When it comes to buying toys for children, it’s tougher to choose than I thought because toys are categorized and marketed by gender rather than age or interest. For boys it’s monster trucks or blocks for building things where as for girls it’s pretty princesses in pastel pink or Hello Kitty.
We don’t need to force gender discrimination on toys and young impressionable minds. For example, a recent study by sociologists Carol Auster and Claire Mansbach found that all toys sold on the Disney Store’s website were explicitly categorized as being “for boys” or “for girls”—there was no “for boys and girls” option, even though a handful of toys could be found on both lists. Doesn’t that sound like a shrewd way for toy makers to convince the buyers to buy two versions of the same toy?
In the past, toy marketing was infused with gender stereotypes but during the second wave feminism it ceased to do so. Because the marketing agents realised that it would be stupid to market girl toys that focused on nurturing, home-making or domesticity during the time when they were taking leaps in bridging the literacy and employment gaps.
For example, a 1925 Sears ad for a toy broom-and-mop set proclaimed: “Mothers! Here is a real practical toy for little girls. Every little girl likes to play house, to sweep, and to do mother’s work for her”, Wasn’t going to appeal to the working class women during that time.
Girls are not born preferring pink colour and doll sets, society teaches them to. And during this we curb their dreams and aspirations teaching them that there is no place for them to break the stereotype. Boys are not born liking action figures, buliding sets etc. Buying a doll for boys is not going to turn them into girls.
In 2011, Vanessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache undertook a study of a group of boys and girls between the ages of seven months and five years. Each child was tasked with choosing between two similar objects, one of which was pink, the other blue. It was around the age of two that girls began to select the pink toy more often than the blue one; at two and a half, the preference for pink became even more pronounced. Boys developed an aversion to the pink toy along the same timeline.
The impact of sex-specific toy choice has implications for children’s learning and attitudes far beyond the playground. Discriminating toys based on gender and colour limits the options that should be given to kids to help them in developing their skills. Children should be allowed to explore and widen their interests. “Play with masculine toys is associated with large motor development and spatial skills and play with feminine toys is associated with fine motor development, language development and social skills,” says Megan Fulcher, associate professor of psychology at Washington and Lee University.
“Children may then extend this perspective from toys and clothes into future roles, occupations, and characteristics,” she adds. In 2008, she was part of a team of researchers who found that children with gender-stereotyped decorations in their bedrooms also held more stereotypical attitudes towards boys and girls.
Many believe that gender-neutral toys will take away the choice from children forcing them to become androgynous automatons. But it is not so, removing gender from toys provides them with the opportunity to learn better without the fear of being ridiculed, mocked or bullied by other kids for liking a toy that is marketed as girly or boyish. Isn’t that what we should aim for, providing a safe space for kids to explore what appeals to their abilities and creativity?
“The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls. It’s imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship. A lot of boys like doll houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses. The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.” – Lego
Instructions from a 1973 lego set. (translated from German)
It reminds us of the beauty of gender equality through play. It also shows that over the last 40 years we have sadly taken a step backwards.