“Boys Can Be Anything”: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions

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  • Play with Barbie dolls is an understudied source of gendered socialization that may convey a sexualized adult world to young girls. Early exposure to sexualized images may have unintended consequences in the form of perceived limitations on future selves. We investigated perceptions of careers girls felt they could do in the future as compared to the number of careers they felt boys could do as a function of condition (playing with a Barbie or Mrs. Potato Head doll) and type of career (male dominated or female dominated) in a sample of 37 U.S. girls aged 4-7 years old residing in the Pacific Northwest. After a randomly assigned 5-minute exposure to condition, children were asked how many of 10 different occupations they themselves could do in the future and how many of those occupations a boy could do. Data were analyzed with a 2 X 2 X 2 mixed factorial ANOVA. Averaged across condition, girls reported that boys could do significantly more occupations than they could themselves, especially when considering male-stereotyped careers. In addition, girls’ ideas about careers for themselves compared to careers for boys interacted with condition, such that girls who played with Barbie indicated that they felt they had significantly fewer future careers options than boys, while there was no difference between reported number of possible careers for boys and girls reported by girls in the Potato Head condition. Results support predictions from gender socialization and objectification theories.
  • Keywords: Socialization, Objectification theory, Middle childhood, Barbie
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  • Sherman, A. M., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2014). "Boys can be anything": Effect of Barbie play on girls' career cognitions. Sex Roles, 70(5), 195-208. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0347-y
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  • 70
Journal Issue/Number
  • 5-6
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Peer Reviewed



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