It is the time of year where parents will flock to shopping centers in droves to buy gifts for their young children. Walking down Toys R Us’ aisles, they will unblinkingly face shelves upon shelves of pink and blue gender-marketed toys. To some, this is merely a byproduct of companies marketing towards the natural desires of their target male or female audience. “Those XX and XY chromosomes will out in the end” argues the author of “Why it’s not sexist to say boys should never play with dolls”. He asks, why should we deny boys and girls the toys they most want?
However, according to many experts, the idea that all boys naturally like toy cars and girls like dolls is largely a social construct which permeates childrens’ sub consciousness from a young age. Elizabeth Sweet, a researcher at the University of California says that young children are taught gender stereotypes during the developmental stage of two to three years old, when they’re forming their own gender identity. Toymakers are very aware of this, and exploit it. Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane argues that highly gendered toys have greatly risen since the 50s. Cochrane largely attributes this to capitalism. Gendering toys is a great ploy to get parents to buy more. If toys were gender neutral, brothers and sisters could share the same toys. But the social construct of gendered products means that a son cannot ride his older sister’s hand-me-down pink bike with streamers. His parents have to buy a new one.
It’s amazing the extent to which common items are gendered.
Just look at the unnecessary gendering of police Halloween costumes
According to Cochrane, from a young age, kids are afraid of not fitting into their gender category. For boys in particular, there is a stigmatization for crossing into the realm of what is seen as femininity, something which is seen as synonymous with weakness. For example, in March this year, a media spotlight fell upon a 9 year old boy who was told by his school to stop using his My Little Pony backpack, because it was triggering his bullies.
The effects of the gendering of toys is great. According to Judith Elaine Blackmore, a Psychology Professor at Indiana University, the types of toys given to children encourage certain attributes. Boys toys tend to be more violent, aggressive, competitive and exciting, whilst girl’s toys are more to do with physical attractiveness, nurturing, and household skills such as cooking a cleaning. Blackmore expounds on the virtues of making toys more gender neutral. She contends that strongly gender-typed toys on either end of the spectrum are less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gendered toys. They encourage aggression in boys and an emphasis on appearance in girls. Moderately male toys encourage children’s academic, musical, physical and artistic skills more so than moderately femine ones, however, femine toys also teach valuable attributes. Hence, I can conclude that it’s important for kids to not be repelled from toys simply because of what society tells them they should be interested in.
According to experts, the effects of this gendering of toys reaches far past childhood. Chi Onwurah, a British MP, recently called a parliamentary discussion on gendered toy marketing after remarking upon the effect of the lack of microscopes and science kits on girl’s all-pink toy racks later on in life in the low percentage of women in the maths and sciences. It is clear that there is a problem when little boys build houses out of blocks and play with science kits, whilst girls are encourage to play house and play with their toy ovens. Whilst the disparity of women in professions such as engineering is caused by a multitude of gender-related factors throughout the courses of our lives, what happens during our childhoods is the foundation. The gendering of toys places the social construct of gender and gender roles into our minds from infancy.