)
and conte xts (family environme nt, pe er group, school environme nt) that
toge ther contribute to cognitive and behavioral manife stations of ge nde r.
Using a conte xtualist approach, Beverly Fagot, Mary Le inbach, and the ir
colle ague s have uncove red inte re sting de velopmental change s in parent-
child interactions which evolve along with change s in childre n’s ge nder
Sex Roles, Vol. 38, No s. 9/10, 1998
1998 Plenum Publishing Corporation
This study was supported by Colby College Social Science Division Grant 01-2252. We would
like to thank Colleen J. Burnham, Joel R. Grossbard, Heathe r L. Hunte r, and Jennifer J.
Lavigne for their help in this rese arch. We would also like to thank all of th e pare nts and
childre n who participated in this study.
Corre spondence concerning this article should be addre ssed to Tarja Raag, De partme nt of
Psychology, Colby College , Wate rville , ME, 04901.