Ethnographic Research on Gender and the Meaning of Toys

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Ethnographic Research on Gender and the Meaning of Toys


The concept of symbol interaction outlines that human beings tend to give meaning to a particular object or a symbol. The meaning ascribed to them depends on circumstances; for example, during happy times the objects are attributed as good companions. This paper analyzes the concept of symbolic interaction and particularly, how this is applicable considering the differences in gender. The paper also looks at how men and women get to give meanings or react to objects during happy and sad times.

Symbolic Interaction

Symbolic Interactionism abbreviated as SI is a kind of sociological tradition, which originates from the ideas that were forwarded by Max Weber and George Herbert Mead. The emphasis on this is the understanding of how the human life is managed by interactions between persons. The two major schools in Symbolic Interaction (SI) are the Process SI and the Structural SI. The Structural SI is the one, which uses the shared social knowledge that explains the relative static patters while the Process SI views the social interactions as constant and tends to utilize the ethnographic and qualitative methods. In this discussion, the focus would be on the Process SI, which looks at the qualitative and the ethnographic methods. As well, the concentration would be on the basic assumption that human beings tend to manipulate the symbols through creative thinking and attach meanings to the objects.

Symbolic Interaction Theory

This theory has three basic premises; that the acts of the human beings towards things are derived from the meaning they ascribe to them. Second, the meanings ascribed to these objects or the symbols come from the social interactions that one has had with them. Third, the meanings are handled in as well as modified through a kind of interpretative process used by the person to deal with the things he or she comes across. With the above premises, it is clear that individuals try hard to interpret anything, which they encounter, and these meanings are put in a perspective to bring comfort. Specifically, the meaning derived of the objects is different in genders, that is, the meaning, which is given to the objects by men, is different from the females.

Gender and Symbols

One of the noticeable interactions between women and symbols is in the way battered women have strong companions with their animals. In some instances, whenever females are hurt; for example, in a relationship, the result is that the females turn their anger to their animal companions. The interviews with battered women have shown that the animals either provide the needed comfort or act as the objects in which to ventilate the anger. In other times, the pets in homes serve as the surrogate enemies and in this, the beaten woman in domestic violence tend to associate the animals or the objects with the man who has battered them. In real sense, the hate is not on the animals but on an external object or human being but in other times, these pets or the companion animals act like the comfort objects. Whenever the female would embrace, for example a doll and there and then, the pain may subsidize.

Men are less associated with objects and when this is the case, it comes because of extreme situation. In the above analysis, we have noted that either woman tends to turn their anger to objects by abusing it, beating it or smashing objects down. To them, doing this would constitute defeating the enemy and therefore lessen their pain. However, for men, it is different where their anger and the ascribing of meaning for the objects are inside. In extreme cases, men also can hit hard an object they like most or the object owned by the enemy. It is not always that symbol interaction comes in during anger as it can also be noted during the happy times. For example, females put many objects around them when they are happy; for example, in a family set-up the happiness can be done by surrounding themselves with objects such as flowers.

From the above analysis, it can be seen that an object gets a meaning differently depending on the current situation. During anger, the objects serve different purposes; for example, anger is ventilated through them or they as well act as a way of lessening the pain. In other times, surrounding oneself using many symbols or the objects can mean happiness or comfort. Ladies tend to shed tears as a way of removing the pain inside them when they experience great loss or pain. This is different from men who are seen to have little association with the objects or the symbols unless during extreme cases. At times, isolation for men serves as the comfort for them and they tend to reflect on the actions done against or for them. Music as a symbol is mostly a comforting object for all genders and is usually the item consulted during happiness or during extreme sad cases.

Field work data (Toy store)







7.30- 8.13


A middle-aged woman entered the store and from the observation, the face was dismal. Afterwards, she came out with a large doll and did not care to put it in a bag; rather held it by the chest.

She was depressed and perhaps resulted from a domestic violence and the buying and holding of the doll to the chest is a testimony of how symbols are of importance to women.


10.40- 10.45


Enraged but looking harmless entered the store but a few minutes later, he came out with nothing.

There is little attachment between the symbols and males.


11.30 AM-12.40PM


By the look, she was expectant and after one hour of negotiations and comparing/contrasting, she came out with a large doll plus some other toys

Probably, the doll and the toys were meant for the unborn baby, and she compared the doll with the baby while the toys were meant for the baby.


1.29PM-8. 30PM


An adolescent female entered the store and after one hour, she came out with several toys

This confirms the attachment that is between the symbols and the ladies of all kinds and of all ages




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