Tuesday, 16 July 2013
I have been following with delight the campaign in the UK called 'Let toys be toys - for girls and boys' as it has taken up an issue that has concerned me for years. When I used to go into large toy shops for my grandchildren I used to reel back in horror at the large pink sections of play things imitating domestic chores. Half the stores seemed to be given over to dolls made to be as like human babies as possible, with all the trimmings: baskets, change tables, baths plus kitchens, shopping baskets and trolleys, irons and iron boards, brooms, mops etc. The other half of the stores, mainly in reds and blues were cars and other forms of transport with garages, stations etc, construction sets and sporting equipment. Any trikes or bikes seemed to be pink, with little white baskets or blue with tongues of fire on them.
It all seems like a real separation of girls should be interested in domestic activity and boys should be action and outward focused, attitudes I thought we'd left behind years ago. When I was buying toys for my children, there was a little of this gender distinction, but a wider colour range was used, and things like construction toys, sporting equipment, and puzzles were not so heavily gender identified.
We live in an age when it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of gender, and yet our toy shops are perpetuating this distinction. And the problem is that it becomes very easy then for children to see the toys as indicating their appropriate gender role in later life. How do little girls know that women can be mechanics, doctors, firefighters, train drivers, scientists, astronauts etc when all they see are pink themed toys encouraging them to be mothers and housekeepers? How do little boys know that they can be ballet dancers, teachers, childcare workers, fathers and househusbands when all they see are action toys? I thought this was a battle that had been waged years ago? I'm not saying that girls shouldn't have dolls or play kitchens or that boys shouldn't have cars and train sets, but I am saying that toys should be available in a range of colours suitable for children of both genders.
I must commend the smaller, suburban toys shops, many of which promote toys on the basis of their interest to all children and on the skills that are needed to use them or that they develop. It is also noticeable that these toys often last longer (in terms of quality of workmanship and in the interest they hold for children) and are enjoyed more than the mass market ones.
I would be interested to know if there is interest in Australia in forming an activist group like 'Let toys be toy's' to work to stop toy stores perpetuating these gender stereotypes. Do comment below if you are interested in following this up!
And when we have changed attitudes to toys, perhaps we could start work on the gender stereotyping of children's clothing, especially its 'pinkification'!