Here we go again: Should toys be gendered?

In the NY Times, Peggy Orenstein asks, “Should the World of Toys Be Gender-Free?”After at least one non-sequitur:

Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).

That free-to-be gesture was offset by Lego, whose Friends collection, aimed at girls, will hit stores this month with the goal of becoming a holiday must-have by the fall. … the line features new, pastel-colored, blocks that allow a budding Kardashian, among other things, to build herself a cafe or a beauty salon. ….

So who has it right? Should gender be systematically expunged from playthings? Or is Lego merely being realistic, earnestly meeting girls halfway in an attempt to stoke their interest in engineering?

And at least one citation of very questionable science as fact (see our post here):

Toy choice among young children is the Big Kahuna of sex differences, one of the largest across the life span. It transcends not only culture but species: in two separate studies of primates, in 2002 and 2008, researchers found that males gravitated toward stereotypically masculine toys (like cars and balls) while females went ape for dolls.

She makes some interesting points:

Preschoolers may be the self-appointed chiefs of the gender police, eager to enforce and embrace the most rigid views… [And]Traditionally, toys were intended to communicate parental values and expectations, to train children for their future adult roles. Today’s boys and girls will eventually be one another’s professional peers, employers, employees, romantic partners, co-parents. How can they develop skills for such collaborations from toys that increasingly emphasize, reinforce, or even create, gender differences? What do girls learn about who they should be from Lego kits with beauty parlors or the flood of “girl friendly” science kits that run the gamut from “beauty spa lab” to “perfume factory”?

So: children’s adherence to certain types of toys may be a product of policing done by children, presumably children keen on adult approval, and the traditional gendered toys can be seen as tools for training children for traditional roles, which is of questionable benefit.

4 thoughts on “Here we go again: Should toys be gendered?

  1. Shopping for my niece and nephew before the holidays was interesting. They are5 year old twins. This was the first year that it really struck me how gendered the toy store was – but rather than noticing pink and blue (it wasn’t Hamley’s) I noticed PINK PINK PINK in one aisle and then the rest of the store looked pretty much the same. There were of course ‘boy’ aisles, with the usual swords, soldiers etc, but on a visual basis, the ‘boy’ areas were similar to the ‘neutral’ areas (soft toys, creative toys). The message I received was if you’re a girl go to the PINK PINK PINK aisle, if you’re not, go everywhere else. Once again, it’s not a case of separate but equal, but one of constrain the girls and let the boys roam where they will.

  2. I don’t think children police themselves for adult approval, or not primarily. Small kids can see things incredibly black and white. I have a few clear memories of thinking that way myself at less than 5 and I see it in my own and other kids too. Some kids really really want there to be a clear set of rules and have everyone follow them – whatever the rules are. I think its part of trying to figure out how the world works and where you fit in. So Society may be providing the rules, and we don’t even have to do this overtly, but the kids are holding to the rules and holding each other to the rules, as part of being the age they are. However I do think that kids can be taught to be less rigid, especially if less rigid rules about gender are being lived out in the environment around them… but unless you are planning to move hermit-like into the woods you have to be pretty conscious about it.

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