Few days ago, I walked into a local toy-store to buy a birthday gift. I informed the salesman that I was looking out for a birthday gift for a 5 year old. And the salesman questioned- “Madam, gift is required for a boy or a girl?” I answered ‘girl’. And the very next moment I was being shown an array of options ranging from dolls, doll sets, toy kitchen sets, toy cookware, makeup set etc. And I took my own sweet time to glance around at the display of toys. Wow! Such categorisation from such an early age.
It’s not the kids who are choosing what they want to play with, it’s us categorising toys for them assigned to their gender! Robots, superhero play sets, remote controlled cars, toy guns, etc. well segregated for boys shine at one corner in the store whereas dolls, kitchen sets, etc. are flashily marketed in the same store as girl toys. Why have we been assigning toys in this manner to a particular gender?
There are girls who prefer playing with robots as well as there are boys who prefer to role play as a chef and play with kitchen set toys. Why there is a certain sense of embarrassment tagging along if a boy child chooses some toy like a kitchen set or vice versa when a girl child who chooses to play with a remote controlled car? We often are guilty of bullying or shaming kids if they choose a toy which hasn’t been assigned to their gender.
From a very tender age, children are exposed to this kind of segregation even with the simplest thing like ‘toys’. And then comes along the advocating to kids- that “Boys don’t cry” or “You should not cry like a girl!” Expressing emotions isn’t limited to a particular gender. Similarly, if a girl child behaves even slightly in a bold manner, we take liberty to monitor that girl child to behave like a girl; teaching her feminine grace!
Toys are toys, meant to be a play thing, which a child enjoys, they do not need to be gender oriented. The purpose of toys is to entertain the children, boost developmental skills or give them some kind of joy. The toys like toy cook ware, kitchen sets sold to a girl child remarkably show how as a society we expect girls to be nurturing, domestic and homely. And on the other hand, remote cars, superheroes toys meant for boy child display how boys need to be tough, masculine and aggressive. Sadly these ideologies have been deeply rooted in our minds.: Miniature toy Makeup sets for girls- to learn from a tender age to doll up early, take care of their appearances so that they are graceful, presentable and of course marriageable. Cars, robots, toy guns and similar stuff for boys- to understand that such heavy duty jobs, aggression, boldness belong to their masculine self, sigh!
Over the time we have been guilty of following these biases blindly ourselves. Even while gifting or buying toys as parents for kids, we always assume that if the child is a girl, she’ll obviously want to play with a Barbie doll. But, no! Maybe that same girl is a science/space tech fan, and wants a toy-rocket! We are the ones who create such stereotypes.
And this gender centric attitude is further inherited to the children, who follow the same at school and while at play. Kids do not want to associate with a boy who plays with dolls or if there is a girl playing with toy cars, she is quickly bullied and labelled to be a “Tom boy”! Unknowingly, we give out these ideologies of biases to the young and tender minds. And the cycle of gender bias thereby continues.
The toy-industry has marketed gender bias to us over the years, and it ultimately is reflected in our choices as well. Yes, there are gender neutral toys available. They do not reinforce gender stereotypes, and are definitely empowering for children and even developmental in their growing years. We should be ones, the Gen-Z, who choose wisely and not blindly follow and reinforce stereotypes into young minds.
It felt empowering to see Tom Daley capture his fans’ hearts during the recent Tokyo Olympics as photos of him ‘knitting’ went viral. Similarly, an empowering shift in our perspectives about gender centrism for kids and their toys is necessary. One may wonder, it’s just a ‘toy’, shouldn’t matter much but as often observed small matters lead to bigger consequences. Therefore, it’s wiser to propagate no gender assignment even with a small object like a TOY!
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