Some people agree that gender-specific toys i.e. Barbie and G.I. Joe weigh substantially to the formation of self-concept in children. If you agree either way, is it a positive or negative influence? If they do not influence them, why not?
In addition to adults, i.e. family members, there are peers and television that gender the toys our children play with. It's pretty clear even to small children that watch TV what toys are marketed to girls and which are marketed to boys.
I have to agree that it is not the toys themselves, but the adults who place gender specific stereotypes upon the toys. That being said, if an adult tells a boy not to play with dolls, then the child begins to hold the same stereotypes as the adult. If this happens, the toys can negatively influence self-concept in children.
Gender-specific toys have changed a great deal over the decades, but so has media. While I would argue that gender-specific toys do heavily influence the formation of self-concept in children, to separate the influence from the influence of the media would be a mistake. Take for example the influence of Barbie; we forget that prior to the late 1950s the only types of dolls that existed were baby dolls and toddler dolls. Playing with these dolls helped to mold young girls into caring nurturing women. Today, we see young girls walking around junior high and high school campuses in skin tight with necklines that are far too low cut and skirt-lines that are far too high cut. They are emanating the look and style of clothing made popular by the Barbie doll and heavily promoted by the media. So, yes, gender-specific toys do greatly, and in this case negatively, influence the development of self-concept with in children.
I don't think it's the toys themselves, but the adults' and others' reaction to them. For example, if we give a boy both a truck and a doll, he might play with either. If we tell him one is a boy's toy, or ridicule him for playing with the doll, it will definitely affect him.
The word "substantially" is the most important word. I doubt that gender specific toys would make a substantial difference in the self-identity of the child. There are more substantial factors that we need to consider, like the child's surroundings, the child's parents and social structure. From all my sociological reading, the most important factor in shaping any identity is society.
Gender-specific toys, as with gender-specific activities, are probably more indicative of the surroundings in which children find themselves than of the actual formation of self-concept. If a girl is only given "girly" toys to play with, she'll play with them because she has no alternatives available. If that same girl is given only "boyish" toys to play with, she will learn to play happily with them since they are all she will have.
The things that her role models use, which is important because so much of children's play is imitation of what they observe around them, are much more important in determining the development of a child's concept of gender-appropriate activities.
The kinds of toys that kids prefer probably has a lot to do with the millions of years of evolution that have led up to recent generations. Males have tended to be "selected," over the course of countless centuries, for certain kinds of behavior, and the same has been true of females. This is not to deny by any means that cultural standards have a major influence on gender in any particular society at any given moment in history. Nor does is it to deny that the traits for which people can be "selected" can change in any given historical period.
I think gender-specific toys are merely reflections of what society already teaches children about gender roles. The fact a boy plays with a "girl's" doll does not seriously affect either self-concept or positive socialization in my opinion. Much more influential than toys is childrens' observation and mimicry of their parents and other adults.
It's hard to say since my experience is limited to two children, both girls, neither of whom is grown up yet. However, with mine, I don't think those toys have made much difference. My older would play with Disney princess dolls a lot when she was little but now she completely rejects anything really girly like painted nails and stuff like that. Of course, it may just be a phase. I think there are too many other things that influence them, like who their good friends are, what their same sex parent acts like, how much they're exposed to stereotypical behavior on TV, etc.