Pink: A Toy Aisle Tragedy
I follow my daughter through the toy aisle. We are surrounded by pink. In fact, my daughter’s skin takes on a strange pink tone as the harsh fluorescent lights reflect the pink boxes and signs surrounding us. Dress up gowns, tiaras, heels, makeup kits, and nail art all elicited Ooh’s and Ahh’s from her. We emerged from the tunnel of all things girly and I begin down the next aisle, one that is much less feminine. My daughter stops and says, “Let’s go back to the girl’s section. This is for boys.” I look down the aisle and I understand why she said it.
When we returned home, I was overwhelmed by the same bubblegum pink. My daughter’s Barbies were strewn about the floor, a set of Princess stamps sat atop a set of Princess books, surrounded by Princess figures, small mountains of my little ponies were topped with bows and headbands. Everything was girly- stereotypical girly. I was alarmed at how narrow and gender-charged her toy selection had suddenly become. She was pretending to take a selfie with an Elsa phone and applying purple glitter lip gloss. (I swear, she didn’t learn that from me.) But somehow I had neglected to notice that we had fallen into the “girl aisle” trap. With a boy on the way, I realized how limited our selection was.
Some children express frustration at this toy disparity. My favorite is this insightful and hilarious rant that took the internet by storm a few years ago:
Let Toys Be Toys, a campaign in the United Kingdom, is also frustrated by the increase in gender-based marketing and promotion to children. Their four core principles are:
- Kids should decide for themselves what they think is fun. Why put these limits on play?
- Play matters. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills.
- Marketing matters. Directing consumers in this way is restricting children’s play.
- The real world has moved on. These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.
Professor Judith Blakemore researches the development of gender roles. She and her team identified more than 100 toys and classified them to indicate whether each one was associated with boys, girls, or neither. She says, “In general the toys most associated with boys were related to fighting or aggression (wrestlers, soldiers, guns, etc.), and the toys most associated with girls were related to appearance (Barbie dolls and accessories, ballerina costumes, makeup, jewelry, etc.).” NAEYC interviewed her about her study and she explained that strongly gender-typed toys are less supportive of optimal development. Her findings suggest that, “The toys rated as most likely to be educational and to develop children’s physical, cognitive, artistic, and other skills were typically categorized as neutral or moderately masculine.”
The toys and manipulatives in my preschool classroom that promote development and learning were gender neutral and often open-ended. The toys in my home were the opposite. There was a disconnect between my brain and our toy shelves. So many of my daughter’s toys were focused on appearance and prettiness. That was not the message at all the message I wanted to reinforce. I am going back to my roots and using my classroom as an example. Over the years, I have observed children playing with a variety of toys and have seen how toys can help them learn. And, of course, what they enjoy playing with! Good news, you can have the best of both worlds.
Here are some gender-neutral toys that are sure to please, all available to purchase on Amazon:
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