Elsa, Batman: Gender Roles Limit Children’s Potential

Emma Eicrhelberger, Guest Reporter |

On Halloween night, a little boy walks up to a front door dressed as Elsa, his favorite princess from Frozen.” His hair is spray-painted white, and he is wearing a store-bought replica of Elsa’s dress from the movie. He is also wearing the happiest smile as pieces of candy fall into his Olaf Halloween bag. He runs back to his parents after cutely whispering, “Thank you,” per his parents’ request.

Closing the door, the neighbors are shocked. They ask themselves, how could those parents let their son dress up as a princess? What are they trying to do? Then, hearing a knock at the door, they open it to see a little girl dressed in the gear of her favorite superhero, Batman. She is sporting a swift black mask molded into bat ears. Her black cape flows over her shoulders, draping past her knees, and she flexes her padded muscles with a grin. The neighbors laugh and think to themselves about how cool and empowering it is that the little girl dressed as a male superhero.

Why does society praise girls for dressing up as male characters for Halloween or playing with male toys and, at the same time, shame boys for dressing as female characters for Halloween or playing with female toys?

Society views feminine traits and characters as less than masculine ones. They are not okay with our boys dressing up as feminine characters because “feminine” traits are considered to be inferior. To society, being feminine means being weak, insecure and over emotional.

Businesses put pressure on parents to raise girls to be feminine and boys to be masculine. Just look at the girls’ and boys’ toy aisles. One is cloaked from the top to the bottom shelf in pink and purple, while the other is covered in blues and greens.  The girls’ aisles are full of baby dolls, kitchen sets and stuffed animals that all promote the feminine trait of nurturing. On the other hand, the boys’ aisles are stocked full of buff action figures, construction sets and Nerf guns, encouraging the masculine trait of strength.  

Society even goes as far as categorizing jobs as feminine or masculine. Just Google search “children’s doctor Halloween costumes.” Almost all of the images that come up are of boys with stethoscopes. On the contrary, searching “children’s nurse Halloween costumes,” you will be bombarded with images of little girls in nursing dresses. In order to break this cycle of inequality, we must learn more than the single story we have placed on those traits.  

Before World War I, when women’s rights were much more limited than what they are now, babies were dressed in white, no matter their gender. Since then, a sharp line, created by marketing agencies, distinguishes the genders by making parents feel that they have to buy certain clothes and toys based on the gender of their baby.  

Everyone has heard the story of a couple who thought they were having a girl, so they painted their new baby’s room pink. They have a pretty pink outfit waiting in their pink changing bag for when they bring their baby girl home, but out comes a beautiful baby boy. They have to go buy different clothes in blue and repaint the nursery. They talk about having to exchange everything from their baby shower to the blue edition of the gift.

If society did not classify genders in this strict of a way, the couple would have painted their nursery their favorite color, light green, and had a purple changing bag with an adorable yellow outfit, ready to bring the baby home in. Families wouldn’t have to worry about getting the right toys for a girl or boy because all toys would be categorized as just “children’s toys.”

Several researchers from Creighton University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha conducted a test on the effects of stereotyped toys and gender on play assessment in children. They found that the girls in their study group between the ages of 18-47 months played for a longer time with neutral toys by a wide margin. The boys in their study group with the same age frame played with male and neutral toys about the same amount of time.

Both genders played with female toys for the least amount of time out of the toys. However, the female toys were the only toys that manifested the higher level of play complexity for the children.

These researchers found that both male and female toys are needed in play to elicit higher play complexity levels. Children need blocks and cash registers to teach them the mechanics and dolls and kitchen sets to build their creativity and higher-level thinking. There is a need to transform our gender-specific toys to just children’s toys so that our boys are not falling behind since they do not want to play with “girly” toys.  A child’s academic growth should not be stunted simply because a toy is a female toy or a male toy.  

Gender should not be so heavily divided. The first step would be to making every color a girl and boy color. Parents should bring their babies home in whatever color they want to. The color of the blankets the hospital wraps the babies in after they are born can be fun. Maybe they are colored based on the season or they can just be white to save the hospital money. When children drag their parents through the department store, the toy aisles should be filled with gender-neutral toys that will build our child’s cognitive skills. Children will, in turn, pass their play assessment with flying colors before leaving for kindergarten.  

On the first day of class, when their teacher asks them to all introduce themselves and say their favorite color, the teacher will hear yellow, blue, red, green, pink, orange and purple, not just “pink” from all of the girls. Even several of the boys might say pink is their favorite color since that is the color of their favorite toy car. As they get older, they won’t make comments like “you hit like a girl.”

When they’re teenagers, the boys will not be afraid to cry, and the girls can walk out of the house without any makeup on. They will start to realize the things they have a passion for and maybe what they want to be when the grow up. As they graduate, several girls will go into engineering, pre-med programs and construction just like boys do. Additionally, the same number of boys will be wanting to become teachers, nurses and social workers. Since these fields would not be classified as feminine or masculine, we would have our youth entering fields that fit their experiences and diverse traits.

Our children would find the loves of their lives, or maybe not. Those that do will give birth to wonderful children who will be raised by parents that do not fear possessing traits that are more feminine or masculine.

Society must overcome this inequality for the betterment of this world. We cannot look down on feminine traits since they have made so many amazing women, and the same goes for masculine traits.  

Society needs to be okay with a little boy dreaming of freezing things over as Elsa, and it needs to be okay with a little girl wanting to fight crime as Batman.


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