There is a lot of talk about how outdated gendered stereotypes are. I talk about it often.
We all know that our little girls aren’t destined to be homemakers alone, and that our little boys don’t have to be power hungry men stuck in corporate jobs fighting their way to the top. We all know that our kids can be whatever and whoever they want. We all know that it’s OK for little girls to dress up as construction workers and that it’s OK for little boys to dress up as fairies too. But for some reason when it comes to shopping for our kids or supplying our children with toys for creative play… we place a lot of blame on advertisers and toy manufacturers.
I don’t visit the toy section of department stores very often, but when I do I’m not surprised that they are always separated between girls toys and boys toys. The girls aisles are a sea of pink and sparkles and the boys aisles are solid walls of battleship grey and construction yellow. Sure, it leaves a lot to the imagination. But just shrugging our shoulders and saying, well what can you do? as we purchase mountains of colour coded gendered plastic, is that really good enough?
Toy manufacturers and their advertising gurus have decided that particular toys are most suitable for specific genders. They make all nurture toys (cribs, strollers, baby dolls, etc) in pink, making them quite hard for boys to love given our colour coded gendered stereotypes that are drilled into our children from the day that they are born. It makes me a little sad that if a little boy wants a stroller or a baby cradle to play with he doesn’t have many options that not pink and caked in glittery Disney Princess characters… unless of course his parents have the mega bucks to fork out for the organic, wooden toys that general come in more natural hues. And some do, of course, and that’s great for them but it’s not in the budget of every parent out there. Is it?
Let me just say this now. It is not the toy manufacturers who are responsible for the gendered stereotyping… as much as the big toy manufacturers say they are “for the kids” the reality is they are “for the profit.” Big business and all that, it’s really not surprising. So, if the toy manufacturers aren’t responsible, then who is?
We are. You and me and every other adult out there that has any kind of contact with children.
We are responsible.
We are the ones that buy the toys, after all. Aren’t we? We are the ones that select the toys our children are given (our own children, our nieces and nephews, our friends kids, our grandchildren, our neighbourhood kids). We are responsible. Just because the TV tells us that our little girls need dolls that poo and drink bottles and our little boys need toys that are dressed in military wear sporting large guns… doesn’t mean we need to actually go out and buy them. Do we?
Even toys that used to be uni-gender like Lego, now have more “girly” options, complete with full sets of pink and purple blocks and characters that bake, do hair and wear mini skirts. Peer pressure is sure to play a part when kids hit school age and are influenced by their friends and classmates, girls may be encouraged to think boys are gross and boys may start fake vomiting at the site of a baby doll. Whatever, that’s all par for the course in childhood. When our kids are really little we are the primary influence, we have the sole responsibility. We the adults.
Boys will be boys, sure, and girls will sometimes be boys too… and sometimes boys will be girls. And that’s all totally OK. Because at the end of the day kids are just kids, they are not two separate entities from different planets and there are heaps of toys (both in department stores and home made) that are really suitable for the creative play of kids in general. I’m not a fan of guns for kids, but if a little kid pretends that a stick is a gun and has a game of warfare in the backyard isn’t that a lot less insidious than having a full plastic arsenal at his/her fingertips?
All of these specific gendered toys do very little for fostering creativity. In the mind of a child a tissue box can be a car or a tank or an iron or a hat or a shoe or a glove or a baby bed…. but a pink plastic iron? Well, it’s probably always going to be a pink plastic iron… and my guess is it will end up at the bottom of the toy basket soon enough.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of this stuff in our kids lives, it’s probably unavoidable. We’ve managed to avoid *most* of it in our house so far. I’m not a fan of gendered toys for my kid not because I think there is something morbidly wrong with them, but that I don’t want to limit her options. For me the most important gift I can give my child is the exposure to choice, and to let her make up her own mind when she is old enough. To give her the tools to do that, I must offer her lots of options in experience and play and education. So that one day, she will have the facility to choose her own way.
There are lots of toys on the market that foster the creativity of our children’s minds. Some examples? Books, blocks, building toys, puzzles, wooden (or plastic) food sets, simple dolls, cars, trucks and trains, balls, art supplies, dress ups… we all know that really kids are happiest with a pot and pan and a wooden spoon, some cardboard boxes and whatever it is you are “playing” with. But sometimes it’s nice to buy gifts for our own children or to celebrate another little person in our life.
Fostering creativity is important and gendered stereotypes are totally unnecessary and it’s our responsibility to make the best choices we can for all the little people in our lives. Sometimes all it takes is to look at the colour coded aisles in the department stores a little differently, just see all of the toys as toys, not necessarily for girls or boys, but for children. There is a lot of crap out there, but there are also lots of options out there that should be celebrated.
What do you think?