Analyzing Gender Stereotypes in Media

This lesson helps students analyze and critique messages about gender that they get from various media. Students will focus on toys and toy advertisements, challenging themselves to think past what advertisements tell them about their gender identity. 
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • understand the nature of media and some of the roles media might play in their lives
  • think critically about the way gender is defined and the use of gender stereotypes in many forms of media
  • work toward becoming critical consumers of the media in their daily lives
  • use creative forms of expression to fight against harmful media messages
  • see themselves as a community standing up against stereotypes together
Essential Questions
  • What is media?
  • How do the different forms of media affect the way we see gender?
  • What are some strategies for looking at and thinking about gender in media more critically?
  • How can we work together to creatively counteract some of the rigid ideas about gender we get from media?
  • chart paper
  • markers
  • toy store catalogues or printouts from online toy retailers such as Amazon or Toys “R” Us.


media [MEE-dee-uh] (noun) a means of communicating that reaches and influences people widely

gender [jen-dur] (noun) refers to the social roles, behaviors and traits that a society may assign to men (masculine) or to women (feminine)

(Note: There are many different ideas about how to define the term gender. We provide a working definition, but one of the goals of Teaching Tolerance’s work is for students to come to individual and collective understandings and criticisms of the term that make sense to them and their personal and developmental needs.)

stereotype [STER-ee-oh-tahyp]
 (noun) an overly simple picture or opinion of a person, group or thing

critical [KRIT-ih-kuhl] (adjective) a way of judging or viewing things that involves careful thinking and a willingness to see strengths and weaknesses



Children get ideas about how boys and girls “should” act, or what it means to identify with one gender or another, on a near-constant basis. Kids are inundated with so many types of media: television, movies, music videos, advertisements, toys, games and a tremendous amount of digital media. While media can be empowering, they can also send confusing, limiting or even harmful messages about gender and what it means for a person to defy gender stereotypes. Children need explicit strategies for viewing media critically, and for sorting through the messages they receive.



  1. Explain to children that today they will be talking about gender stereotypes in media, with a particular focus on advertisements for children’s toys. Remind or explain definitions of the terms gender,stereotype and media.
  2. Divide students into groups of three, and instruct them to discuss the following questions: What toys and games are “girl” toys? What toys and games are “boy” toys? Why? As students discuss these questions, circulate, but observe and honor their conversations and ideas rather than challenging or correcting them.
  3. Come together as a class and have groups share some of their ideas. Chart students’ ideas about what makes something a girls’ or boys’ toy. Then ask children if they can think of any real, serious reason why a particular toy is better for a girl or a boy. Ask them what it might feel like to want or prefer to play with a toy that most people think belongs to a different gender.
  4. Bring up the possibility that toys might not really be better suited to girls or boys, but that advertisers have reasons for wanting boys or girls to think that. Break students into groups and distribute copies of toy catalogues or printouts from online retailers. Instruct the groups to pay attention to how advertisers purposely try to make us think toys are only for one gender. Discuss what students are observing.
  5. Reconvene as a group. Tell students that one important challenge as they work to fight gender stereotypes is to be a critical consumer of media and advertising. What questions can they ask themselves when they are trying to decide whether they really want to play with something? How can they challenge themselves to support friends who might want to play with a toy that they think of as suiting a different gender? Make a list of student responses. You may even want to type this list and send it home with students to use when they are making play choices during their free time. 



This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS SL.1, SL.4, SL.6, W.3, W.4, W.5

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