Gender-Phobia and Toys

Hi, I’m a girl’s toy.  People get annoyed with me, saying I encourage all things ‘feminine’ – playing with dolls, inventing cute social situations, dressing up, and of course, just enjoying the act of admiring  how ‘pretty’ I am.

Hi, I’m a boy’s toy.  People get annoyed with me, saying I encourage all things ‘masculine’, such as, creating battle scenes, acting out heroic quests, and saving those girls who need rescuing.

The uproar following the release of the new Lego brand for girls (Lego Friends) got me thinking about gender roles and toys.  People are questioning if Lego releasing a brand just ‘for girls’ is actually a good idea.  Lego Friends has already been labeled ‘too girly’ by consumers; complaining it feeds into gender stereotypes. 

For the record, I’m not personally a fan of the new Lego Friends.  For a product that is supposed to foster creativity and building skills, the Lego Friends kits require very little building and almost no creativity.  (Go figure).   I also disagree with the fact that although they are geared at younger girls, the promo characters are mature bodied, over-sexualized cartoon characters (there’s something new).

What I’m NOT against is how Lego has marketed a product that appeals to girls and is willing to say so.  Let’s face it, Lego is mostly Knights, Castles, battle scenes, ships, Pirates, and the like. The majority of girls aren’t all that interested in those themes.  (My daughter is one of those exceptions that enjoys both girly toys and boyish toys, I think, because she has two brothers).  Our whole family really loves Lego, but we don’t usually go for the newer kits, but rather, purchase buckets of pieces and find them second hand so we can get creative instead of fabricating what the box tells us to.

But I digress. 

My question is, why the uproar?  What’s the big deal with calling an Outdoor Bakery, Vet Clinic, and Purple Convertible GIRLY?  I mean, aren’t they?  Last time I checked, there was quite a difference between the way girls and boys played.  We are uniquely made – with boys and girls learning and experience life in different ways.  This includes how young children play and what kinds of toys they enjoy playing with.

One of our daughter’s favorite toys – her Calico Critters.

I truly do believe toys can be inherently ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ centered.  And I don’t think it always has to do with marketing.  Nay-sayers will argue that it is actually Western culture that mostly directs boys to what we view as ‘boy’ toys and girls to ‘girl’ toys.  The same reason girls like Pink and boys want Blue.  It’s all the result of marketing and the mass media’s affect on our kids. But this is only partially true.

There really is no way to fully know to what extent a child’s play preferences are purely genetic or completely influenced by culture.  Kid culture (including toys) has been so intertwined in everything children experience that it’s hard to know where the line is.  No matter how hard you try to escape it, it’s nearly impossible.
But then I started wondering, “do I WANT to escape it?”.  These gender-specific toys, are they really as harmful to kids as some suggest?  Is it ‘wrong’ to buy Knights for my sons and Dollies for my daughter? 

One of our son’s favorite toys, Duplo Knights and Castle.

In many ways we are moving towards a world of  “Gender-Phobia” with toys.

A world where it is wrong to suggest that girls play with kitchen sets and baby dolls.  A world where it’s ‘harmful’ for boys to imagine themselves Knights on a mystical quest for a lost princess.   And I think that’s sad.  We are told that suggesting girls pretend to cook and take care of babies is wrong because we are pushing them into a ‘traditional and stereotypical role’.  I’m still wondering when being a Homemaker and Mother became stereotypical.  I believe as women, it is our calling.  No, not every girl will have babies and not every girl wants to, and that’s okay.  But most will.  And boys – it’s stereotypical for us to assume they want to play with trucks and dinosaurs, and Knights and Legos.  These things are said to push them into a gender-role stereotype that is implied rather than realistic. 

Really?  Why is it, then, that when we spend an afternoon at the Children’s museum, I see it play out right before my eyes.  There are no signs on the walls indicating a ‘boy’ room or ‘girl’ room.  Interestingly though, the boys collect in the room where there are blocks, strategy games, and a large Velcro wall with tubes and chutes.  The girls, however, congregate in the large room that has been transformed into a fantastic restaurant with a kitchen to make pretend food and a large counter to serve and collect payment from customers. 

Is this instinctive or inspired by every kid’s experience with media and marketing? 

the boys first went here…

the girls first went here…

I just have to ask – is it really a bad thing to foster a love of feminine things in our daughters?  I believe it is a positive thing to encouraging our girls to play with toys that nurture a love for homemaking and child rearing.  These aren’t bad things.  These are very healthy things.  And what’s wrong with boys loving an adventure?   Imagining they are a brave Knight or a captain sailing the seas?  I believe God created women as caregivers and men as the hunters and gatherers.  No wonder kids play in these ways.  To strip children of the basic playing methods they enjoy for the sake of ‘avoiding gender stereotypes’ is not only fear-driven but potentially quite destructive.  Let’s let girls be girls and boys be boys and allow them to play as they wish.

In our family, we do embrace healthy gender-specific toys but we also encourage our children to play with any toys they desire to engage with, no matter their sex or age. 

Some days, our daughter plays with cars and builds a Lego castle.  Likewise, on the Children’s Museum day, after enjoying time in the cognitive and building room, our sons also had fun playing in the pretend restaurant. 

While making up their own play in the creative room, Audrey decided to be a fairy princess, Simon was a Knight, using a walking stick as a ‘lance’… no Gender-Phobia there!  Ha…

I’m curious, what are your thoughts about children’s toys and this fear of ‘gender stereotypes’?

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  • Mrs. Stam

    We have 3 daughters (4 and under) and they love all things that involve babies and cooking 🙂 But leave them with a room with no toys,blankets will be turn into babies, that is what they do, they love taking care of babies.

    On the other side all their boys cousin left in a room with block will turn them into cars or guns!

    So I thinks that God does give our children some instincts and they are there to foster what they will morelikely be doing most of their adult life,and there is nothing wrong with this, neither should gender specific toys IMO

  • Carrie Fernandez

    You asked – is it really a bad thing to foster a love of feminine things in our daughters? NO, definately not. It sickens me how the world demeans our role as wives and mothers. God created us for such purposes. My favorite thing to see is my friend's little girl wearing her baby doll in a sling and then breasfeeding it. LOVE it! lol!

  • Letetia Mullenix

    What a wonderful article! In our home, it's not only okay, but our children are highly encouraged to play with gender specific toys! More and more it has become almost taboo to say that in public, but my husband and I believe that if we are raising our children to walk within the order (within the home) and will of God, then we should encourage toys that foster that. And truly, we don't have to encourage them. Except for my baby boy, that seems to want to do anything his big sister does (she dotes on him more than me), they naturally gravitate to those gender specific toys anyway. We don't limit their play to only gender specific toys (usually, although my husband has a strict "no barbie doll" rule for the boys :grin:) and we ALL enjoy family laser tag, but my boys are often knights, and my daughter a princess.

    God bless you for your honesty on a matter growing increasing more taboo!

  • Bailey

    I've thought about this, since I'm not too far from when I used to play for hours and since I see my younger siblings down on the floor playing. I see toys as fairly gender-neutral — that is, they foster only what's naturally inside the individual. After watching my baby sister smash around her plastic pots and pans and violently throw her baby dolls down the stairs, I'm convinced that no mere toy is going to turn a girl into a nurturing homemaker!

    I think they're tools — tools used to emulate the men and women around them (mostly Mommy and Daddy) and tools to bring out already developing interests. No amount of kitchens, guns and dolls will change that, and I don't see it as a necessarily bad thing. So I don't understand the hysteria over girls rocking their dollies or boys swinging their swords: it's not a guaranteed road to domesticity or chauvinism.

    But I don't see children's toys as totally powerless to shape children's interest or shift according to culture. Interestingly, I've noticed that today's dolls aren't geared toward cultivating domesticity — except for baby dolls. Most cater to mass-marketed media (Bratz, Barbie, Disney princesses) or expressing individualism (American Girl, My Twinn). I don't see it as necessarily wrong — just interesting. I can't imagine the Victorian girls dressing their dolls in soccer uniforms to express themselves.

  • Marta Jeremy Emily and Abigail

    I am with you here! I LOVED playing Barbies, and my whole growing up years I wanted to be a stay at home Mom. I did choose a career because I wanted to have the ability to take care of our family if something happened to my husband, but the day I quit my job was a very happy day!!!

    I have a problem with people who freak out if their son wants to play with dolls, like that would make him gay or something. But I also have a problem when the lines are blurred. Did you hear about the couple in Canada that refuses to admit what their child's gender is – so it can discover that on its own… Seriously?!

    I have a brother and a sister, but it was my brother who played Barbies with me (and I legos with him – we had building blocks and Robin Hood ones, both were fun for me), not my sister. She just wanted to dress up the barbies and take their picture. Her idea of playing was having us march around the yard with flags doing fancy drills. My brother is not gay, nor my sister lesbian. We were given toys to play with that we requested (or my parents knew we'd enjoy), but we were expected to share with each other and enjoy all of them.

    It is amazing for boys to grow up learning to nurture a baby doll, or enjoy playing with a kitchen. My daughters are enjoying a set of cars they got for Christmas and their legos.

    We should not fear toys (outside of ones that are definitely evil). Toys are a way for kids to play and practice life.

  • mamaof4

    When my oldest who is now 13, was in pre k, he was the only one of my kids to go to pre k, we started homeschooling the next year and haven't looked back :),I went in to pick him up and they were playing house, which is fine, but HE was the mommy. When I corrected it, the teacher informed me that they don't like to impose gender roles, they like to let the kids understand they can be anything. I get that to a certain extent, but I can guarentee you thatno matter how much you encourage chldren they can be whatever they want to be, my SON will never, ever, be a mommy.I think people get too extremewith their fears of labeling gender roles that in the process they end up messing up children's heads and they are afraid to pursue the roles that are most appealing to them. My mother in law has actually tried to discourage my daughter from being a princess because she feels it wont make her independet enough, and she about fainted when she asked my little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up and she said "I want to be a mommy and stay home with my kids" (My mil hates that about me, women need to work and if you don't your lazy. Pay others to take care of your children, then they have a "real"job. Go figure)My youngest boy likes to play dolls with his sister and play in the kitchen but also loves his trucks and cars. I think that is fine.I think though that it is important that kids know there are things they can never be bc of their gender such as a girl a daddy and boy a mommy. I also stress to my daughter that even though the world my not agree, God has designed you for certain things and there is no shme in following your hear to those things. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a creator who knit me together in my mother's womb and knows the very hairs on my head. My days were numbered and a plan to accomplish which were already prepared for me. This gender-role stuff is a snare set-up to pull us off track so we question not only who we are but all that is around us. I've been a mom for 15 years. I started my motherhood journey in a completely kid-proofed life with non-gender specific toys (no dolls or trucks, lots of blocks, books, stuffed animals). You see I wanted my son to be raised in a completely positive environment, never hearing the word "no". What an education that was! Now 4 children later (youngest is a girl, 6 & maybe more in the future) I establish discipleship and obedience early and encourage my children to embrace not only the gender, but the individuality of gifts and talents blessed to each child. No more denying the wisdom of the Creator who chose every facet of individuality for each child including gender, looks, desires, and purpose. My son is a BOY (almost a man at 15 yikes!) My daughters are GIRLS. They are each amazing and encouraged to unashamedly be their gender (NOT ANDROGYNOUS)how ever that manifests itself.

  • Sonita @CowsDontMoo

    I have 2 boys. We have dolls and stuffed animals and such, and they get played with, but not NEARLY as much as a the cars and legos and guns. It's what boys do. And like a previous commenter said, leave them alone in a room with no "toys" and I assure you fingers will become guns, kitchen towels will become capes for super heroes and sound effects will be made for the invisible pretend car.

  • Anne

    I've been following the 'lego issue', and I actually agree with much of what is being said against Lego. It's not simply that Lego created a 'girl friendly' line of toys. No. It's that the girl legos are dumbed down. They are easier and simpler – without much room for creativity – sending the message that girls are not as intelligent and creative, and can't build things that are as elaborate and complicated as boys can. I wish Lego would create a line of really complicated Narnia legos or castles and princesses and princes and horses. All I ever see in the store are Star Wars or sets with demons and goblins… (I wouldn't give that to my son or daughter). If I am gonna spend so much money on a product like Lego for my daughter, I want it to be challenging, to encourage her creativity and intelligence.

    (Having said that, if my daughter saw the new Legos, and asked for them and really really wanted them and they were on sale for really cheap, I would consider buying them for her birthday or Christmas).

    I love the pictures of your kids playing. Looks like our house. My Daughter and Son play together pretty much the same way. One minute they're in the 'kitchen' together, the next they're playing with the Thomas railway. When they pull out their building blocks, it's awesome to see the differences in their building styles. Imagine what they can do with a box of Legos!!!

  • Glimmering Girl

    I agree completely with your post. I have always let my girls love whatever things they love, but they do tend to lean towards girly things like dolls and kitchens and such. When they play with more boyish things like cars or tool sets, that is fine with me to. I like that they feel free to be a tool girl who also wears a tiara. I think that protesting the existence of "girl toys" and "boy toys" is silly since when it is where my girls tend to naturally gravitate anyway.

  • Corrabelle

    I had no idea that this was going to be such a huge issue. The "girl" legos are simpler and leave less room for creativity, however this is just round 1. Who knows what else they might come out with?
    I loved lego growing up, despite that they were mostly space and castle scenes. I would have really liked a girl version though too.
    And there's no rule that says that girls may only play with "girl" legos.
    This shame though, shame that girls are made to feel for simply being a girl and wanting to do girl things is just absurd.
    I LOVE that you illustrated how different boys and girls really are, and choose to be, with the photos of your own littles at the museum. Awesome:)

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