Gender at the Mall


Many social institutions assist in the process of socialization in ways that are sometimes not
immediately apparent. To see this in action, talk about stores at a local shopping mall. In the children’s clothing section, start with infant clothes. Note the
differences in the style, color, and texture of boys’ clothes versus girls’ clothes. Collect the same
information regarding clothes for toddlers, preschool, and school-age children. After collecting
your data, try to interpret the differences you noticed. Why do they exist? What do these
differences say about the kinds of activities in which boys and girls are expected and encouraged
to engage? For instance, whose clothes are “dainty?” Whose are “rugged?” How do these
clothing differences reinforce our cultural conceptions of masculinity and femininity? The next stop on your sociological shopping trip is a toy store. See if you can tell when
you’ve entered the “boy” section or the “girl” section. How did you know? How did the toys
differ? Note the differences in color, sound, and types of materials used. What sorts of
interactions with other children do the toys encourage? Competition? Cooperation? Which
gender’s toys are designed for active play? Which encourage passive play? For what sorts of
adult roles do the toys prepare children? Finally, talk about a bookstore that has a children’s book section. Are there “boy” books and “girl” books?
How can you tell? What are the differences in the sorts of characters and plots that are
portrayed? This part of the project will require closer examination than the first two parts. Look
at books in several different age groups. Consider themes, colors, levels of activity, who is in
leading roles, who is in supporting roles, and so on.

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