Built for Boyhood?: A Proposal for Reducing the Amount of Gender Bias in the Advertising of Children’s Toys on Television

Nareissa L. Smith · 17 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 4

Abstract

While the last half-century has seen a dramatic increase in the number of US women in the workforce, women remain underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

For years, researchers and social commentators have tried to explain the persistence of this gender gap. Some have even argued that genetic differences explain women’s inability to excel in the hard sciences. This Article asserts that the impact of socialization on children’s educational and occupational choices has been greatly underestimated. Specifically, the toys that are marketed to boys teach spatial skills that prepare boys for STEM careers. Conversely, the toys that are advertised to girls focus on relationships, housework, beauty, and fashion. Girls denied the opportunity to develop scientific ability eventually lose interest in STEM careers. Thus, it is critical that girls be encouraged to play with a variety of toys at an early age. However, television advertisements all but tell girls that science is not for them.

Congress has the power to address this issue. Children are exposed to toys primarily through television advertising. Broadcast airwaves affect interstate commerce, thereby making advertising a form of commerce. Therefore, Congress can—and should—use its powers under the Commerce Clause to regulate gender bias in the advertising of children’s toys on television. Moreover, Congress can take this action without violating the strictures outlined by the US Supreme Court in Central Hudson Gas and Electric v. Public Service Commission.