One hot topic in the world of parenting over the last five years or so has been the issue of gendered toys. The traditional stereotype that boys play with space toys and Action Men while girls play with dollies and kitchens is being challenged in a big way, by those who say the gendering of toys so early in life can shape a child’s perceptions of their own ability – and even put them off from pursuing certain career paths.
There are two sides to every debate, and we’re going to dissect them both here – but we really want your views on this topic. Are gendered toys harmful, or is it all just a bit of fun? Let us know in the comments below…
Differences in play styles
Studies conducted have found that young babies that haven’t experienced any kind of external influence yet do tend to pick toys that are intended for their gender. This is down to biological differences in how boys and girls tend to play – and while these are by no means concrete rules, it’s interesting to note the variations between the two.
Boys and girls are exposed to different hormones in utero, which shapes their preferences in a fascinating way. Girls, for example, show much more interest in people and faces than boys do, even from birth, which could explain why some girls gravitate towards dolls while boys prefer toys like cars and trains. Girls also tend to develop their speaking skills earlier than boys, which could explain why they prefer make-believe games that require communication. Boys are born with higher muscle mass than girls, which might be why they’re seen as more physically active than girls.
So there is some credence to the idea that toys are gendered for a reason. But let’s look at the flipside…
The detrimental effect of gendered toys
Many argue that gendered toys polarise children into stereotypes. Popular toys for boys (construction sets, cars and vehicles, weapons) promote ideas of competitiveness, control and dominance, while popular toys for girls (dolls, kitchens, beauty kits) promote ideas of domesticity, and place emphasis on the importance of looking nice.
These gender stereotypes can be very harmful to young children. Even books have come under the microscope in recent years, after a company released two very different editions: ‘The Brilliant Boys’ Coloring Book’ and ‘The Beautiful Girls’ Coloring Book’. This slight change in language suggests that boys are the clever, ambitious ones who can accomplish anything, while girls are valued purely on how pretty they look.
If you’ve ever heard a little boy dismiss something as ‘girly’, you’ll see just how damaging these gendered toys can be. Boys don’t want to be seen playing with dolls – even though the nurturing, domestic skills they learn might serve them well later in life when they become a father. Girls that shy away from playing with construction sets or vehicles might not realise they have an aptitude for strategy or mechanics – something evidenced in the lack of women across all science and engineering related careers.