WITH all the new toys hitting the shelves for Christmas, it’s hard to remember a time when toys were like treasured objects to children. A question I found myself asking recently is: do the toys we buy for children reinforce gender stereotypes or do they just act as a vehicle for imagination? As a society that’s seemingly moving towards a modern age – a society where people shouldn’t have to be confined by their gender – why is it that toys are still aimed at either sex instead of both?
Perhaps it’s the imagery presented in advertisements that’s could be to blame rather than the toys themselves. Many people hold the opinion that by giving a girl a doll, a pram or a toy ironing board, you are reinforcing gender roles. Indeed, there are many ongoing debates on this subject, with most of them investigating the marketing of children’s toys and how that could be rendering the view that parents can let their children “choose” pointless. As young YouTube sensation Riley says, “the companies who make these, try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of the stuff that boys want to buy.’ There is some truth in this as I can’t remember ever seeing a girl playing with Batman in the TV adverts.
Some studies have revealed that the gender of a child can determine what kinds of toys they prefer. Boys seem to be more drawn to stereotypically ‘male’ toys, preferring them to ‘girl’ toys. Girls, however, it would seem aren’t so bothered about gender-specific toys. This might say something about the way we are wired inside. Maybe this is nature not nurture. Peer-pressure possibly also has a role to play. If all the other girls are playing with princesses and all things of a pink-nature, is a young girl going to play with ‘boys’ toys and risk being isolated from the group? Probably not. It’s common knowledge that wanting to fit in is a natural part of our lives.
Looking back at my own childhood, I don’t think that while I played with a pram I thought ‘I’m going to be a stay-at-home mum when I grow up’. I think the opinions we form about gender and our roles in society aren’t formed by toys but by the views of those around us. However the marketing of these toys is truly reinforcing gender stereotypes, and they shouldn’t be. This is something that needs to change.
Words: Rachel Munford, Picture: Melissa Reid
(Published December 2012)}