Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Gender Neutral Toys - Really? Why Bother?

What helps us identify with our gender? Is there a biological predisposition for boys to be attracted to boyish play in order for them to fulfil a vital role with regards to evolutionary survival or is it a learned behaviour? A boy reaching for a pram is not a precursor to homosexuality; in fact, it's probably a compliment to the parents.  There is enough gender confusion in our world, why now do supermarkets feel the need to stress the point in their toy aisles?  Imagine you as a child running into your favourite store only to be hit by a barrage of action figures, diggers, fire engines in amongst dolls, hair accessories and pink sticker collections.  Boys are generally attracted to certain toys and girls to others...why try and control natural selection by making toys gender neutral?  Why and who is forcing the issue?  Those barking on about it are merely thinking along the lines of 'on more gender differentiation' but until an in depth study has been conducted in how children end up choosing toys aimed at specific gender, is it really worth bothering with?  Political correctness is out of control and instead of finding real issues to address, many seem to have very little to do but interfere with things that just, in all honesty, don't matter all that much.  If gender identification is an innate biological predisposition, then we will naturally veer towards gender specific toys.  Do shops such as Amazon (and don't get me wrong, I love Amazon) really think that they can dictate to the children of this world what they should be playing with by merely removing gender based toys?  What if selection is merely an innate preference?  By creating gender neutral aisles, are we not merely just trying to fill our time for the sake of something else to concern ourselves with, something which really does not even matter all that much?  Here's a controversial thought - what if little girls really wanted to wear pink and play with dolls rather than choosing an action figure? How dare she try and identify with a stereotype?!?

Boys push prams around.  Why?  Is it because Amazon has given them the choice to choose a toy which is no longer seen as girly?  NO!  Boys push prams because of a very simple psychological theory - Social Learning.  The theory is rooted in the belief that behaviour is learned.  It is learned through what we call modelling or imitation; simply put, we replicate the behaviour of others.  A little boy who can now walk has witnessed his mother pushing him around in a pram for the past year or so and is now merely replicating that behaviour.  It's off the back of being a passive receptor and merely identify with the mother and her behaviour. Amazon and the like are not going to change that.  Whilst I'm hinting (rather strongly) at learned behaviour, I cannot overlook our biological predisposition to fulfil certain roles in society.  There is no exclusivity in that statement.  Girls’ can fulfil traditional male job roles and boys’ traditional female job roles. If play at an early age is a precursor (known loosely as an Internal Working Model) to going on to fulfil certain roles in society, then let children just get on with it; why stress the point by making gender neutral shopping experiences?  I get the irony by the way - "this guy is saying who cares yet he dedicated a blogpost to it!"

Why do shops want to do the parenting for us?  If parents want their sons or daughters to follow traditional paths, then so be it.  If parents (like myself) are more focused on their child's happiness and don't bother about the gender stereotype of their child's toys, then so be it. We are neigh on being robbed of tradition and basic parental decisions.  I don't need a superstore to dictate and try to force me into ignoring male/female toy choices, my daughter can do that for herself.

Now go grab that action figure Lilly; I don't know where you'll find'll be in the TOY aisle I guess :)



  1. Personally (father of 2 girls), I'm happy with a few less princess toys in the world - I understand your point, that shops shouldn't do our parenting for us, but it does make it a bit easier if birthday time comes and your daughter doesn't receive 7 different versions of barbie, and a Tinkerbell crown, and a Sophia the First dress etc. etc. What's the worst that could happen - will she turn into Kim Kardashian/Paris Hilton? - hopefully not, but girls (& boys) have never been marketed to so aggressively before. I'm not saying ban the princess, but like most things, let's have some moderation.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I couldn't agree more with regards to how aggressive the advertising world pushes things down our throats - just look at how "frozen" and "1D" have dominated the shelves. Moderation is definitely the key. I guess what I was saying is that it has the potential to go the other way...forcing gender neutrality as aggressively as the former. In this regards, I feel children should just play with and interact with the toys which make them happy, irrespective of whether they are following a stereotype or not.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.

  2. Since Target announced they are just taking the labels off of the Boy Toys and Girl Toys aisles, this has become a pretty big deal. There's one point in your article that I strongly agree with, and it's regarding social learning, and I believe that is exactly the point of all of this (rather than just being "PC".) Controlling the direction of this social learning is something we can do, and it does help with real issues.

    (I don't know if the specifics below are true; just roll with it.)

    Imagine for a moment that you have a 3rd grade class. One little boy is playing with My Little Ponies, a toy for which its TV commercials show only girls playing with them. The boy will be bullied by other boys who say it's a girl toy, regardless of the fact he likes horses. Likewise if a girl is playing with Legos (largely marketed to boys) she may be bullied or left out by the other girls who are playing with My Little Ponies, regardless of her curious instincts. Is this the fault of any of the kids? They're just kids reacting to stimuli. Is it their parents? Probably not. It could well be the fault of "marketing" in general.

    If My Little Ponies and Legos were marketed to just *kids*, appealing to their interests and less on the social groupings, we may avoid teaching them from a very young age that horses are for girls and building things is for boys, for example. (This is why there are now titles like "male nurse" or "female judge" instead of just "nurse" or "judge.")

    All of this carries on into later career choices too - women were dominant in the field of computer science right up until 1984. There is a great article exploring the reasons for the dropoff here: Computers were marketed to boys, and when women got into CS majors they quickly found out they were not able to reach the same success as boys who had grown up with computers. Now we have a culture of "brogrammers" and people wondering why women don't pursue this line of careers as much as men. Apply this pattern on a huge scale and you can see why it's important to take care to give boys and girls an equal shot at pursuing their interests early on without being discouraged.

  3. How I see it is that if a child, say a boy, wants to play with traditional boy toys then they can work that out on their own. They don't need to be pushed, almost forced really by stereotypes to play with that toy. Same goes for girls, if they want to play with a doll then it should be because of their own interests. Why I believe gender neutral toys are a good thing because I think it'll take away the stigma of a child playing with a toy that isn't traditionally associated with their gender, for example an argument I hear a lot is "boys can't play with dolls- dolls are for girls!" or "girls shouldn't be playing with cars!" but if we took away the idea that some toys can only be for a certain gender then I think we'd be more accepting of children just playing with what they want to play with. I know some parents don't care but there are still parents that believe some toys should only be played with by a certain gender. I'm currently doing this topic for my A2 college coursework and so far it's very interesting.

    1. Hi there anonymous...
      Many thanks for taking the time to read my article and to comment. Please feel free to share the post or reference it for your coursework. What A2 subject are you studying?


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