Boys’ attributes

This will describe boys’ attributes which text toys.

Boys’ at kindergarten age - and boys’ play

At the age of 3-4 years boys will not generally have formed a group. They are individuals on the periphery of the girls’ group in kindergarten. They are more likely to play alone than girls, each with an instrument-like toy (cars, small instruments, construction set, construction toys, etc.) or they play motor play (cycling, riding carts, playing football, climbing, etc.).

Now and again boys are “allowed” to take part in the girls’ circular and role play but in less glorious roles as Dad (at work), baby brother (asleep in his pram) or as a naughty dog (who has to stay in his basket).

Sometimes girls’ select “favourite boys” who are accepted into their games. They are usually boys who understand and have the ability and experience to fall into step with the girls’ role play and games.

Around the age of 5-6 years, boys begin to form groups around often extremely physical games which need many participants and a great deal of space. They are typically tribal/group games like cowboys and Indians, pirates, soldiers, cops and robbers, etc.

The theme of such games is winning and losing. Victory or defeat are clear and unmistakable. The game is also concerned with acting within or outside the law/norms (insiders and outsiders).

The games are clearly agreed and often organised in advance down to the smallest detail. The boys’ games are verbalised only very little but can be noisy (some adults would say deafeningly so!).

Argumentation within the games is usually concerned with the definition of rights and duties which belong to the respective groups and roles: Do the police have the right to be brutal and hit criminals? Do the Indians always win? Can the sheriff get shot?, etc.

Manliness and quality

Over the past few years, new masculine literature within pedagogic research has appeared (see Sørensen (1990)).

Some of this literature illustrates boys’ culture and masculinity from a critical, female and feminist perspective. This material also reflects an understanding of small boys’ need to express themselves violently and noisily through aggressive play.

The literature supports the idea that the basic patterns of manly behaviour are constructed and differentiated in the kindergarten (3-6 years). See Kryger (1988).

In boys’ play where manliness is investigated and strengthened, even the youngest boys give each other a number of “manhood tests”, special physical actions.

In their play there is an internal hierarchy based on an external measurement (stronger than, bigger than, faster than, etc.). The biggest, fastest, strongest boys fight their way to a place as one of the leaders without much discussion whilst the smaller boys with special abilities or forms of expression (of the kind preferred by the leaders) are given a special place.

The boys who are almost as good as the leader - or who are able to introduce another masculine norm or possibly a norm of a more intellectual kind - present a constant challenge to the leadership.

Boys’ hierarchy

In school, the hierarchical organisation of the boys’ groups becomes more apparent, to the extent that it is often very obvious. A conspicuous leader is informally selected and he is always surrounded by this henchmen and a loyal flock of hangers-on, each with a separate role.

The hierarchy is accepted by all and there is space for everyone. The decisive factor for who gets which roles is a mutual measuring up of each other’s achievements - and primarily physical achievements.

Later, the boys measure up their achievements within sports and hobbies which also serve to give the group adhesion. There is, however, still space in the group for the boys who have difficulty living up to these feats - if nothing else, as the group’s mascot, clown, professor or similar.

Boys’ community

Characteristic of the boys’ community is that it is a action-oriented fellowship of interests, as opposed to the girls’ emotion-oriented fellowship of identity.

The interests the boys have in common can be very varied. The boys also form smaller groups within the community based on special interests. These groups are often of a more instrumental and/or intellectual character.

Typical of these smaller groupings could be an interest in computers, a particular toy category, collections, etc.

Like girls, boys can sometimes form pairs in deep, intimate and emotionally important friendships. For boys, this type of relationship is typically built around a common interest and that it is an open, flexible arrangement with room for others and for several parallel friendships.

Through the boys’ community, they explore and consolidate their masculinity. Boys’ culture also includes a strong symbolic masculine identification. Hartwig (1980,1986) describes, for example, how the boys’ multifarious aesthetic-cultural activities correspond to the girls’.

Boys also enjoy handicraft hobbies but there is a tradition of classical masculine pursuits e.g. woodwork, mechanics, engineering. They collect tools associated with that cultural tradition. In a more advanced form it represents a deep interest in experimenting and testing, discovering and inventing.

Technical interests, action and movement

Technical skills and technical instruments and objects (especially cars and aeroplanes) which represent action, speed and movement play a central role in the boys’ world. When boys draw, for example, they construct the machines (cars, aeroplanes) and scenes (e.g. often battlefields) and they draw objects in motion or in a procession.

Boys’ activities are characterised more by action than by talk, their motivations are more instrumental than emotional and their standards more objective and rational than aesthetic and moral. When boys present their arguments, the child who can argue clearly on the basis of criteria which those in authority have formulated and established as norms is most likely to be right.

Boys both identify with and challenge authority because it represents not only an aim for budding manhood but also bears the brunt of the urge to rebel. Boys fight many battles with teachers at school and outside school. They challenge authority with a whole gamut of activities bordering on the unlawful. In their rebellion there is, however, a desire to be part of the community.

Physique and girls

The boys’ community is very physical and bodily but in a completely different way than the girls’. The boys’ many physical activities give rise to close bodily contact between the participants. These physical activities, romps and fighting (for fun) establish a close connection between motivation and action - for the boys are their bodies.

For boys too, close physical contact during the pre-puberty period is of a sexual nature, bordering on the homosexual. These experiences correspond to their relationship with their fathers for which strongly conflicting emotions are characteristic.

At the same time (i.e. around puberty), the boy has a score to settle with his mother and with the femininity she represents. His activities are to a great extent both an approach and a retreat from his mother who he longs for and yet whose femininity he fears.

One of the means by which boys distance themselves (at puberty as well as much earlier) is to give priority to anything which expresses manhood and masculine values whilst denigrating any expression of femininity, anything “sissy” or womanly.

Around the age of 12-15 years, all this energy is directed at girls of the same age who the boys on the one hand attempt to dominate (or just to irritate) whilst on the other hand they are very fascinated by girls and dream about them. They are in a period of deep conflict with girls, categorising them either as harlots or madonnas.

Boys’ romanticism

There is a romantic dream in the boys’ world which is filled with heroism (victories) and sexuality (conquests).

The motivations are heroes and heroic deeds, idol worship and identification. Their heroes come from the sports world and from the world of film/video and even in some cases from the intellectual world in the form of historical heroes, the inventor who saves the world, the super-hacker, the master detective or the astronaut. Personal satisfaction via heroism and fame is central for boys.

All of this has naturally been analysed in modern psychology and anthropology, including the following example:

The classical narrative (modernised and varied to suit our world) is always a variation on the “Prince on the White Charger”. He always leaves the security of his home and rides away from his mother and father. He travels the world (a good, ”proper” heroic action) to slay a dragon and conquer evil, free the princess (sexual experience) and either conquer a kingdom  - or persuade his father-in-law to give away half of his - (get a secure, stable and interesting job).

The three conquests give him (the boy soon to become a man) a very active and powerful position.

The princess reveals her seductive charms to him and chooses him (he dreams - sexually and lustfully). But his lust and love for the princess is held back (girl and falling in love).

This “holding back” is due to the fact that the entire pattern brings unromantic duties in the form of looking after the babies, household chores - like washing, cleaning, cooking, etc.).

As the hero with the “key” (the racing car, the space station, the owner of the “secret code” and the famous magic sword, etc.) and the knowledge of where things are leading, he cannot yet, however, expect suddenly to turn into an adult (he is still only a boy) via a sexual encounter with the opposite sex (the princess).

He is still the same - and has to wait for all these exciting things to happen - i.e. both sexuality and transformation (to adulthood) and getting an education. These dream encounters are more likely to result in a return to security (home to Mum) and to fulfilling expectations in peace and quiet (Dad’s demands on him). There is a happy ending (to the dream) both psychologically and culturally.

Boys’ fantasies and dreams vary in innumerable ways in stories in books, films and on TV.


Boys’ culture is both independent and autonomous of adult culture but very often also seriously in clinch with it. Boys’ culture is visible (where the girls’ culture is most often invisible).

Younger boys’ play and activities are carried out where there is plenty of space and preferably challenges.

Older boys turn to clubs and organisations or go out into public spaces, like streets and squares to demonstrate their prowess - e.g. perform stunts on skateboards and roller blades or operate remote-controlled cars - and preferably in groups and often as a provocation to girls and adults.


Attributes of boys’ toys

Boys’ key words

Most frequent terms used

  • strong
  • can do something
  • tough
  • like Batman(or another hero)
  • big
  • can be completed
  • in (“cool”)
  • strong identificationfigures

Most popular symbols

  • cars
  • guns
  • aeroplanes
  • tools
  • strong men

Codes and concepts of boys’ toys

  • power
  • strength
  • independence
  • vigour
  • functionalism
  • resilience
  • hero fantasies and dreams



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