It’s time to ditch the pink and blue and just let toys be toys
When my first daughter was born, I was oblivious to the gender stereotyping of toys. I doused her in pink and filled up her toy room with dolls without giving it a second thought.
When my son was born, there seemed to be a spike in sensitivity when it came to toys - or perhaps I just became more hyper-aware as a parent of both a boy and a girl.
Suddenly I was surrounded by parents who were outraged by the “Toys for Boys” and “Toys for Girls” sections in stores, assigning interests and activities to specific genders.
I made it my mission to let my son choose his interests, surrounding him with building blocks, trucks, dolls and strollers, determined to keep his options diverse.
One day, I handed him two Barbie dolls to see what he would do with them. He immediately turned them on their sides, made loud Vroom! noises, and drove the dolls up and down the sides of the couch like race cars.
At that moment, I was convinced that the labelling of toys was a non-issue. My girl was crazy for pink princesses, and my boy was obsessed with cars and superheroes. So what?
I realize now that the issue isn’t just about pink versus blue or dolls versus cars. The overtly gender specific marketing of toys is impacting the way that our children approach their natural interests, and potentially how they make career choices when they get older.
I recently watched a TED Talk called Beyond The Blue and Pink Toy Divide, by researcher and sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, who studied the advertising trends of modern-day toys and compared them to those of the past 50 years. Through her research, she discovered that toys today are far more gendered than they were at any point in the 20th century.
She explains that the issue is not just about pink and blue aisles, but about how kids respond to the labelling. Distinct boy/girl labels on toys causes children to second guess themselves when they sway towards an object labelled for the other gender, often dissuading them from pursuing their interests in fear of being teased or attacked for choosing something from the wrong side of the store.
There are also profound societal implications tied to the gender stereotypes of toys, mimicking the gender and equality issues faced in the adult world. In fact, research has directly correlated the two.
There’s a great organization called Let Toys Be Toys, that has set out to shift the strategies of toy companies and publishing industries, asking them to stop limiting the interests of children by categorizing everything as only suitable for girls or boys, and while they’ve made big strides, they still have a long way to go.
Losing the divide between pink and blue doesn’t set limitations on what our children can play with, and it doesn’t mean that everything has to be beige. On the contrary, it would mean opening up more doors for both genders, and adding a rainbow of colours to the bi-coloured shelves that we see today. Let’s ditch the labelling and just let toys be toys.