Louise Rockley, 37, an Administrator living in Doncaster explores the gender stereotyping of children’s toys.
During my childhood in the Seventies and Eighties, the idea of ‘girl’s toys’ and ‘boy’s toys’ felt somewhat abolished. If a boy wanted a dolly and a pram to put it in, that was fine, as was a girl playing with a garage and cars, and there was Lego, Stickle Bricks and Plasticine for all. I myself was the proud owner of a toy toolkit.
But looking at the Christmas Gift Guides that are now appearing, some include ‘toys for girls’ (pastel colours, fairies and princesses, artistic) and ‘toys for boys’ (bold colours, heroes and villains, scientific) on separate pages.
My generation was taught that men and women are absolute equals, and there are no tasks that should be thought of as the responsibility of solely one gender. This is the same generation that became today’s parents, so why has the idea of gender-specific toys been resurrected? Was it merely suppressed, rather than abolished?
One possible explanation could be that this is also the generation of the ‘ladette’ culture of the Nineties, wherein young women proved that they were also men’s equals when it came to drinking and partying. So, is this return to ‘traditional’ values merely a backlash against this, and an attempt by society to reset gender boundaries that may have been crossed a step too far?
Today’s parents may buy their son a dolly if he would like one, but often it may be done with the view that either it is a phase that he will grow out of or an indication of things to come regarding sexuality. But I argue that the responsibility of childcare should fall onto both parents, so a dolly allows a little boy to practise being a daddy just as much as it lets a little girl pretend to be a mummy.
"If we expect our children to be given equal opportunities, why replace the labels on their playthings that many fought hard to remove?"
Western society accepts that men and women are equal and legislation is in place to protect and enforce this, so why are we teaching our children that some things are only for boys and some only for girls? If we expect our children to be given equal opportunities in the workplace, why replace the labels on their playthings that many fought hard to remove?
I am not suggesting that all little girls should be made to stage imaginary battles between the good guys and the bad guys, whilst the little boys stay at home with the babies and the glitter, but that they should be able to if they want. I had a toy toolkit as a child, but I also had dollies, a pram and a pushchair, in addition to toy cars.
I can cook, bake, knit and sew, but I can also wire a plug, assemble flatpack furniture, lay paving slabs and paint a wall. I now have a toolkit with real tools, not the pink versions designed for ladies. I have never heard of any female swooning at the sight of a hammer, except in horror films, so do not see the need for such specialised equipment.
Neither masculinity nor femininity is diminished in direct proportion to capability. Children should be allowed to develop skills playing with the toys they want to, regardless of whether they are a boy or a girl. Just because there have some victories in the fight for sexual equality and the intensity of battle has lessened, it does not mean that we should return to the ‘pre-war’ gender stereotyping of children’s toys. Surely children need to be taught how to engage with the world as it is now, rather than last century?
Picture credit: Rex Features
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