Akhila Vijaykumar takes a look at the various toys that children play with, and how they could be infl uencing outdated stereotypes or behaviour patterns in your child
Children learn and develop through play. Toys based on action, construction and technology help children gain problemsolving and spatial skills, and encourage them to be active. Toys focused on roles and imagination help growth of social skills. When toys are gendered, they deny both genders one set of vital skills. Girls role-play and imagine scenarios with dolls, doll houses, cooking sets, makeup sets, oven sets and other household-y things. Boys build and run around with sports equipment, chemistry sets, tool kits and building blocks.
PINK VS BLUE—HOW GENDERED TOYS ARE HURTING BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS
Across the world, gendered toys limit childrens’ interests. Little girls are restrained to flowers, fairies and princesses in pink and fuchsia hues. Little boys may have toys in all the colours of the world, but can never actually choose pink on their own.
Research and debates the world over throw up concerning findings that say the ‘pinkifi cation’ of young girls is leading to more gender bias in critical think, selfesteem and body issues. While toys for boys facilitate competition, control and dominance—traits that are once again proving to be troublesome when expressed to violent extremes by boys and young adult males.
Girls are constantly told to wait for their ‘Prince Charming’ to rescue them and that math, science, technology and construction are not for them—leaving them insecure about their abilities well into adulthood. Boys who embrace even the slightest sign of femininity are derided and stigmatised, teased mercilessly for being a girl, forcing the child to hide his feminine side as well as assume being female is weak or bad.
BORN WITHOUT A PREFERENCE?
Studies have shown that newborns, irrespective of sex, show similar preferences. Stuffed toys are favourites with both genders, indicating a united preference for cuddly beings.
In the Victorian age, babies of both sexes were dressed in white. In Catholic countries, blue was sometimes seen as a girl’s colour due to association with the Virgin Mary. In fact, even up to the early 80s, toy catalogues and clothes were preferred in primary colours like red and yellow.
The over-emphasis on pink versus blue seems to be a marketing creation—where toys are divided on the basis of gender purely for profi t. After all, it makes it harder for parents to pass down toys between siblings of different genders especially in traditional markets. You’re likelier to buy another. The linking of the toy industry and the entertainment industry also has led to merchandise retailing, where the push for volumes has led to a careless, almost cruel divide between boys and girls, all for profit.
Developmental psychologists have found that by two to three years, children have become extremely aware of their gender and its social implications. Forming groups, excluding individuals, including individuals, all becomes based on gender dynamics. While toys might not create the stereotypes of daddy-goes-to-work and mummy-stays-at-home, they defi nitely reinforce them.
THE NEW AGE REQUIRES NEW MIND-SETS
A decade into the 21st century, it is clear that traditional roles are changing fast. Men and women will now occupy different roles, happily, out of choice, and possible exchange roles too. In which case, won’t encouraging a little boy to play with ovens a way of encouraging him to be nurturing, to feel comfortable taking care of someone and to not consider any job as ‘women’s work’? Similarly, encouraging girls to use more critical thinking skills via chess, building blocks and sports equipment could mean more physical confi dence and better maths skills, to name just two? Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright has always credited his success to his childhood set of blocks his mother bought home. It begs the question: how many gifted female architects have been thwarted by dolls?
Today, there has been some progress towards gender equality. More women are in the workplace and in public life, some men take on greater parenting and domestic responsibilities but yet, when it comes to children, the lines have never been more clearly drawn in pink and blue. Psychologists suggest that highly gendered toys are not just a a result of capitalism, but also point to a deep, subconscious unease with the advances of women’s rights in the past few decades.
THE WAY FORWARD—BLOCKS AND DOLLS FOR BOTH
What is important is to find a way to dispense with inculcating gendered limits in children, without jettisoning values that families hold dear. It is important to understand the changing milieu, and also fi t these new principles into existing belief systems and culture Simple ways of doing that could be to gradually encourage cross-gender play dates and activities between children, buying gender-neutral toys and supporting children to take on broader gender roles at home and at play. These toys would also encourage development in all areas, especially physical, cognitive, academic, musical and artistic. M&B
Let Toys be Toys and Let Books be Books are just two global movements urging manufacturers and publishers to avoid gender stereotypical colours and visuals on their products. The message of both campaigns is to let children not be forced into a preference based on their gender.
REAL LIFE, REAL STORY.
Ros Ball and her partner, James, kept a diary of the lives of their daughter and son, recording the moments when children were made aware of genders, stereotypes, pink-and-blue classifi cation and more. Tweeting the results at Baby Gender Diary, both parents were astounded at the incessant amount of classifi cation that went on with children as young as a year old.