There’s very little in our toy cupboard that could be described as “gender specific”. We quite simply buy for our granddaughter the same things we used to buy for our daughters years ago.
It wasn’t until I made a trip to one of the largest toy shops in the UK that it dawned on me to what extent the manufacturers and retailers have capitalised on the differences between boys and girls in recent years. I am shocked that they have been allowed to so skilfully and sneakily manipulate both the wallets of parents and the minds of innocent children far beyond what is reasonably acceptable, not just by taking advantage of the obvious and innate gender differences which is bad enough in itself, but by also creating two completely separate worlds of pink and blue, one each for girls and boys, and never shall they meet.
The pink world contains all things domestic – endless dolls and all the necessary paraphernalia for homemaking and caring. What amazed me was the huge array of pink and purple plastic “fairy” and “princess” merchandise. This is taking “imaginative” play too far for me I’m afraid, especially as most of the stuff is branded and associated with large company film promotions. I was most horrified though to see that there is a huge emphasis on how a little girl should look. Why does a 6 year old need makeup? Why does she need to look any different to the way she already is? This is wrong on so many levels.
You want building blocks? You need to look in the boys’ section.
A scooter? Boy or girl? A scooter is a scooter is a scooter is it not? No, apparently it’s not.
I came home furious. With a doctor’s outfit, and yes, the picture on the box was of a boy doctor; I really could not make myself buy the nurse’s outfit featuring the pretty little girl.
Children’s learning and development relies heavily on play, and if we limit the kind of play they are allowed to take part in then we are seriously limiting opportunities for them to learn across a broad spectrum. A child cannot be made to play with a toy or have an interest in it, but a child can be stopped from playing with a toy if it is not on offer, or if the child has been given the message that a toy is off limits because it isn’t right for their gender.
To offer a wide variety of play is crucial for every child; a little girl who loves playing with a dolls house may also enjoy playing football, or building with bricks, and the same goes for boys. Little people are simply apprentice big people, and they all need the chance to develop their creativity, their empathy skills, and their spatial and technical abilities. The skills that children develop and learn to enjoy through play and from encouragement and praise when they are very young are the same ones that naturally feed through into their academic and career choices later on. They are also the skills that young people carry with them into their adult relationships and their own families down the line.
Most weekends the train set gets an airing at our house. As does the farm and all the animals. Our little one likes to play at being a vet. She’s good at Monopoly. And Jenga. She’s a big fan of dressing up as a witch or a pirate. Best of all she loves being outdoors helping to clean out the chickens, or tearing round the field with the dog, or climbing trees. Or fiddling in the workshop with drills and hammering nails into bits of wood. Messy play with paint and glue and sequins is a winner too. As is baking cakes.
Wild horses would not make me purchase a pink plastic fairy princess castle. No child needs one. Correct me if I’m wrong?