The Dangers Of Applying Gender To Childrens Toys

As Christmas preparations begin and children begin to carve out their lengthy lists for Santa Claus, the question of gendering toys and the age-old “girl toys” and “boys toys” discourse come to light once again. In the last few years, the discourse around the harm associated with gendering toys has progressed massively, particularly on social media. More and more people are beginning to comment on the gendered marketing surrounding the issue, with the parents challenging retailers on their decision to aim certain toys at certain children. It’s making a difference too, as we have seen many retailers acknowledge this response and change the ways in which they market their toys. But why is applying gender to children’s toys such a toxic decision?

Let Toys Be Toys, a U.K based online presence, have been challenging gender stereotypes surrounding products for children for several years now, and have provide extensive research on the harmful consequences on enforcing gender on the toys children play with. The relation that this issue has to the gender pay gap is possibly the most significant, as the message that prescribing gender to certain toys causes may be a reason why more women are not involved in predominately male orientated lines of work, such as science, engineering and medicine.

Pedal cars, toy construction sets and science kits have appeared to be aimed at young boys in many marketing campaigns, while kitchen play sets, dollhouses and homeware are aimed at girls, as seen in this flyer released by KMART.

This paints a negative (and untrue) picture that girls should confine to home-orientated work and would not be suited for more hands-on work like construction. From an early age, we are telling girls that their line of work is one of mothering and looking after the home. This form of marketing is reinforcing toxic gender norms on children, and reinforcing a harmful idea which does not allow them to have broadened interests.

Similarly, the decision to aim dress-up and beauty orientated toys at young girls is highly toxic as it further encourages the issue of looks being the most important aspect of a girls person. A study done by Girl Guiding UK revealed that 87% of girls think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability. This kind of mentality has a massive impact on the already massive levels of eating disorders and cases of body image anxiety in girls. It is disgusting and unacceptable to give young girls and cause to believe that their looks are more important than their brains, or that their appearance has any determination on what they can achieve in life.

The Fatherhood Institute have also noted how gender marketing of kids toys is degrading for stay-at-home fathers, leading kids to believe it is not normal for there to be a balance in household responsibilities. This is a grossly inaccurate stereotype, as the institute have done studies showing 21% are solely responsible for childcare at some point during the working week, and 43% of fathers of school-aged children provide care before or after school hours. It also leaves a layer of invisibility over single fathers in our society, leaving them totally excluded from a child’s view of the family unit. Why choose not to market dolls and homely toys at young boys, and exclude them from playing the role of a modern-day father?

Since the Let Toys Be Toys campaign launched in November 2012, fourteen retailers have changed store signing to remove “girls toys” and “boys toys” sections, and their Christmas 2013 survey showed a 60% reduction in these kinds of signs in UK stores. If you just scroll through their twitter, you get a first-hand view of their interactions with toy retailers, and the change that just starting a discussion can make.  This proves that with continuing the discourse around gendering toys, we can make a difference and perhaps teach children that they do not have to fit into any limitations just because of external gender rules.

No one is saying that you should discourage your daughters from playing with dolls if they want to, or refuse to buy your son a play tool-kit for Christmas. But don’t limit your children’s toy selections – buy your daughter science kits, and let her play with cars and monster trucks if she wants to! If a little boy wants a dress up set, so what! And don’t be afraid to call any retailer out on their gendered catalogues, flyers and signage. It’s worth it to ensure children do not feel like their futures are in any way limited. Gender has no role in deciding the potential of our kids.