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?
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’?