Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A while ago we were browsing the aisles of our local toy store when Soph told me she was going to the “girls section”. I looked around and thought, “hmm, this whole shop is technically the girls section, and the boys section”. If we’ve learned one thing from Toy Story, it’s that toys don’t care who plays with them, only that they get played with. I know my child doesn’t care that she plays with her tool belt as frequently as she plays with her Barbie’s. So if Sophie doesn’t care, and I don’t care and the toys definitely don’t care, why do the toyshops and the toy manufactures care?


We know that as a society we need to move away from thinking of boys as one way and girls as one way. So now we just need to apply this newfound knowledge to all areas of our world. I don’t need to get into a whole long diatribe about why I think it’s toxic to box my child into a world where she can only play with dolls and wear pink and be a fragile little princess. I know that encouraging a healthy appreciation for diversity is important. I want Sophie to ride a monster truck in her princess dress and roar ferociously at the world. I want the world to look at her doing that and not bat an eyelid.

We recently received a very cool press drop from Mattel South Africa, a Talking Zeg Truck. Zeg is one of the characters on Sophie’s favourite show, Blaze and the Monster Machines. He is kind of a monster machine, but also a triceratops. Zeg’s a total brute who loves nothing more than to smash and pulverize things, but deep down he’s also a big ol’ softie. This truck is cool because it says all of Zeg’s catch phrases and has those super-huge tires you’d expect to find on a Monster machine. It’s perfect for my imaginative little girl who will no doubt spend hours recreating her favourite adventures from the show.

I love Blaze because it is one of the few shows that feels truly neutral (Paw Patrol is another one). As soon as I showed Soph her new Talking Zeg, she freaked out. She started talking in a weird, garbled monster voice and tried to smash things. Grace started howling because she wanted a turn too. Looking at this complete state of chaos, my two girls literally having a tiff about who’s turn it was to play with the monster machine, just underscored how absolutely limiting, misguided and unfair it is to impose gender labeling on kids toys.


If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider the following:
  • Your children should be allowed to decide for themselves what they think is fun. 
  • Children need diverse play in order to develop and grow emotionally. 
  • Your child does not think about toys in terms of gender….yet. You have the power to ensure that they never do. 
  • The world has moved on, these gender stereotypes are tired and dusty and we need to pack them away for good.


Speaking to NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children), Judith Elaine Blakemore – professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University−Purdue University in the United States – discusses a study on the impact of toys on children’s play.

In the study, toys traditionally associated with being ‘for boys’ were seen as violent, competitive, exciting and dangerous, while ‘girls’ toys’ were found to be associated with physical attractiveness, nurturing and domestic skill.

Interestingly, educational toys were often classified as neutral or ‘moderately masculine’. Based on the research, Blakemore states her message to educators and parents loud and clear: ‘If you want to develop children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills, toys that are not strongly gender-typed are more likely to do this.’


In an article for The Guardian, bearing the headline ‘Are pink toys turning girls into passive princesses?’, science writer and broadcaster Kat Arney asks the same question.

‘Does it actually matter? Considering everything I’ve found out about this subject recently, I can’t help feeling that it does.’

Labelling, colour-coding and marketing toys based on gender leads to a lack of active, challenging, educational toys for girls, says Arney; it is these toys which encourage development of spatial and analytical skills – and therefore it is these skills that girls are missing out at an early age without the toys. Instead, the current situation, she argues, is far from ideal: ‘[girls are] pushed towards being passive princesses, surrounded by fashion dolls, kiddie make-up and miniaturised vacuum cleaners. And at the same time, boys are denied opportunities for more social and imaginative play.’

As parents, we are able to petition stores and manufactures to scrap their gender labeling (I mean why aim to appeal to only half your possible target market anyway?) but more importantly, we should be championing our child’s right to play at home. We need to be giving them access to whatever they need to develop their minds and discover their world. So when your little boy asks for a doll and a pram, just get it for him. When you little girl demands power tools for her birthday, indulge her. Doing the maximum means you are raising a child who will know that there is literally no limit to what or who they become.


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