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Why I Dislike Gender Stereotyping in Kid’s Toys

When I was five or six years old, I begged my parents to buy me a pink, flower-covered picnic set. I wanted it so that I could have tea parties.

My parents initially seemed a bit worried. They checked with me several times, to see if the pink one was the one that I really wanted. I assured them that it was (the colour had nothing to do with it, the sheer amount of goodness inside, as well as the handy carry-basket was what swayed me). Once they were sure that it really was what I wanted, they bought it for me for my birthday.

I had great times with that picnic set. I set up tea-parties (complete with lukewarm, milky, sugary tea and biscuits) for my parents, for my brothers and, if no-one else was interested, for my toys. The colour of the toy and it’s intended demographic were completely irrelevant. I had fun.

You might, therefore assume that I was quite a ‘feminine’ boy. But you’d be wrong. I played a lot of sport and I enjoyed it. I rode bikes over home-made jumps, I hit golf balls in the local park (and ran when they landed on neighbouring roofs), I loved being outdoors and getting dirty. I adored computer games, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on television. The fact is, as a kid, I always did the things that I wanted to do. Some of them fit the ‘boy’ stereotype, some of them did not.

As I grew older, I certainly became more aware of gender expectations. Eventually I grew embarrassed of my tea set and I hid it away in the far reaches of my toy cupboard. Finally, one day in late primary school, I managed to dispose of it for good. Gender stereotyping had caught up with me, I abandoned all things with girly connotations, for the sake of fitting in with my mates.


Girls and Cars

Today I sat on the play mat with Hannah. She rummaged through her toybox as usual (the kid loves a good rummage) and she pulled out her toy car. Hannah placed the car on the smooth tiles next to her mat and she gave it a great big push. She made her adorable version of the ‘vroom vroom’ sound and off it went. I chased after it and, to Hannah’s extreme delight, sent it back her way with my own ‘vroom vroom’.

The game was on! For a full fifteen minutes we played with that car, pushing it to each other, making funny noises, all while laughing away heartily. Sometimes the car rolled smoothly over the tiles. At other times it skidded sideways. At one point Hannah discovered that the edge of the carpet made the car jump up in the air, when pushed with enough force. Each time something new happened, I could see on Hannah’s face that she was soaking it in, enjoying every moment, and learning something new.

It was a glorious moment of shared play – the kind of interaction that puts a smile on your face for the rest of the day. It had been completely initiated by Hannah, I had merely enjoyed the ride!

Eventually Hannah tired of the car game and she returned to her box for another rummage. She returned with two soft toys, one of which she insisted belonged on my head. Of course, I obliged and a new game began.

Reflecting on that moment with the car, I began to wonder if there are girls out there who still miss out on the toy car experience, because of some ill-conceived notions of gender stereotype. Likewise, how many boys don’t get to experience the joys of making dad put a soft toy on his own head, because soft toys aren’t ‘boyish’ enough?

Can We Change?

I’m sure things have become a lot better than they were, but I still see too many instances where gender stereotyping is dished out without a second thought. At a recent rhyme time at the local library, the Rhyme Master asked if there were any boys in the room who liked trains. That was sheepishly followed by an “I guess girls could like trains too”. Well Rhyme Master, if Hannah had been old enough to comprehend your question and provide a verbal response, I reckon she would have spent a full ten minutes explaining why her Duplo and Fisher Price trainsets are two of her all-time favourite toys.

I genuinely believe that if we engage in gender stereotyping with our young children, we do them a great disservice. We limit the potential of their experiences to half of all that is available. Furthermore, we teach them that gender roles are normal and expected as they grow up, that their lot in life is pre-determined by the genitalia with which they were born. That is not the kind of lesson I want Hannah to learn.



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17 thoughts on “Why I Dislike Gender Stereotyping in Kid’s Toys

  1. I worked in daycare and I had a clear policy that any child could play with any toy in the home. I would have dads demand their boys not wear a dress or carry a purse during dress up play, we are military and the military dads were concerned by this ( very typical) play. I explained why children should be allowed to experiment with any and all roles and that it would not automatically make them gay or a crossdresser. Having a younger brother who is gay, I can confidently say that the amount of GI Joes he amassed as a child still didn’t affect his sexuality.

    Kudos to you for being aware of the stereotyping and wanting to limit it! #ThatFridayLinky

    1. If only he’d had just one more G.I Joe! You’re spot on, forcing kids to play a certain way con only do damage, in my opinion.

  2. I was talking about this topic over on my instagram this week, it baffles and amazes me that as Mother of a two year old girl we come up against what is basically sexism so often! She loves cars, she loves baby dolls, she loves her tool set, she loves her kitchen. I am so fglad you got your tea set and it sounds like you’re doing a great job raising your girl #thatfridaylinkup

    1. I’m glad I got my tea set! I had a great childhood and I’m sure it all helped to develop the attitudes I have today.

  3. It’s a shame when gender stereotypes get in the way. At the moment my little grand-daughter loves playing with big brother’s cars/trains and he pushes her little pram about complete with doll. We need more well-rounded people in this world which starts with our childhood games.
    Great post.

  4. I think all kids should just be able to play with any toys they want. My girls (twins) are very different. One is very girly, the other loves spiderman, batman and other ‘typically boy orientated’ things. I let her play with them as it’s what she enjoys. She owns many batman toys and clothes, as well as TMNT. I think some parents can be quite narrow minded, even embarrassed if their child was to play with a toy deed to be for the opposite sex. I agree with you. Toys should all be gender free. Thanks for linking up to #ThatFridayLinky

    1. Hi Emily, it really does boggle my mind when parents are embarrassed by such things. Sounds like your girls are living the life!

  5. I completely agree.
    When Reuben was born he was showered with typical ‘boys toys’ as he grew his love of cars grew. As he got older he would play with his cousin (a girl) and play with her pushchair and Grandad would tell him not to play with it – it was a girls toy. I would tell him he can play with what he likes.
    Jessica has come along and we have been showered with loads of pink toys! She is 7 months old and already has a preference of Reuben’s cars. Again, it isn’t something that I care about.
    Some days we all play cars and other days we will sit with her musical tea set and have a tea party.
    Reuben is now three and he has started to come out with “thats a girls toy” more often and so the gender stereotyping is already starting to change his view of toys. We still encourage free play but I worry how much longer we have until he refuses to play with ‘girls toys’ #ThatFridayLinky

    1. That seems to still be a fairly common experience. Hopefully Reuben will continue to choose the toys that make him most happy for a while longer.

  6. My eldest two have always just played with what grabs their attention, there is still quite a bit of toy sharing still going on. I’d like to think it’s normal to play with both ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ toys whatever gender you are.

  7. 100% with you on this one I despise this type of gender stereotyping I let my kids play with whatever they want Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

    1. Yes, I’ve seen you talking about similar stuff before. I can see that your girls are better off for being able to play with whatever they want.

  8. so true. Thankfully in my childcare setting children have full access to all toys no matter what. Colour is considered when i buy them and i try and keep things primary coloured. Sadly once the children leave me and start school i start to hear “That’s a boys toy” or “That’s a girl colour”. I am teaching them new phrases…. there is no boys toys and girls colour’s. Toys are toys and colour’s are colou’rs!

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