Remember when Target decided to remove their gender biased signage from their stores, replacing typical signs boys and girls; men and women with androgynous signs? Remember the uproar?
Regardless if Target put a pin in that project due to the uproar, when I wander the aisles of Target, the aisles are still clearly separated by boys and girls. Even by a quick glance you can see that the boy toys are more rugged, tough and in dark colours: robots, and trucks, superhero action figures, train sets and Transformers. In contrast, the girls toy section is bright with pink hues stemming from all directions: Barbies, baby dolls and princess dress-up clothes.
Every year, around their birthdays and Christmas, I wander the toy aisles with my children, looking for new ideas for their gifts and taking pictures of the ones that we can send to our parents to help them with ideas for the kids. The sections are clearly defined, and so both of my kids tend to stay in their gender-specific toy aisles.
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My son has grown up surrounded by girls. All my friends and family seemed to have girls at the same time he was born. Toys are pretty gender-neutral until children are about one, and then they start dividing more into the boys vs girls toys. It wasn’t a clear division for my son until he went to preschool with both boys and girls.
The line between boys and girls toys seemed to be drawn at this point- he started coming home and scoffing at the idea of playing with certain items with his sister because that was a “girl” toy. And of course, she couldn’t play with his Matchbox cars because those were “boy” toys (okay, I may have let him believe that’s why she couldn’t, but seriously, how small are those wheels?! No way was his 1-year-old sister playing with Matchbox cars).
At nine months, my son received his first play car, and he knew instantly what to do with it. He scooted around with that car, making vroom noises. It was incredible; no one needed to teach him, it was as if it came pre-programmed in his head. He likes Legos, Monster Trucks and Nerf Guns. He went through a large truck, construction equipment phase (evidenced by the copious amounts of trucks in my basement currently). Every so often, I will catch him playing Family (what I used to call House back in my day) with his sister, but somehow it’s always him saving her and her babies or Barbies from a zombie apocalypse.
My daughter, on the other hand, has always been a girly girl. From the moment she could walk, she wanted a purse, she liked to go shopping and she loves to play dress-up (both in costumes and in the countless number of outfits she wears throughout the day). Her favorite color is pink and when I do my makeup she insists I do hers as well. She likes to cook in her play kitchen and use her play vacuum that sucks up stuff (not well, but she tries!).
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I really started to notice the difference in toys when I had my daughter. I would get feisty in the store, yelling at my husband saying, “Why is everything for her catered to “women’s work, like baking, cooking, cleaning, childcare?” He usually would just roll his eyes and ask if maybe she’d like a new Barbie. I have never seen power suit dress-up outfits, complete with a working briefcase and powerpoint presentation nor have I seen self-made entrepreneur boss babe Barbie, complete with handsome Ken as her cute assistant. My daughter would be amazing at both of those roles even at 3 years old. I am a working mother, so I model what a working mom looks like so where’s her Supermom dress-up kit?
I began to question if it was possible that there was a subliminal message behind the types of toys that are presented for both genders? I fully understand that gender-specific toys have been perpetuated for decades, but why hasn’t it evolved as we have? When women were typically housewives, children learned through play. They saw their mothers cook, clean, care for them. They rarely worked outside the home. The little girls learned that was to be their role as well and played based on what they saw Mom do.
Boys are given the toys to be superheroes; they are Mr. Fix-it on the construction sites, they get to be Superman saving Lois Lane and the saviour of the world during the Zombie Apocalypse (My son is on a big zombie kick…). Their gendered toys cater to being the hero, telling them that they can save the world and construct big buildings with big trucks.
I wonder if we are setting up our girls for failure by giving them only the tools to practice being the perfect wife and mother- practicing the cleaning, caregiving and cooking. But then, in reverse, they are pressured by society to do it all and that they can be whatever they want, do whatever the boys do, so why the difference in toys? Where are the empowering toys for the little girls?
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Of course, I have to put this disclaimer here: I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a stay-at-home-mom or a woman who takes pride in her role as the house manager, caring for the children, planning and cooking all the meals. The point I am trying to get across is that there need to be more toy options for girls- keep the toy vacuum and shopping carts and babies, they love those! Let’s just add some more options as well.
It’s not enough to just make a truck pink and call it equal or say that a boy can play with dolls. Let’s start talking up our female superheroes, both fictional and real-life female heroes. Instead of a little boy on the front of a fireman’s costume, make it a little girl by giving her the option to pretend to be a firefighter as well.
Instead of being divided between the toys, let’s just allow kids to choose whatever they want. No pushing boys towards trucks and girls towards babies. Let them be free in the store and let them choose whatever they want- no comments about that being for boys or this being for girls. If they learn anything from us as parents, let it be that they can play with any toys and be anything they want. Let’s make it so there is no such thing as “boy toys” and “girl toys.” We can set everyone up on the same level path to success by not creating stigmas between boys and girl toys.