gender typing through toys

Toys! They look pretty decent and harmless when you see them in stores and even when you buy them for your kids, but have you ever thought of the fact how these same harmless looking toys can affect the mental makeup of your child? Toys act as enjoyable means of learning in society and not just for recreation; hence it is very obvious that the toys your children play with have a direct impact on how their personality turns out to be. But that’s just about it, or is it? You will find that out eventually.

History of Toys

To jump start the discussion about toys; let’s go back to their history, shall we? It seems weird to imagine a world without toys, but it is a fact that the toys we find today are the newest of the kind. Then what did children play with when there were no means to produce such toys? In ancient times, children used to play with dolls made of wood and stone. Even bladders of animals were used to make something similar to a ball. Spinning tops and marbles were major attraction to children. Board games were also played in different parts of the world. The first machine made dolls were produced in Germany in the 16th century. The toys now available are an upgrade of what was available before. But, to come to think of it, children regardless of their biological sex played with all these toys in the ancient times, which is hardly the same today.

Toys Today

Toys for children today are highly coded. I use the term coded because what I am going to talk about has a greater agenda behind it, which might not be one which is for the greater good though. To speak more concretely, one will find sections colour marked in pretty pink and brawny blue- the former for pretty pink girls and the latter for the sturdier sex in every toy shop – looks similar to colour coding? It is. Feminity is coded pink and masculinity, blue. Looking carefully into the modern day advertisement of toys, one would find a close connection of gendered toys and marketing of the same in a gendered fashion. But what do I really mean by gendered toys? To put it plainly, girls are given dolls and soft toys to play with and boys on the other hand are given guns and cars. Soft toys and dolls are a symbol of tenderness and nurturing ability and guns and cars symbolize being sturdy and strong. You might be thinking how can that be a bad thing? It is not a bad thing if a girl wants to play with dolls and a boy wants to play with cars, but what is gendered is the fact that children are given these toys according to the social role they are expected to internalize, irrespective of what they really identify themselves as or what they want. Caregivers often encourage a girl child to play with dolls, kitchen sets and so on and so forth because they are expected to stick to the norms of the patriarchal society which expects women to be the nurturer. They are expected to adhere to these norms and inculcate the nature of a nurturer. The same nurturing nature is not expected from the boys. They are rather expected to be strong, wild, aggressive, in short more powerful than the fairer sex and hence are given guns, cars, helicopters, etc. to play with. Thus toys become a means of inculcating gender roles into children.

Inculcating gender can be considered as an agenda of making gendered toys and marketing them in a gendered fashion. But it is not only the gender roles that are moulded by toys, but also children who are encouraged to play with gendered toys are found to face certain challenges in life. Survey results show that girls who have been encouraged to play with dolls and soft toys end up growing into individuals who are often criticized of being weak and soft, later in life. Again, similar results show that men who grew up playing with gendered toys end up being unemotional and un-empathetic. Such conditions lead to crisis in further life of the individuals in different life situations which demand of the non-stereotypical role from the individual. Gender typed children are often found to identify themselves with gender stereotypes thereby looking down upon the other gender. This is one of the reasons why gender has become one of the most important social issues currently.

Gender typing has been such an inherent yet subliminal aspect to toys that parents often do not identify the roles they ask their children to imbibe. The effect of toys on the children’s mental makeup is immense and undeniable. Experiments have been conducted to find that girls who are encouraged to play with gender neutral toys grow up to be strong and cognitively more adept in coping with tough situations than those who play with gendered toys. They inculcate feminine roles of nurturing and caregiving and also roles of ‘wearing the pants’ at times in life. Boys who are allowed to play with dolls alongside with guns inculcate a nurturing nature like women and fare well in situations which mandate such traits. It also makes way for people in general to stand up against stereotypes of gender roles and respect people regardless of their gender. Gender neutral toys also train children to identify the other gender as equal and often thereby inculcating compassion and respect for people.

Gender typing, if looked into closely, is something that is more victimizing in case of male children. Many a times female children are not accepted to identify with social roles with that of a male, playing with guns and cars, which is originally some identity decided by the patriarchal society, but it is not as strict as the other way round. Survey reports indicate that male children are hardly accepted to play with Barbies and teddy bears let alone identify with feminine gender roles. One will find examples here and there when a boy child is verbally, physically and most importantly mentally abused for playing with dolls and kitchen sets instead of guns and cars. Children are not allowed to make choices of the toys they would play with and such choices depend on the parents. Such parents unconsciously end up delivering gendered input to children that leads to inculcation of stereotypical gender roles in them.

Gender typing through toys has become more common in the recent past with its surge in the late 20th century. The market of toys has seen a drastic change in the type of toys that are available, which has in turn resulted in the omnipresent gendered distinction in toys. Gender typing as we know, starts from the moment a child is born, with pink wraps for the new-born baby girl and the blue ones for the new-born baby boy and the like; and its repercussion  goes on and on and on throughout the life. But it is something that can be consciously controlled. Caregivers, if conscious enough, can provide ample exposure of gender neutral toys to children that allow them to grow and develop their individuality without any social pressure of identifying to and inculcating “the right” gender. Not only through proper implementation of toys, but also through proper education and awareness can the stigma of gender stereotype be eradicated from the society for the greater good.

Image Credits: D.C.Atty Via Flickr

Image License: changes were made to the original)


Read More: Why Reusable Menstrual Products?