One of our Readers, Victoria, analyzed ads in 15 editions of two magazines, Parents and Parenting, for a class project. She found that boys and girls are often portrayed as active and passive, respectively, and that girls, even infant girls, were sexualized.  She offered the following examples.

Notice that in this Children’s Place ad, both images with boys and the one with a mixed pair is captioned with activities (“travels,” “campers,” and “sporty favorites for hangin’”).  The caption under the lone girl, however, emphasizes “smiles,” a passive, pleasing appearance.  As Victoria says, “She is there to be cute.”

Similarly, in a three-page Fisher Price ad featuring racially-diverse children, both boys are shown as active learners.  In the first page, the text above a boy putting a train set together reads “Developing his attention span helps him learn to solve problems on his own”:


The text accompanying this child is also implies activity.  It reads, “He’s getting a good grasp of what his little fingers can do”:

But the text that goes along with the girl children playing with dolls only suggests that children, generally, grow:

Victoria also found that girls were sexualized.  In all of the ads featuring girls in bathing suits, she noted, the suit was a two-piece.  Here are two examples of frolicking beach babes:

She found this ad especially troubling.  The girl, she argues, “has been reduced to nothing but buttocks and genitalia”:

Meanwhile, Beth M. sent us these examples from a Land’s End catalog:

For more examples of the gendered active/passive binary, see our posts on the social construction of sperm, a vintage ad, and the binary in kids’ meal toys and Lego advertising.

For more examples of the sexualization of young boys, see our posts on Lil’ Wayne’s virginity loss, the depiction of a 13-year-old boy having a relationship with his teacher, the sexy marketing of both Jaden Smith and Justin Bieber, with a follow up here.

And, finally, for more on the sexualization of young girls, see our posts on sexually suggestive teen brands, adultifying children of color, “trucker girl” baby booties, “future trophy wife” kids’ tee, House of Dereón’s girls’ collection, “is modesty making a comeback?“, more sexualized clothes and toys, sexist kids’ tees, a trifecta of sexualizing girls, a zebra-striped string bikini for infants, a nipple tassle t-shirt, even more icky kids’ t-shirts, “are you tighter than a 5th grader?” t-shirt, the totally gross “I’m tight like spandex” girls’ t-shirt, a Halloween costume post, and girls in the World of Dance tour.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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