Boys’ toys, girls’ toys: really?

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 7.22.57 AMBoys, you are astronauts, pilots, detectives, scientists; girls, you are mothers and baby minders, and you like pretty things for your hair.

Boys, you will build things, go places, blow things up, conduct scientific experiments, see the world; girls, you will stay at home, heating bottles for the baby, doing craftwork, wearing beautiful clothes and dreaming of being a makeup artist, while dressed almost exclusively in pastel pink.

I could hardly believe my eyes this morning when I saw how an online shopping website I subscribe to was advertising toys based so much on gender stereotypes. Like something out of the 1950s, it told me that boys had the whole world to explore, while girls had better stay home.

For boys, the Crazy Forts Construction Toy offers imaginative play in which you create a cave, igloo, pirate ship or castle. To be fair, this toy also has a girl pictured on the box cover with two boys, so it’s unclear why it’s marketed only for boys. There is also a build-a-fort set for girls—the “Princess Play Set” in…you guessed it, pink… “perfect for your little princess”. No mention of pirate ships, caves or castles, though.

My mum was a neuro-scientist, and she says that to a certain extent, boys naturally gravitate toward more adventurous, rough and tumble toys. But the almost complete demarcation in the media seems unnatural, as if we are choosing for our children what their roles will be before they’ve even had a chance to explore these things for themselves. No wonder there are still so few female plumbers, carpenters or mechanics.

When I was a kid, my favourite toys were Lego and my brother’s case of tiny cars, plus our cowboy play sets with hats, toy guns in holsters (very un-PC now) and sheriff’s badges. I also loved my dolls (though I couldn’t understand why my cats would never consent to being dressed in bonnet, dress and booties and wheeled around in my dolls’ pram). My hero was Georgina (“George”), the fantastically independent girl in Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series of novels. In those days, a girl like George was called a “tom boy” because she didn’t conform to the normal idea of what a girl should behave like.

There’s nothing wrong as such with giving girls dolls and encouraging them to nurture babies: many girls do become mothers, after all. But boys become fathers, and in these days of equality, shouldn’t we also then be giving boys dollies with dummies, feeding sets and nappies? See how dumb that sounds? While personally, I have always loved dolls (and still do), I think we can leave the parenting accessories out when children are young, particularly if you’re only teaching parenting to one sex (girls).

I suspect (well, I hope) that advertisers are hopelessly out of date when they market toys in such a way. In most homes, I’m sure, children end up playing together with many of the same toys. We shouldn’t limit girls to home-based toys and boys to adventure toys: let them make up their own minds what they will be.


7 thoughts on “Boys’ toys, girls’ toys: really?

  1. Caron – What a store!! It’s hard enough to raise open- minded, confidant children without having some company telling them what it means to be a boy or a girl. So unfortunate that parents have to go up against this * sigh.*

  2. Caron, I agree with what you say. the reality is that girls still do paid work (and the playing field is far from level there as we know) AS WELL AS manage the home, children and usually the finances. Boys of my children’s generation (X) pay lip service to equality, but when nobody is looking they revert to the old stereotypes in a high proportion of cases. It is sad, but nothing has changed really. The main difference is that boys of theirs and succeeding generations now KNOW how to do girl things, they just find ways not to. Interestingly, one of the first toys my grandson received was a stove, which he loves equally as much as his lawnmower. He has his Igglepiggle (In the Night Garden) and Pepper Pig doll’s house and campervan and my granddaughter has her Hooty (owl) – nurturing toys all. Their toys so far may be more gender equal, but I wonder if that will change the balance of responsibilities when they become adult. We can but live in hope. Another reality is that women are actually more capable than men. Because historically they have always had to nurture while completing their physical workload, they are able to deal with several things at once – kids fighting, dinner cooking, phone ringing etc. Our brains are constructed differently and men really can only do one thing at a time. Observe. You will realise I am right.

    • Yes, I do believe you are spot on in all your well made points. In conversations I’ve had with friends lately, they reckon young men (and women) are regressing to less equal times. It is sad to see people pay lip service to equality, then reinforce inequality. What to do, what to do?

  3. Another point I forgot to make is that we have choice. A retailer may suggest what in their opinion is suitable for boys and what is best for girls, but it is up to parents, friends and family to agree or to make a different decision.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! When I was very little I didn’t play mommy. One minute I moved the furniture around in our basement to look like a school room and I was the teacher, the next I worked in an office (as the boss), the next I was a nurse, then a flight attendant (stewardess in those days), then an artist and on and on it went as I discovered different potential careers I could have. Thankfully my parents never discouraged me or led me to believe the only option open to me was motherhood. Not that there’s anything wrong with having children — but being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen certainly isn’t all there is.

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